Britain's Got Talent Father and Son raise awareness of single dads
PUBLISHED: 16:09 16 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:34 20 February 2013
Graham and James Edgington have overcome many tragedies. But as Father's Day approaches, the Bolton father and son are raising awareness of their charity to help widowed dads and their children. Emma Mayoh reports
It is a moment Graham Edgington will never forget. He was sitting in Salford Hospital in 1985, and his wife Jennifer had just died. She had been driving to church when a freak snowstorm hit and she crashed into a lamppost on Moss Bank Way in Bolton. Following several days of treatment it was discovered Jennifer was severely brain damaged.
Graham took the impossible decision to turn off her life support. Just a few moments after her death, he was handed his 16-month old son, James, who had incredibly survived the crash.
Graham said: I didnt know what to do. I had just lost the love of my life and become a single father. It was a total shock for me. Up until that point my parenting had been taking James out for an hour in the pram. Then I had a nurse telling me your wife is dead and here is your son. It was all totally overwhelming. I didnt even know how to sterilise a bottle.
Within a week, social services had visited me with adoption papers. I nearly signed. I nearly did it. I was under so much pressure. I didnt know what I wanted. But I knew I had to pull myself together to ensure James and I would be alright in the future.
The years that followed were unimaginably hard for the father and son. As well as grieving for his wife, Graham was grappling with life as a single parent and the demands this brought, still working full time and dealing with the pressures placed on single fathers. This only intensified after the Cleveland child abuse scandal in 1987 when 121 children were wrongly taken into care.
He said: In the 80s it wasnt seen as normal to be a single dad. I was monitored for four years by social services. I took James to see the Blackpool Illuminations when he was seven. We checked into the hotel. Not long after there was a knock on my door and it was the police. The hotel had reported me for being with a young boy. I had to prove James was mine.
The first ten years as a single dad were a complete malaise. I opened my eyes and James was ten, he was growing into a young man. Id missed key moments like the first time he rode a bike because I was busy preparing Christmas dinner in the kitchen.
I was dealing with the everyday pressures of trying to help my son deal with losing his mum too. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs and my heart was breaking because I could hear him in his bedroom crying over his mum.
These traumas alone are more than most would be able to deal with. But as well as losing Jennifer, Graham was also injured in the Manchester bombing in 1996. He was working in a building near to the bomb blast. He also battled breast cancer when he was 41 and when James was 20 he was diagnosed with and overcame testicular cancer.
But they have a dogged determination to focus on the positive. After the pair, who have worked as professional actors and performers for several years, reached the semi final of Britains Got Talent last year, they decided to launch a charity in Jennifers name to support widowed fathers and their children. It is the first charity of its kind in the country and offers anything from one-to-one counselling and assistance with childcare to legal and financial advice.
James, now 27, said: We both wanted to be able to do something to remember mum by. We have got quite a following from appearing on television and we wanted to be able to use that experience to give Jennifer the best start we could possibly provide.
My dad didnt have anything like this and there still wasnt anything like this until last year. There is a pressure in society that men just need to get on and deal with things. But thats not how it works. Launching Jennifer is a tribute to my late mother and the challenges that my father overcame in order to raise me to be the man I am today.
Jennifer already has the support of celebrities including broadcaster Eamonn Holmes, Eastenders star Jo Joyner and actress Samantha Power as well as many people across the world who have heard Graham and James story and want to help fundraise or volunteer. They have already helped a number of widowed fathers and the pair are dedicating the month of June to reaching even more men through raising awareness of the charity.
Later this year, the pair will appear on a television programme, Here to Help, with Peter Andre to celebrate single dads. They are also being featured in a documentary currently being made about widowed fathers and their children.
Graham and James, who also run acting workshops for the over 50s, have ambitious plans to transform Jennifer into an international charity to help widowed fathers around the world. They would also like to have a Jennifer one-stop shop in every town in the country where men can go to
Graham said: I feel immensely proud of what we have achieved so far and I feel like Jennifer will be looking down on us and smiling. She was a wonderful woman.
What has happened has also meant that James and I are incredibly close. Now, we want to help as many fathers as we can and help them realise they are not alone.