Interviewing Jeff Brazier

With Jeff Brazier, what you see is what you get. The chirpy, polite, sweet, slightly hapless guy you see on television is him.

But, after one of the toughest years of his life when the mother of his two boys not only died, but did so under the intense glare of the world’s media, has life changed him?

Baby London speaks to Jeff the working, single father.
  The second our interview begins, Jeff Brazier asks if I’ll excuse him.
He clears his throat, then yells: “OI MATE!” at the passing binmen.
With another apology in my direction, he continues, over the hum of the rubbish truck:
   There’s a general mumble of agreement from fluorescent jackets and he nips off to grab his carefully sorted bags.
A third apology to me, and we’re back in business.
I tell him it’s somehow reassuring that a ‘celebrity’ dad has the same madness I have every morning and he shudders.
“I hate the celerity tag,” he sighs. “To my boys, I’m Daddy and to me, I’m Jeff, doing what I can to be the best Daddy and that means bins, cooking, cleaning, the lot.”
   Jeff Brazier first came to the public’s attention in 2001 when he took part in the Channel 4 reality show Shipwrecked in which 15 people had to live on a tropical island without creature comforts.
The series was littered with the then faintly scandalous, now sadly expected, reality TV conflicts and squabbles.
Jeff appeared as the amiable, conciliatory figure – the Mr Nice Guy.
   And ever since, despite periods of near-permanent media scrutiny, he’s retained that label.
And it’s easy to see why. He’s sweet, has a cheeky sense of humour, is extremely polite and can talk the hind legs off a donkey!
He’s naively honest, in an innocent, childlike way. A couple of things he tells me, I suggest he might like to keep quiet from journalists and he seems surprised that someone might want to capitalise on a private piece of his life.
   He’s refreshingly untouched by the spotlight – particularly his time as the partner of Jade Goody, the reality star he had a two-year relationship with and whose children he has raised alone since her high profile death from cancer last year.
But most endearingly, he is an utterly devoted father who adores his boys. It’s clear in everything he says and in everything he does.
When we try to set up our interview, he tells me he can only speak “during school hours” and twice he has to cancel because of “after school clubs over-running” and because “one of the boys has a cold and only wants Daddy and the sofa”.
   I’m not surprised by his demonstrative love for his children because he is a celebrity, but because he is a young (30 years old) man who has had a huge responsibility thrust upon him and because that has seemingly un-phased him.
   Jade was ‘main’ parent to Bobby, six, and Freddy, five, when she was alive and Jeff saw them three days a week. Now, he does everything for them, with no external help, but with the love and support of “my wonderful Mum” and “a whole load of aunties”!
He smiled: “

I have matured so much in the past 10 months.

I look older too – there are lines on my face – lines! Can you believe it?!
“When I first got the boys after their Mum died a lot of people said to me, look, women can do it because it’s all about multi-tasking and is bloody hard, but there’s no way a man can do it.
“It wasn’t that I wanted to prove these people wrong, it was that I just knew I could do it. I felt so ready to be a full-time father and they needed me. I somehow knew I could do it and do it well.
   “When you have your children for two or three days a week – as a lot of people, particularly men, these days do – you tend to have them for quality time. They’re not usually at school and you do fun things and give them treats and I knew full-time would be very different but it’s working so far.
“I understand Jade – and full-time mums – a lot more now. She used to get the hump with me when I turned up to collect the boys and they’d be screaming ‘Daddy! Daddy’ and I had a football tucked under my arm and we’d go piling off to the park.

“When I first had them, I was still contracted to a TV job at studios over in Battersea (south west London) and I was getting home late at night, yet still having to get up to do all the ‘Dad’ things in the night and early in the morning.
“I knew very quickly that that wasn’t fair on them so when the job finished I promised myself I would try to only do things that allowed me to be the Dad I wanted to be.”
   He initially trained as a professional footballer, playing for Leyton Orient, but moved into television presenting after Shipwrecked.
After winning The Farm, another reality soiree, he appeared in I’m Famous and Frightened, various pantos, Wife Swap (with Jade), Celebrity Wrestling, The Match, Celebrity Soccer Six, ITV2’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here Now! and Loose @5.30, a spin-off from Loose Woman.
Lately, he has been best known for his work on the X Factor and as a This Morning showbiz reporter.
But he has also spun out in a very different direction launching two online support groups for single mums and dads – Parent Support Network and Dads In Difficulty.
   “I want to write a book too,” he said. “There is so much out there for mums or for parents but very little for single dads.
“Men don’t need to be all ‘fathers for justice’ they just need to do their best and get given a little bit of advice along the way.
“In a way, I’ve got the Top Trump – I have seen it from a Dad’s perspective, now I’m living it from the Mum’s.”
I ask him what the best thing about fatherhood is and without hesitation he replies. “All of it!”
But I tell him that’s not true – I love my three boys more than cheesecake but there are bits that are tedious and dull and frankly difficult.
He thinks for a moment, then smiles. “It’s the challenge,” he said. “I honestly love being tested like his, like nothing I’ve ever done before. It’s the challenge of making two little men into the best they can be. I know I have a huge part to play in that and I can’t wait to see how they turn out.
   “They have a great education (Jade made no secret that the profits from her TV series and various tie-in books documenting her death from cervical cancer would be used to pay for her boys’ schooling), they have great people behind them, and they are very loved, so they have a good start.
   “I am so proud of them too. It is amazing to see what they will be and what kind of people they will be.”
It’s not all picture perfect though. Just as the general chaos of life with my boys starts to cross my mind, he, thankfully assures me, his darlings can be “little ratbags” too.
   “There’s only a 14-month age gap between them, so they’re pretty competitive and fight.”
We both then spend a good few minutes trying to work out what percentage of our day is spent dividing up boys locked in Power Ranger grips. He reckons 75%, mine is nearer 100 and he laughs. “You need my website!”
So what sort of a father is he? “I’m tough, but loving. I do try to be all things though – a dad, a friend, the football teammate – and I don’t think that always works.
   “I’m always analysing how I am with them because I do feel the huge responsibility of them not only being with me, but of not having a mother to guide them too.
“I just love it when Freddy comes up out of the blue and kisses me or Bobby tells me he loves me. There’s no better and more pure endorsement than that.”
   I ask him if he thinks about finding a woman who can be a mother to them. There are constant rumours about various models and TV personalities but he says at the moment there is no time for a “full-on” relationship.
“I’d need to be in a really established relationship before the boys got involved too,” he said. “I do want to experience a girl though. I love my boys but I’d love to have a girl as well. I’ve even named her – my little Isabella.”
What’s not to love ladies?!
   The three boys live in Harlow, south Essex, and seem to have fun.
“We have such a laugh sometimes,” he said. “They are complete opposites in personality and it keeps things really interesting.
“I think with children if you always try to be honest with them and do the right thing, they will appreciate it when they’re older.”
We then discover that we were both born in the same town, near the village in north Essex that is home to jam-makers to the Queen Wilkin & Son.
I’m a small tip raspberry fan but he is “more of a black cherry man” and neither of us will have any other brand in our cupboards.
“I gave the boys Wilkins strawberry on crumpets this morning,” he laughed and recalled how as a child he picked “bucket after bloody bucket” of raspberries as a summer job at the farm.
“I seriously never thought when I was raspberry picking that one day I’d be here with these two amazing boys. I do love it. My life would be quite incomplete without them.”