Jodie Brooke Wilson couldn't accept what the doctors said when they told her two months ago that her brilliant and beloved husband Des O’Connor had died.
He was 88 years old and in the hospital after a fall, but after 30 miraculous years together, she couldn't imagine a world without him. She still can't. "It got better and then it got worse," she says. "When they called to say I had to go to the hospital quickly and asked if I had someone to drive me, I knew it wasn't good." I got into the car and shivered and yelled, "Please don't go. Please don't leave me."
“I came to the hospital to be greeted by these people – this doctor – who wanted to tell me (Des was dead). I didn't want to know. I couldn't accept it. I just wanted Des home. "
Des had died peacefully in his sleep of sepsis on November 14, just a few hours after spending valuable time with his youngest daughter Kristina.
Jodie was at the family home in Buckinghamshire with her 16-year-old son Adam at the time, awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test after an outbreak of the virus at his performing arts school.
Surrender: Comedian Des O'Connor's 51-year-old wife Jodie Brooke Wilson couldn't accept what doctors said when they told her two months ago that her brilliant and beloved husband had died. Pictured: Jodie with Des in 1993
"The last time I saw Des I kissed him and told him I would see him tomorrow. I knew I was going to have Adam tested and I thought he would be fine so I would be back the next day. In my mind Des came home. I wanted to take care of him – be there for him like he'd been there for everyone else his whole life. I wanted to keep him and make sure he could be there forever. I was on a mission, and as he got older he became frail.
"He didn't eat enough, but I was determined that he would live to be over 95 years old like his father."
She pauses to wipe her eyes and looks over at Pat Lake-Smith, Des & # 39; longtime agent, who is here during this extremely emotional interview.
"Shall we say it?" Asks Jodie. Tell me something? She takes a deep breath. "Des actually had Parkinson's," she reveals. It's a secret Jodie has kept from everyone but his immediate family – which includes his four grown daughters from his three previous marriages – since he was diagnosed three years ago.
"Des took care of it very privately," says Jodie. "He didn't want people to feel sorry for him and that is what they first thought about when they saw him. He was diagnosed in 2017 but he believes he had had it for a while.
“He remembers playing The Wizard Of Oz (2012) at the London Palladium when he played the Wizard. In one of the scenes he had to be put in a hot air balloon and ascend into the gods. He had to stay there a bit. He remembers sitting in the hot air balloon and looking down at his hands and seeing a tremor. He remembers finding it strange but never thinking it had anything to do with Parkinson's. "
“The day he fell, I called the paramedics who came so quickly and picked up Des. I think Des had his arm around one of them and said to him, "Do you want to dance?" Everyone laughed.
"This is the one." She's crying and smiling that huge smile at the same time. & # 39; He was my best friend. He was my soul mate. He was the nicest and funniest person. I feel very blessed that he has been in my life for 30 years.
Des and Jodie met in the Thames Television parking lot 31 years ago when Jodie, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Australia, auditioned as an assistant on his ITV game show Take Your Pick. She said, “Des drove right next to me. I hadn't noticed, but I had parked in its place. He got out of the car and said, "Oh, it's okay, you can park there." He was so charming and looked so good. “Pictured: on their 2007 wedding day
"There was a moment, about four days before he died, I could see that he had gotten to the point where he was at peace with the thought that this was his time. I smiled at him and told him what we did to prepare him to come home.
He looked at me and said, “Ah, that smile. I want to remember that smile forever, ”and closed my eyes. I pleaded with him and said, "Come on, you have to get better. You have to do whatever the doctors tell you to do."
"He said," I love you so much and I loved you more than anyone. "’
Jodie, 51, takes a breath and dabs her eyes with a tissue. "Then I told him he was the most positive person I know and that he would come home."
She shakes her head. Jodie is now a single parent to her 16-year-old son, who, she tells me, has spent every waking hour writing songs since his father's death – sometimes until 4 a.m. She knows she has to stay strong for him. At the moment, however, it is torn to pieces. So much so that you want to hug her tightly – but you can't.
When I spoke to Des in his last in-depth interview three years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson's, he said he wanted to live until 95 to lead his son Adam, who was the apple of his eye, down the aisle. He was joking about the gang piece and couldn't stop giggling. Neither of us could. Some people just have funny bones. It did.
He was also one of the nicest people in show business I have ever met. The overwhelming number of honors and messages of love Jodie has received since his death shows that I wasn't thinking about it alone, but nobody, not even close friends like Sir Cliff Richard, Jimmy Tarbuck, Sir Elton John, and Bradley Walsh, knew about it him Parkinson's.
"Des wanted people to be made to chat with him instead of thinking about his illness," says Jodie. “It was a very gradual thing.
“When he was told that he was very optimistic. He looked at it and said, "Yes, I have it, but I'll keep taking the pills and keep smiling." That's what he did: he took the pills and kept smiling. "
Has Des ever felt down? Jodie rips her head. “I think trying to balance family life and work has always been a bit stressful for him. Aside from the world wanting a piece of Des, his daughters wanted to feel that they were important in his life too. I would try to keep everything as peaceful and happy as possible and I think we made it. "
Des was excited and nervous about having a son. He thought a boy's father should be around longer than him. He had four beautiful daughters, but having a boy was different. & # 39; Pictured: The one with 16-year-old son Adam last year
There were also professional disappointments along the way. Who knew Des was then Simon Cowell's first choice to judge Britain's Got Talent? “Simon took us to lunch and told us about this new show and how there wasn't anyone in the business who was a more perfect judge than Des.
He explained about the show and it sounded amazing. Des was excited and so was I. Then we didn't hear anything for a couple of weeks. Three weeks later we found out that someone up high had told Simon that Des was too old. Simon was too embarrassed to tell us. Then we saw him at Elton John's house in Nice at a friend's birthday party. Simon didn't know how to be with us. We spoke but didn't say anything about British Got Talent.
“Des wasn't too old. His mental strength was so strong. Even Parkinson's wasn't going to stop him from doing anything.
"He gave his last concert on December 9th, 2019. That says a lot about someone who lived with Parkinson's, but was also 87 years old. I probably protected the people who knew about it more than he did." I didn't want it to overshadow Des. I'm sure the falls were a symptom of this. "
This last autumn was not his first. In the past three years he had become increasingly frail. Jodie looked after him selflessly all the time.
“Winnie (Lady Wilnelia Forsyth) would have had the same thing with Bruce. The relationship changes with age. It's not that sexual. It's more of a deeper love and that can sometimes be more important.
“When they get more fragile, you have to be more understanding and try not to make them feel bad. You enter into a relationship when there is an age difference like ours – 37 years – and you have to be sensible in the beginning and know that this is inevitable.
"You make these vows when you're in church. I wanted to keep those vows. Des was the most amazing husband, so it was my turn to be there for him." She pushes the words between sobs. "I'm like that glad i did that. Des would say to me, "I don't know how I would do it without you. I love you more than anything." I would say, "I know, I know." He would say, "No, you don't know how much." It was so nice because he said it every day – every day. "
Des and Jodie met 31 years ago in the Thames Television parking lot. Jodie, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Australia who starred with Cliff Richard in the West End musical Time, auditioned as an assistant on his ITV game show Take Your Pick.
“I drove to a parking lot right in front of the studios. A security guard came out and told me I couldn't park there. I asked him when Des drove right next to me. I hadn't noticed, but I had parked in its place. He got out of the car and said, "Oh, it's okay, you can park there." He was so charming and looked so good. "
Needless to say, Jodie's audition was successful. That winter, she joined Des – then 58 – and recently split from his third wife, Jay – in a pantomime as Cinderella. By the end of the season, they were in love.
"It was a very powerful thing," she says. "They couldn't stop it. It was very difficult and scary back then. I wasn't looking for that situation – that age difference – but it really felt like someone said," Right, you're supposed to be with this person now be together. "It felt like a fate."
Des lived alone in the house that was to become her family home. Jodie had moved in within nine months. It's not a very big house – more like a cottage, actually – but Des, as Jodie says, wasn't a materialistic person.
Her home in the East End of London was bombed during the war. His father said to his family, "OK, we've lost our house, but we haven't lost the most important thing: ourselves." Des & # 39; family was everything to him. He has prayed for each and every one of his family every day of his life. “She takes another deep breath and you understand the huge hole Des leaves in his family's life.
“He was a homebody. I understood the pressures he was going through as the biggest star on TV, so on the weekends I knew he needed to relax.
"When we went out, he was wearing what we called 'the funny hat' as a disguise because people would want his photo.
Des loved to spend Saturday watching his sport. He loved his sport – everything: cricket, racing, soccer. Arsenal were his team.
He was also one of the nicest people in show business I have ever met. The overwhelming number of honors and messages of love Jodie has received since his death shows that I wasn't thinking about it alone, but nobody, not even close friends like Sir Cliff Richard, Jimmy Tarbuck, Sir Elton John, and Bradley Walsh, knew about it him Parkinson's. (Image: Des O & # 39; Connor in 2002)
"That actually killed me because when I had to switch the Sky package because I wasn't watching any sport, I started yelling at the Sky man. It's the little things that are difficult.
"I can only make one phone call a day to thank people for their kindness because it is so emotional to go through everything." There has been such a beautiful outpouring of love and I feel bad when I don't go back to people. I'm going. Kindness gives Adam and me such strength. To see how much his father meant to so many people is wonderful. "
Jodie taps her son. She had all but given up thinking about children when Des suggested having a baby at the age of 72.
“We talked a lot about having a baby. I'm a very motherly person, but Des was older and had four beautiful daughters. I could understand where he was from.
"One day we were on a beach in Barbados with Des' daughters TJ and Sam and their partners. Cilla (Black) was over us because she owned the penthouse. We hung out with her. It was just so beautiful and right on the beach.
"Des just turned to me and said," It's time for us to have our own baby. "That was the day Adam was conceived." She grins broadly.
"When I told Des I was pregnant, I think that freaked him out. That we are so fertile and that it happens instantly – that doesn't happen for the age of Des. It was like Adam was waiting to be born. Des was excited and nervous about having a son. He thought a boy's father should be around longer than him. He had four beautiful daughters, but having a boy was different. It was, "Geez, what will Adam be like when I am unable to kick a ball and do what a father and son can normally do?" ’
As it turns out, Adam isn't a great athlete. Instead, he's an old-school chip with a knack for performance. He had put on a show for his parents every day, so this warm family house was full of music and laughter. Shortly before his father's death, Adam was cast as Jesus in the production of Jesus Christ Superstar in his school. "Until Mary has Covid," sighs Jodie.
"Two days before Des' funeral, I found a tape where he was reading his autobiography. It killed me, but I decided it would be more reassuring to actually hear Des in church."
Due to the Covid rules, she could only invite 30 people to the funeral. “It was an intimate service full of love and respect. Laughter, sadness and joy, ”she says. "Do you want to hear?" She is playing a recording on her laptop. It's Des' familiar voice.
“I think enthusiasm is almost as important as oxygen. If you wake up in the morning with nothing to inspire you, you are wasting the most precious gift of all and that is life itself. "
The opening bars of the song he always ended his concerts with, One For My Baby, open.
“In the end, he nudges his audience,” says Jodie.
That was Des. Now it's our turn to toast his memory.
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