He grew up all over Essex, became a pro footballer and TV presenter, had two children with reality TV star Jade Goody, then after her death, became a life coach. While juggling all this Jeff Brazier managed to take the time to chat to me about grief, Canvey FC and secret vices…
Where is your favourite place in Essex, and why?
I have great memories of living in Matching Green, it’s a bit of a hidden gem. It’s beautiful. It’s probably about five miles from where I live now so it’s very accessible and it’s got a wonderful pub called the Chequers that we have the most incredible meals at. To be honest I love going back there to just collect my thoughts. I sit by the cricket pitch or walk around there. It’s my kind of home from home really.
What’s your favourite Essex memory?
I played at Canvey and it was good because we were a very good team. I think we won the Ryman One that first year. I was a 19-year-old lad amongst a load of retired ex-pros. I learned a lot and not just about football, let’s put it that way!
What do you remember about growing up in Essex?
I lived generally in the Hornchurch area, but I did have a spell in Harold Hill for a bit. But I was very independent as a kid I used sort of get myself into town on my own and meet my friends. I was using public transport to get from Colchester when we lived there to Walthamstow and I pretty much saw a lot of the county with my own eyes very early on.
What’s your secret vice?
I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to peanut butter ice cream. I know it’s not good for me. I know it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the secrets of keeping a six pack which I’ll probably never have anyway, but yeh peanut butter ice cream is the one.
When are you at your happiest
When you get that balance – all parents will know this feeling – when the kids are good. You’re good. Your relationship is good. Your work’s good. There’s food in the cupboard. There’s friends enjoying your life with you. You’re enjoying your work. You feel like you’ve got a sense of purpose. That balance you get when all of those things combine. That’s what I always aim for, that’s what I’m always trying to make possible.
Who do you most admire?
At the moment, with all that is happening here, you’ve got to feel fairly inspired by the emergency services. You’ve got to say they are doing one incredible job because there’s not enough of them and they’re spread too, too thinly.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
My step-dad once gave me a card with the quote, earn respect through hard work and endeavour. I was like, yeh I get that, I agree with that. And it’s stuck with me still.
What one life lesson did you mum teach you?
Unfortunately the biggest lessons I’ve learnt through her were actually things that she wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to have happened. She had me when she was 16. She had to give me up to foster care. She had to run away from an abusive partner. She had to take me and my brother to a women’s refuge. We had to start out life all over again when I was 13. She was my first hero really. She had to deal with a lot and she managed to somehow come through, get us through, it all.
Your book, the Grief Survival Guide is out now, what can we expect?
I can’t claim, nor would I want to, to be an expert on grief. But I’m very keen for people to know the book’s not just memoirs of the last eight years of life without Jade, it’s way more than that. I write it more as a coach. I write about people’s stories. Clients’ stories form the backbone of all the chapters, from a case study point of view, which is why it will be so helpful to anyone that picks it up – you’ve 70-odd experts writing this book really. Only 10-15 per cent of the book is memories.
What is the biggest mistake people make when grieving?
We have a bit of a misconception about what strength is in grief. One of the most common terms you’ll ever here is, “I feel like I’ve got to be strong.” Being strong in grief is actually the polar opposite to what you’d expect. It’s harder to be truthful with your natural emotions on the back of a loss. It’s harder for you to cry in front of people. It’s actually easier to say, “I’m okay.” We use things to distract us and we go into a state of denial, it’s very easy to do that. So to be stronger is actually to be vulnerable, to be real and to be truthful with yourself and to be truthful with those around you. That’s the biggest misconception to shatter. We make things a lot harder for ourselves and it’s important to be aware of that habit, very often it’s subconscious.
Jade died when she was just 27, leaving your boys Bobby and Freddie when they were still so very young. What’s been hardest for you as their dad?
What’s impossibly tough is when you can’t take the suffering away from your children. You want nothing more than to take that feeling that they’re experiencing away from then. You would gladly deal with it yourself. But it’s not possible, so you have to witness your babies going through an emotionally traumatic situation that unfortunately doesn’t just last a couple of years and then just disappear which is contrary to popular belief, it’s something they will live with not just through their childhood, but the rest of their lives.
The Grief Survival Guide by Jeff Brazier is published by Hodder & Stoughton priced £16.99 out now.
This article first appeared in the Echo newspaper on Thursday, June 16, 2017: www.echo-news.co.uk