‘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
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”