The Scotsman

‘You think you’re cop­ing but you’re ac­tu­ally not’

Ac­tor and for­mer foot­baller Vinnie Jones tells Han­nah Stephen­son how he is cop­ing a year after the death of his wife Tanya and how he hopes his book about their life will help oth­ers

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Vinnie Jones, one­time hard­man of foot­ball-turned­hard­man Hol­ly­wood ac­tor, is now fac­ing his tough­est chal­lenge – a life with­out the love of his life, Tanya.

It’s just over a year since his wife died aged 53 at their home in Cal­i­for­nia, after a sixyear bat­tle with cancer. Jones was with her through­out the painful de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.

Speak­ing with him on the phone, Jones still has that cheeky hu­mour, the witty ban­ter, but there is an in­evitable sad­ness to the con­ver­sa­tion as he dis­cusses his lat­est book, Lost With­out You, which charts their re­la­tion­ship, Tanya’s pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to life and the grief that still fol­lows him ev­ery­where.

“If you’re a drug ad­dict or an al­co­holic they tell you, ‘One day at a time’ – and grief is very sim­i­lar,” he re­flects.

The cou­ple, who both grew up in Wat­ford, met when he was 12, dat­ing briefly when they were teens be­fore go­ing their separate ways. When he signed for Chelsea and re­turned to live in Wat­ford, he found her liv­ing next-door-but-one.

He and Tanya had been to­gether for 27 years and mar­ried for 25, cop­ing with the ups and downs of life, and his bad be­hav­iour both on and off the pitch dur­ing his foot­ball ca­reer.

There were fights, fouls and red cards al­though most no­to­ri­ously, he was caught on cam­era squeez­ing Paul Gas­coigne’s tes­ti­cles dur­ing a match.

Through­out this, Tanya, stuck by him, as she dealt with her own se­ri­ous health is­sues. She had been given a heart trans­plant at the age of 21 after her heart failed giv­ing birth to her daugh­ter Ka­ley (from her pre­vi­ous mar­riage to foot­baller Steve Terry). It’s a cruel irony that it wasn’t her heart which gave out, but skin cancer, which spread to her lungs and brain, which led to the end.

“I didn’t seek help for grief at first but I do now,” the 55-yearold ac­tor and for­mer foot­baller re­veals. “In the first six or nine months (after her death) there was too much to do. You think you’re cop­ing but you’re ac­tu­ally not, un­til you sit and speak to some­body for three days a week. Then you re­alise how far away you were from cop­ing.”

He says he has now re­duced the ses­sions to two a week and that ther­apy has been a mas­sive help.

“I can’t rec­om­mend it enough. Blokes think, ‘I don’t need to see a shrink’ but you don’t lie down on a couch. They get to the root cause and they are try­ing to help you. I’d reached the stage where I needed to go to some­one qual­i­fied.”

He hopes the book will help oth­ers to cope with grief and help him cre­ate a pos­i­tive out of a neg­a­tive.

“I want to give peo­ple strength through show­ing peo­ple the way she led her life for 32 years, the way she coped and how she ab­so­lutely loved ev­ery day,” he says.

He re­grets putting her through all his past bad be­hav­iour, which he blames largely on heavy drink­ing and har­bour­ing anger after his par­ents split up when he was 12.

His rage doesn’t flare as it did, since giv­ing up drink­ing eight years ago, he says.

“I’m learn­ing to deal with anger is­sues. I still get an­gry, but I can see it com­ing now. There are a lot of sit­u­a­tions when I’ve got into a lot of trou­ble, where with­out the drink I’d have walked away, I’d have seen it com­ing and avoided it. I can do that now.”

He sold the fam­ily house in Los An­ge­les after Tanya died be­cause the mem­o­ries were too painful and bought an­other house 15 min­utes away, but has spent lock­down in his Sus­sex cot­tage, and plans to split his time be­tween the two.

After his foot­ball ca­reer faded, his first act­ing role was in Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock And Two Smok­ing Bar­rels in 1998, where he played a tac­i­turn crim­i­nal. After that, he headed for Hol­ly­wood.

But al­though he has achieved act­ing suc­cess there, nei­ther he nor Tanya were typ­i­cal Hol­ly­wood types, he agrees.

He says: “We didn’t get sucked into the Hol­ly­wood life­style. We had our own life­style. We liked en­ter­tain­ing, peo­ple com­ing to us. We would al­ways have peo­ple stay­ing. Tansy was very Irish in her ways. You wouldn’t leave our house with­out a cooked meal.”

So, how has he moved on? He makes the bed ev­ery morn­ing, after see­ing a video in which a marine com­man­der of­fered that ad­vice to griev­ing sol­diers. And he chats to Tanya in his head.

“My mind has a lit­tle chat with Tansy, say­ing ‘What are we do­ing to­day?’ That helps. You learn to get through most of the day, but there are lots of great big drop-offs. Some­times I’ll go through the phone, I’ve got hun­dreds of pic­tures of her.

“She gave me a card that said, ‘To­mor­row, some­thing beau­ti­ful’s go­ing to hap­pen’ and I look at that ev­ery morn­ing and I be­lieve it.”

He re­cently posted the first an­niver­sary of her death on In­sta­gram.

“The first an­niver­sary was a ma­jor mile­stone, but I feel she picks us up and takes us on this jour­ney and I’m the one hav­ing a panic at­tack, as if I’m get­ting to the edge of a board wait­ing to dive off. Once I’ve dived off I’ll swim to the top again.”

He has filled his time do­ing ren­o­va­tions on his cot­tage and some wildlife con­ser­va­tion work. His new movie, The Big Ugly, has just been re­leased, he runs his own pro­duc­tion com­pany, has a floor­ing com­pany based in the UK and there’s the lure of the golf course, the fish­ing and the coun­try­side.

He’s a grand­fa­ther twice over – his son Aaron (from a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship) lives in Ire­land with his two boys.

But the nights are dif­fi­cult, he states can­didly.

“I keep busy dur­ing the day­time but when the house is empty, re­al­ity kicks in. The nights are eerily quiet, which gives me time to think. But if I can make her smile look­ing down on me, then I have a smile on my face.

“I’ve turned neg­a­tive grief into pos­i­tive grief. If it was the other way round and I was look­ing down on her, I’d want her to be happy. That gets me through each day at the mo­ment.”

Con­trary to re­ports, he’s not go­ing to ap­pear in the next se­ries of I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here and he thinks he’s done with re­al­ity TV after his ap­pear­ances in Celebrity Big Brother in 2010 and X Fac­tor: Celebrity last year.

But he would love their love story to be re­played on the big screen.

“The only thing I would con­sider, whether it will be in the near fu­ture or some­thing that I come to later on, is the movie. It would make a mag­nif­i­cent love story.” What does he live for now? “For the rest of my nat­u­ral life, I want to make Tansy smile ev­ery day,” he says. I can hear his voice fal­ter­ing. “We will be to­gether soon enough.”

“I’m learn­ing to deal with anger is­sues. I still get an­gry, but I can see it com­ing now”

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 ??  ?? ● Lost With­out You: Lov­ing
And Los­ing Tanya by
Vinnie Jones is pub­lished on Septem­ber 3 by Seven Di­als, priced £18.99 hard­back, ebook £9.99.
● Lost With­out You: Lov­ing And Los­ing Tanya by Vinnie Jones is pub­lished on Septem­ber 3 by Seven Di­als, priced £18.99 hard­back, ebook £9.99.
 ?? PIC­TURES: PA ?? Vinnie Jones, main; with his wife Tanya on their wed­ding day, top; re­ceiv­ing a yel­low card while play­ing for Wim­ble­don in 1994, above
PIC­TURES: PA Vinnie Jones, main; with his wife Tanya on their wed­ding day, top; re­ceiv­ing a yel­low card while play­ing for Wim­ble­don in 1994, above
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