An interivew with Jeff Brazier
PUBLISHED: 10:07 18 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:26 18 January 2016
He's the Harlow heartthrob who charmed the 'noughties' generation of celebrity culture in Britain, but there is a lot more to Jeff Brazier than his cheeky grin and good looks. The presenter of This Morning opens up about family, being the best father he can and a dedication to life coaching born out of painful setbacks in his own life. Karen Anne Overton finds out more
Jeff Brazier is quickly animated as I ask him to recount some of his favourite Essex memories.
‘I’m a very forward-thinking person, but it’s good for the soul to think back to the best holidays... the best days out.’ And there are many memories to call on. His sons Bobby, 12, and Freddie, 11, have always been the most vital component in his life and his admiration for his kids – who have more than a resonance in appearance to their late mother Jade Goody – overflows with every word.
‘I think the best times have been when we’ve headed down to Clacton, something we still do a lot now. There’s a lovely spot down there on the coast and we just set up shop for a week, two caravans side by side, and it’s all about people.’
It’s a refreshing and ultimately homely angle for Jeff, who was raised in Tiptree, near Colchester, where he attended Thurstable School. Certainly this is someone whose time at the peak of terrestrial entertainment implies he has the means to take his two sons to any number of exotic locations, should he wish. But he insists his own wealth shouldn’t have any profound bearing on his sons’ approach to life. ‘I see my job as a dad to give my kids the tools to go out and have a really great life, whether that’s back in Essex or anywhere else! It’s all about reaching those good decisions, coming up with good choices and making as few mistakes as they possibly can.
‘Yes I can take them to Disneyland and give memories from there that they’ll never forget, but it’s equally important for me to take them to the caravan, so they can see that it’s not all about spending X amount on a holiday. It has to be about so much more than that.’
Jeff first graced our TV screens in 2001 when he appeared on Channel Four’s reality TV show Shipwrecked. At just 20, the ex-footballer – who was on Leyton Orient’s books but was forced to quit the game because of injury – was one of 16 young hopefuls who were dropped into a remote part of Fiji and left to fend for themselves. A kind of Big Brother meets Lord of the Flies, the show was littered with petty squabbles with Jeff often finding himself the mediator.
It was that blend of fair-mindedness and calm – not to mention boyish good looks and affable, cheeky charm – that made Jeff an obvious choice as a presenter and he was quickly targeted by producers upon his return to home shores. Since then the now 36-year-old has rarely been off our screens.
It was his relationship though with fellow Essex star Jade Goody that made him a household name, and though their romance was far from perfect, the union of the two reality TV celebrities made for the perfect rags to riches fairy tale. Following Goody’s tragic death from ovarian cancer in 2009, by which point the couple had been separated for five years, Jeff became the sole guardian of their two sons and he has remained devoted to giving them the best life possible.
‘I’m really positive,’ he continues. ‘I really go for everything and I really enjoy everything I do, which means that, as a dad, I’m a little more hands on. And that’s not just because they lost their mum, it’s because I appreciate the importance and the significance of the bond we have, because it’s one that I never had with my dad.’
Jeff’s own childhood was far from idyllic. His mother Jeanette was only 16 when she gave birth to him, finding herself unable to cope with the demands of bringing up a baby. He spent some of his earliest years in a foster home, never meeting his father, Stephen Faldo, who Jeff would later discover was the captain of The Marchioness pleasure boat which tragically sank in the Thames in 1989, killing he and 50 others.
Life experiences have clearly guided Jeff away from anger and bitterness – instead he consistently chooses a path of positivity and goodwill. ‘What’s the most positive stance that I can take in everything that I’ve learnt as a kid and how can I adapt that into becoming a really good dad? That’s what I constantly ask myself.
‘The main thing is that I didn’t get to meet my real dad, so when I found out that I was going to be a dad, I wasn’t as petrified as most and I didn’t run like mine did,’ he adds.
Not only has he used these values to guide his children, he has also launched a life coaching business in a bid to help others through their toughest times. On the subject of coaching he is incredibly passionate.
‘My job as a life coach is to make it accessible to people,’ he explains. ‘I want to work with local authorities and see life coaching becoming available to those who can’t afford it. I work hard because I enjoy what I’m doing.’
Both of his sons follow closely in his footsteps. His eldest, Bobby, adores football, with hands-on Jeff coaching his son’s football team in Harlow. Freddie is incredibly compassionate and reached out to another child in his class whose mother was diagnosed with cancer; he even volunteered to share on the radio his own five tips for coping with bereavement.
‘I remember once dropping Freddie off at school and the boy whose mum was sick was sat in the car and Freddie, quite perceptively, could see that this lad didn’t want to go into school. So he went up to the car and opened the door, put his arm around him and led him into school. He was only 10 at the time, but he’s beyond his years. All parents love to be told their kid is well behaved, but to see him on the radio and in the playground is really special. They both do me proud on a regular basis.’
This Christmas season has again seen Jeff as a star turn in the pantomime Sleeping Beauty at Thurrock’s Thameside Theatre, playing the role of the handsome prince, naturally. Alongside his presenting work, he plans to expand his life coaching business in the New Year with a dedicated course and accompanying marketing push. ‘It’s about reaching out to as many people as possible,’ he says. ‘If we help just one person through some bad times, it’s worth it.’
Jeff admits he is a workaholic, but lately he’s learnt to step back a bit more. ‘Life is all about sharing memories with our loved ones, our friends and the people who matter most to us. The danger is we’re so busy and preoccupied with work that we forget that really. It’s about working to live and not the other way around.’