HEARTACHE Vinnie Jones reveals regrets over not seeking help for grief sooner after losing wife Tanya to cancer
The former soccer star turned film actor talks to Hannah Stephenson about how he’s coping a year after losing his beloved wife Tanya to cancer
Vinnie Jones, football hard man turned tough guy Hollywood actor, is facing his toughest challenge - life without his late wife Tanya.
It's just over a year since she died at the age of 53 at their home in California after a six-year battle with cancer.
Jones was with her throughout the painful deterioration, injecting her with morphine for the pain until her midriff was "just little dots".
Speaking by phone, Jones still has that cheeky humour, the witty banter, but there's 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 says.
The couple, who both grew up in Watford, met when he was 12 and dated briefly when they were teens before going their separate ways.
When he signed for Chelsea and returned to live in Watford, he found her staying 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 on and off the pitch during his football career.
There were fights, fouls and red cards, but most notoriously he was caught on camera squeezing Paul Gascoigne's testicles during a match between Wimbledon and Newcastle.
Throughout this, Tanya stuck by him as she dealt with her own serious health issues.
She received 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 but skin cancer, which spread to her lungs and brain, that led to the end.
"I didn't seek help for grief at first, but I do now," the 55-year-old Jones says.
"In the first six or nine months after Tanya's 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 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," he says. "They get to the root cause and they're trying to help you. I'd reached the stage where I needed to go to someone qualified."
He hopes the book will help others cope with grief and help him create a positive out of a negative.
"I want to give people strength through showing them the way she led her life for 32 years, the way she coped and how she absolutely loved every day," Jones says.
He regrets putting Tanya 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.
"I'm learning to deal with anger issues. I still get angry, but I can see it coming now," he says.
"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 home in Los Angeles after Tanya died because the memories were too painful and bought another house 15 minutes away.
He 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 film Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels in 1998, in which he played a criminal of few words. After that, he headed for Hollywood.
However, while he has achieved acting success there, neither he nor Tanya were typical Hollywood types.
"We didn't get sucked into the Hollywood lifestyle. We had our own lifestyle," Jones says.
"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."
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," he says. "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 on Instagram on the first anniversary of Tanya's death.
"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," Jones says.
He has filled time with renovations on his cottage and some wildlife conservation work.
His new film, 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.
However, the nights are difficult.
"I keep busy during the daytime, but when the house is empty, reality kicks in," Jones says. "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, Jones isn't going to appear in the next series of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here.
He thinks he's done with reality TV after his appearances in Celebrity Big Brother in 2010 and X Factor: Celebrity last year.
However, he would like the Vinnie and Tanya 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," Jones says.
"For the rest of my natural life, I want to make Tansy smile every day. We'll be together soon enough."
Lost Without You: Loving And Losing Tanya by Vinnie Jones is published tomorrow