Bobby Brazier lost his mum Jade Goody when he was five. Now, after he touched the hearts of Strictly viewers, his dad Jeff Brazier reveals… ‘I was nervous because he hadn’t shared his loss publicly. Grief can be ugly, but Bobby made it beautiful’
- Jeff Brazier needed tissues when Bobby took to the dancefloor on Saturday
- READ MORE: Strictly’s Bobby Brazier reveals his heartbreaking two-word tribute
Memo to Strictly dads everywhere: bring a tissue. Jeff Brazier needed a few when his son Bobby took to the most famous dancefloor in Britain on Saturday night, performing a routine dedicated to, and inspired by, his late mother Jade Goody.
For Jeff, it wasn’t a new thing to see his lanky son (‘nope, no idea where he gets the height because it wasn’t from me or Jade,’ he says) perform. It was new to see his boy share his story of grief with the nation, though.
‘I was nervous for him anyway, because you just are, but I was so apprehensive because Bobby hasn’t necessarily shared his experience of loss publicly before,’ Jeff, 44, admits.
‘I worried it would be overwhelming. Also, that it would end up bringing up some unresolved grief he had. I worried that he’d find it too much. Grief is ugly, but to watch him be able to translate it into this understandable, beautiful thing, was amazing.’
What a routine, too. EastEnders actor and model Bobby, 20, has been one of the stand-out stars of Strictly, his endless limbs, energy and pout reminding viewers of a young Mick Jagger. But this routine, so full of emotion, moved some of the judges to tears. Ditto his dad, in the audience.
For Jeff Brazier, it wasn’t a new thing to see his lanky son Bobby (‘nope, no idea where he gets the height because it wasn’t from me or Jade,’ he says) perform
Bobby took to the most famous dancefloor in Britain on Saturday night, performing a routine dedicated to, and inspired by, his late mother Jade Goody, with partner Dianne Buswell
‘Oh I knew I would cry, but it was still overwhelming,’ Jeff tells me. ‘The lovely Dan Walker [the TV presenter and former Strictly contestant] was sitting behind me and he tapped me on the shoulder at one point and passed me a tissue. It was a very emotional thing, given the circumstances.’
Younger Strictly viewers would have needed to be reminded of those circumstances, older ones less so. For back in the Noughties, Jade Goody was a household name, someone everyone knew of, even if they weren’t a fan. One of Britain’s first reality megastars, Jade –— loud, uncompromising, laugh-a-minute — appeared on Big Brother in 2002, catapulting herself, and those around her, into the limelight.
She and Jeff — who was also a reality star, having appeared on the show Shipwrecked the previous year — were the reality Posh and Becks of their day, and in 2003 Bobby was born into the ‘biz.
He appeared on his first OK! cover when he was just a month old, his brother Freddie arriving the following year, also into the glare of camera flashes.
And so it continued, even when Jade and Jeff split in 2004. Then in 2009, when Bobby was only five, Jade died after a much-documented battle with cervical cancer, altering her family’s trajectory forever.
READ MORE: Strictly’s Bobby Brazier reveals his heartbreaking two-word tribute to his late mother Jade Goody after leaving viewers in tears with moving dance
Overnight, Jeff became a single dad — a role he had never expected and for which, he admits today, ‘there was no guidebook’.
How did he do? Well, the proof is always in the pudding. He seems as pleased as punch that Strictly viewers have taken Bobby to their hearts, applauding what a lovely, decent and, dare we say it, well-balanced young man he seems to have become.
Even Anton Du Beke said, through the tears, that if his six-year-old son grew up to be a young man like Bobby he would be very proud – which surely suggests Jeff should get the glitterball equivalent of a parenting prize.
Not yet, he is quick to say.
‘I do watch him and I think ‘my job is done’. He’s a joy to watch, not just on the dancefloor, because he’s got this fresh innocence, and yet he’s confident, sparkling even. On some levels — especially when it comes to him modelling, acting, or dancing — I think ‘I can’t teach this kid anything more’.
‘But then, as a parent, you never stop having to be the one to pull them up. I think what I’m realising is that your job is never over.
‘When the boys were little — and I had a more naïve idea of parenting — I had this idea that when you got them to 18, someone would wave a chequered flag and say ‘done’, but actually it’s not like that, is it?’
He tells me, rather hilariously, that what he has learned about parenting is ‘that it’s a bit like baking a cake, but without anyone ever telling you that you won’t have all the ingredients. The kids will have lobbed some things in themselves, so you really don’t have that much control. You just have to do your best and hope that it doesn’t come out melting or burnt, or with bits falling off.’
It’s hard to fathom how difficult it must have been for Jeff. It fell to him to explain to his sons that their mother had died. She paved the way of course, sharing with them ‘the story that we had agreed was best for them to hear’, which involved Mummy ‘becoming a big bright star that they would be able to see in the sky’. On the day she died, in March 2009, there was, by chance, a single star in the sky.
Jeff is fronting a Christmas campaign for NatWest about being fraud-savvy.Filming the campaign, which features a board game, All Mod Cons (pictured), that can be played in selected NatWest stores to raise awareness of modern financial scams, involved working with his younger son Freddie, 19, who seems to be another natural on camera
Jeff says he walked the boys outside ‘and there were few words required — they knew who the star was’.
Jade was obviously in Jeff’s thoughts on Saturday night. ‘There was a point in the routine where Dianne [Buswell, Bobby’s professional partner] was on Bobby’s shoulder, and it really got to me. I saw her as Jade. I’m not sure whether the choreographer designed it as this, but what I saw was Jade on Bobby’s shoulder. It’s a lovely thought, isn’t it, that when someone we love dies, they are still there, guiding us. We all need angels.’
Then again, he also saw Jade in Bobby on that dancefloor. We talk about how Strictly viewers have commented that Bobby seems a perfect, and uncanny, blend of his mum and his dad.
‘Aren’t all kids the perfect combination of their parents? It’s hard for me to see myself in him — although I have seen some of my mannerisms come through. Looks-wise, he’s definitely more of his mum. He’s got her winning smile.’
Jeff’s first major decision after Jade’s death was to take the boys to live in Adelaide, Australia, reasoning that some years out of the media spotlight would be helpful. And then? Well, he sums it up today as ‘I muddled through, learning as I went, and I’m still learning’, but it’s clearly significant that he also trained as a grief counsellor.
In 2017, he wrote a book called The Grief Survival Guide, which contains some detail about how he managed to cope when Jade died.
It’s a sobering read, and an astounding one when you come to it straight from watching Bobby on Strictly. Some of it reads a little like a down-to-earth parenting guide, too, which is astonishing given that Jeff’s own background was quite complicated.
He never knew his biological dad, a skipper who was captain of the Marchioness, the pleasure boat that tragically sank on the Thames in 1989, killing 51 people including him. Jeff was ten and did not have a relationship with his father. As a child he lived for a while with his mum in a women’s refuge.
In person, Jeff is a curious mix of showbiz (all white teeth and woo-woo positivity) and sage. He’s fronting a Christmas campaign for NatWest about being fraud-savvy.
‘My prime goal in life has been to protect my family, and this is all about that. It’s something I felt very strongly about supporting. We know it’s all too easy to fall victim to these scams,’ he says.
Jade Goody with son Bobby at the signing of her book in Borders, Bournemouth, on May 19, 2006
‘Whatever age victims are — and this is something that affects children and elderly people — it’s about awareness. Some of us don’t see it coming and we are not equipped to deal with it.’
Filming the campaign, which features a board game, All Mod Cons, that can be played in selected NatWest stores to raise awareness of modern financial scams, involved working with his younger son Freddie, 19, who seems to be another natural on camera. Jeff’s own career — he has starred in a host of reality shows, and in presenting roles — was always going to take a hit when he became a full-time dad, he agrees. ‘I didn’t do it consciously, but with hindsight what I did was make myself smaller, professionally, emotionally, socially to give myself the best chance of coping.
‘The first rule is that you have to be present when your kids need you. That’s not so much the case now, but it certainly was.’
He says he decided from the off that he would talk openly about Jade. Indeed, when the boys were growing up they had a rule that on the 15th of every month (there was no particular reason for this date) they would have a ‘Mother’s Day’, where they would choose something to do to celebrate Jade’s life.
The rule was that it had to be something fun — ‘like bowling, go-karting or trampolining’ — rather than visiting a grave.
One of Jade’s dying wishes was that she wanted her boys to have the education, and the opportunities, she never had. All the (highly paid) interviews she gave as she was dying were to fund their private schooling. Jeff says today that this was something he found difficult — not least because both boys struggled at private school. Bobby has spoken of being bullied, because he wasn’t from an ‘elite’ background. Jeff actually withdrew Freddie from private school for several years after he was diagnosed with ADHD. He admits this was one of the most difficult aspects.
‘I did respect Jade’s wishes, and honoured them, even when I questioned them,’ he says. ‘There was a period where it wasn’t working for Freddie because being in a private school is the least forgiving environment there is.’
Freddie spent time in a mainstream school, before Jeff found him a ‘small Christian school, which worked for him’.
‘Honouring Jade’s wishes were always at the forefront of my mind, but I also knew that if Jade was sitting there next to me, she’d also have seen that we needed to think outside the box.’
There have clearly been parenting challenges. Although Bobby and Freddie don’t have many memories of their mum, her place in their life has never been in question.
In 2018, when Jeff married PR executive Kate Dwyer, Bobby gave the best man’s speech, calling his dad his ‘hero’ and revealing that he hadn’t exactly been hugely welcoming of his new partner.
‘This is a bit awkward, but to cut a long story short, I didn’t really rate you to begin with,’ he told Kate, in front of the assembled guests.
Jeff Brazier and son Bobby Hi-5 celebrate the launch of their tour Hi-5 Space Magic Live In Concert Sticky Fingers, Knightsbridge
‘But now I’m so glad I can genuinely tell you I love you. You being around has made things a lot easier for us boys, and we appreciate you a lot.’
In his book, Jeff was candid about the ‘slowly, slowly’ approach to introducing a partner into his son’s lives. Even though, he explains, it was ‘easier’ for him because he and Jade had not been a couple when she died, there were still challenges.
He had been seeing Kate for six months before he even introduced her to them, and it was five years before she moved in. Interestingly, he revealed that Bobby in particular had strong views on the use of the ‘stepmum’ tag, insisting it was only OK to use it once the pair had been married.
‘I have always reiterated to them that no partner of mine, no matter how committed, will ever take the place of their mum in their life.’
Last year, Jeff and Kate separated for a period, but are now very much back together.
‘That six months gave a perspective that we could use to repair things,’ he says, candidly.
‘And I’m proud of the respect we showed each other as we tried to stay married and make the marriage work. It’s a good example to my children too, I think.
‘At the end of the day, your children just want you to be happy. I remember splitting up with someone years ago and worrying that the boys were going to be really upset because they were quite close, but ultimately, they just wanted me to be happy.’
He says he has worried about being overprotective, because of what happened to their mum, but has ‘learned the hard way’ that children need their dad to be a ‘father, rather than a best friend’, adding: ‘I am firm on them needing boundaries.’
He confirms that on the day Bobby was approached by a modelling agency, around four years ago, he had taken him to Costa for them to have a serious chat about Bobby having been suspended from school. He won’t say what the suspension was for, but suffice to say he was furious.
‘But I didn’t go in there shouting. I’m actually great in a crisis — quite calm when other people might be shouting, so I thought about it and that’s why I’d taken him to Costa, to sit and talk rationally about it.
‘I wanted him to be reflective of his behaviour, for him to ‘realise he had done something wrong. But it was at this point that someone came up to him and said ‘Do you want to be a model?’ I thought ‘Not now! This is not good timing. Can you come back later, mate’.’
I’m not sure it would ever have been his choice for Bobby to model, or become an actor — as he did when he joined EastEnders last year. Was there a fear there?
‘There was. I was worried that him going into the industry was something to be scared of, because his mum and I didn’t always have experiences that were amazing. It’s quite a tough place, quite unforgiving, and you feel apprehensive for your children about that.
One of Jade’s dying wishes was that she wanted her boys to have the education, and the opportunities, she never ha
‘There are absolutely some things I could tell Bobby about, but at the same time he’s come into it with such a freshness and almost innocence. He’s adept, too, a natural performer.’
He sounds surprised, but points out that Bobby was never remotely showbizzy. ‘He was always a quiet kid. He liked his own time and space — then the next thing I knew he was on EastEnders.
‘He was kind of on an accelerated path. Most parents watch their kids get a first job making the tea or something, getting junior roles, and building up to a position of responsibility. He’s gone from 0 to 60 in no time.’
As he has with his dancing on Strictly. Did he get his moves from his dad? ‘No, I can definitely say he didn’t learn anything about dance from me,’ he laughs. ‘I can’t take any credit for that one.’
n Jeff Brazier and son Freddie star in a NatWest Christmas video to launch a board game raising awareness of common scams. All Mod Cons is available to play in select branches: natwestgroup.com/news-and-insights/latest-stories/financial-capability-and-learning/2023/nov/fighting-fraud-this-christmas.html
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