Elderly Irish man defeats London Christmas loneliness with front-page appeal
James Gray (85) says interest in his plight ‘blown sky high’ by media interest
James Gray: “I could have just stayed on my own and put a chicken in the oven, though I have something wrong with my fingers.” Photograph: Malcolm McNally/Irish Post
For the first time in nine Christmases, Irish octogenarian James Gray did not spend the festive period alone.
The 85-year-old pensioner originally from Co Cork had no idea that his small advert in the Irish Post in October looking for some companionship at Christmas time would elicit such a response.
The original advertisement received a single reply from a woman who lived at the other end of Sutton in south London where Mr Gray has resided for 43 years. Then the Irish Post, the newspaper for Irish people in Britain, put his appeal on the front page and it drew a universal response.
Loneliness is common among the elderly. It particularly affects elderly Irish people living in Britain. “There are people worse off than me, but I had the courage to put in the advertisement and then it was blown sky-high,” Mr Gray said.
Mr Gray is originally from Midleton, Co Cork, and was born to a single mother. “I had no family. I was pushed out into the world when I was 14½ with a prayer book and a rosary beads to make my own way.”
As a consequence, he does not have an extended Irish family and his nearest relatives are second cousins living in north London who he hasn’t seen in years. He worked as a butler until the age of 73, including a stint at the US embassy in London where he was pictured with the party that served Ronald Reagan. “I did make my own way, but it was bloody hard,” he recalls.
Mr Gray spent Christmas Day at a hotel in south London with John and Marion Cunningham, a couple from London who volunteered to spend their Christmas Day with him and Irish Post reporter Niall O’Sullivan. He says his one regret is he did not put the advertisement in five years ago when his health was better. He has been overwhelmed by the response.
“I could have just stayed on my own and put a chicken in the oven, though I have something wrong with my fingers,” he said. “I’ve been in and out of hospital for five years.”
Mr Gray said his biggest mistake was letting go of a woman from Northern Ireland who emigrated to Australia. “She was a carer and now I have to pay.”
He intends to spend new year’s eve alone and prioritise his health next year.