My Mum, Your Dad star Roger Hawes shares his moving tale of love and loss: Silver fox widower that all of Britain wants to hug tells how he spent 34 years with his ‘wonder woman’
Sometimes the path of true love really does run smooth. Roger Hawes is describing how he met his wife, and it’s the most straightforward happily-ever-after story you’ve ever heard. ‘Jo head-hunted me,’ he says. ‘I was a bit slow on the uptake – sums me up, basically – but she told me later that she’d seen me in the pub after I’d been playing football and thought, ‘Ooh, he’s nice.’
‘She was only 18. I was six years older. I said I’d see her home one night but we ended up in a nightclub. We started dancing, then we looked at each other and started kissing, and we must have kissed for two hours.’
And that was that. He handed over his heart and the next 34 years of his life. In 1992, he and Jo married, brought up three children, and were together until her death 18 months ago. ‘She taught me how to love,’ he says. ‘And she wasn’t just a big part of my life, she WAS my life.’
Last week, Roger became, overnight, the most famous widower in Britain when his appearance on an ITV dating show reduced the nation to tears. No one was prepared. The programme-makers had not warned that tissues would be required, or that a postman from Derbyshire would deliver such an emotional punch.
My Mum, Your Dad had been billed as a Love Island for the middle-aged, so we were expecting hilarious dating games, cringe-worthy dad jokes and disastrous histories of divorce and disappointment. Instead we were faced with a relatively newbie widower, aged 58, carrying the pieces of his shattered heart.
Together for 34 years: In 1992, he and Jo married, brought up three children, and were together until her death 18 months ago
No one – Roger included – seemed entirely sure whether he should be there.
READ MORE: Roger Hawes on losing his beloved wife who ‘taught me how to love’
Roger Hawes, 58, (pictured) stole the nation’s heart on My Mum, Your Dad after telling how the mother of his three children went to sleep on the sofa and never woke up
Fellow contestant Caroline wept on their first ‘date’ as Roger – a Paul Hollywood lookalike whom she had immediately singled out as a ‘silver fox’ – told her how his wife’s malignant melanoma had spread to her brain, and she lost her life to it aged just 52.
This was his first date, he said, since he had met his beloved Jo. ‘Give this man a hug,’ said one social media commentator, summing up the reaction of a nation.
Why did our hearts go out to him? Roger has a theory.
‘It’s the C word – cancer,’ he says. ‘No one thinks it will happen to them. I didn’t. The outpouring of support from people has been surprising, but lovely. I think people can see how heartfelt it is, but they also look at me and think, ‘Thank God that’s not happened to me.’
He is also grateful that the other contestants embraced him and his grief. ‘I don’t think I would have lasted a day, or the second day, if the others hadn’t helped me. What you see there is true friendship. People saying, ‘Come on, mate, are you all right?’ I did feel that everyone had my back.’
His eldest daughter, Jess, has joined him for this interview. Jess was the one who heard about the show and tentatively suggested he might want to take part. ‘She called me up and asked if I liked the sound of going into a mansion with single ladies who were looking for someone,’ he recalls.
‘I said, ‘What sounds bad about that?’ and she said, ‘Good, because I’ve entered you.’
The happy young family: Jo and Roger Hawes pictured with baby Jess in 1994
Jess says she hadn’t actually put in the application, but was ‘trying to get his genuine reaction’.
‘Dad tends to make light of things,’ says Jess. ‘There’s a lot of bravado with him, but at the time he was struggling – he’s still struggling – and we thought it would give him something to look forward to. It wasn’t about us saying, ‘You must find someone’, because nothing will ever fill that gap.
‘No one can replace your mum. But my sister and I had left home, and my brother had his studies. Dad was coming home from work to an empty house. He had no one to tell about his day. We felt that, eventually, he was going to want someone, so why not try that out in a controlled, safe environment?’
They laugh about how going on the show was ‘free therapy’ because contestants are given access to expert psychologists – ‘and I needed that’, says Roger.
Now that Roger is home again (filming is complete, although only half the episodes have been shown) they admit that in the early stages they all wondered if they’d made a huge mistake. Roger says he hadn’t been prepared for the feelings of guilt and confusion.
Did he want to date again? ‘I don’t think I was ready,’ he admits.
The contestants didn’t know their children were watching from a separate studio, fully involved in the decisions about who they should be paired with. Jess was in tears watching her dad flounder, unsure whether to flirt, open up emotionally to a woman, or express any romantic interest.
Roger and Jess (pictured) feel, with hindsight, that Jo knew how bad things were
‘In the early stages, he was visibly anxious,’ she says. ‘He had defensive walls up and didn’t know how to bring them down.’
In Friday’s episode – when it was clear that two women were interested in Roger – there was a breakthrough. Jess was allowed to spend ten minutes with her dad, to lift his spirits and bolster his confidence.
They discussed how ‘broken’ he was. There were tears. He says he felt something shift inside him.
‘She gave me this pep talk, and I felt like the child,’ Roger says. ‘I remember thinking, ‘She’s the adult here. Where is this coming from? What’s going on here?’ But she was right. I went back in with more confidence.
‘At the start I had struggled because I knew that I was in there for different reasons than everyone else. I was only there because my wife had passed away. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be there!’
He was able to admit his feelings about being attracted to a woman in the house – Janey. The first contestant he’d had a date with, Caroline, was someone he also felt close to, but possibly not in that way.
So who did he leave the house with, if anyone?
Alas, we have agreed not to give away what happens, but it’s possibly best not to expect twee TV happy endings.
If one thing screams out from a conversation with Roger, it’s that he is still adjusting to the biggest loss a man like him can face.
Jenny Johnston: Roger’s grief is never far from the surface. He isn’t religious, so doesn’t believe that Jo is watching over him
He is open and extremely likeable, prone to just telling it as it is, which often makes his daughter cringe. At one stage I ask how he knew Jo was The One, and he says, ‘We were at it like rabbits’, which makes Jess shout: ‘Over-sharing, Dad!’
READ MORE: My Mum, Your Dad star Roger Hawes admits he wasn’t ready to date when he first joined the show
Emotional: My Mum, Your Dad star Roger Hawes has admitted he wasn’t ready to date when he first joined the show, after losing his wife to cancer 18-months ago
She also rolls her eyes when I query whether he remembers what song was playing in the nightclub on the night he and Jo had that epic kiss. ‘I don’t remember the first one, but I do remember Push It [by Salt-N-Pepa], which has the line, ‘Ooh, baby, baby’. I was thinking ‘Mmmm, baby, baby’,’ he says.
Roger’s grief is never far from the surface. He isn’t religious, so doesn’t believe that Jo is watching over him.
‘It would be nice to think she was, but no,’ he says. ‘I know how much she knew me, though. Nothing I say or do in the show would shock her. She’d probably know what I was going to say, even who I was going to pick. She’d probably be laughing at us.’
Jo sounds like quite a woman. I ask Roger to describe her and he starts listing what she was good at. It goes on a while. ‘She did everything – organising the kids, cooking, Christmas,’ he says. ‘Every party we had, she organised it. She organised parties at work. People would come to us and ask her to help them book their holidays.
‘Around the house she sorted it all – the car insurance, house insurance. I was one of those useless husbands who let their wives do everything. She was Wonder Woman. She often told me that, but she was.’
Jo was also a critical care nurse. When they met she had worked in a pharmacy, but when their three children arrived – Jess, now 29, sister Alex, 26, then brother Ben, 22 – she enrolled in a nursing degree and ended up working in ICU, juggling the most demanding of jobs with family life.
‘She’d done a stint in a care home and loved it, and had the opportunity to do a degree where she was working on the job, too,’ Roger says. ‘She was a mature student.’
Jenny Johnston: In Friday’s episode – when it was clear that two women were interested in Roger – there was a breakthrough. Jess was allowed to spend ten minutes with her dad, to lift his spirits and bolster his confidence
He says the word ‘mature’ three times, which causes Jess to pipe up: ‘I’m not sure Mum would thank you for referring to her as ‘mature’, Dad!’ He smiles, and says she is probably right.
He starts to giggle: ‘She was just brilliant, with the kids, with patients. I remember getting tickets for the Chatsworth horse show once, and she got out of the car with a big case under her arm.
‘Out came strawberries, caviar, champagne. We were sat on one side of this fence, and on the other side – in the VIP bit – were Zara Phillips and Seb Coe. They must have been looking at this couple, who had everything, thinking, ‘Who are these two?’
‘After Jo died, we were contacted by people she’d treated in intensive care, or whose family members she’d looked after, and they remembered the care she had given them, how she went above and beyond.’
READ MORE: My Mum, Your Dad contestant Roger Hawes lost his wife to cancer 18-months-ago
Devastating: The hunky 58-year-old postman on new ITV series My Mum, Your Dad lost his wife to cancer 18-months-ago, MailOnline can reveal
Jo was diagnosed with breast cancer about five years ago, but approached her illness in the same way she packed for a picnic – thinking of everything, but not bothering her family with the worry over the details.
‘She had to have a breast off, which is a big thing for a woman, but she just got on with it,’ Roger says. ‘She came through it.’
Jo was given the all-clear, and life continued.
Then, after lockdown, they went on a holiday to Italy, where Roger noticed a mark behind her ear.
‘I said, ‘You need to get that checked,’ and she did – melanoma. But we thought she’d just get treatment, get it sorted, like before.’
There were months of hospital treatment, radiotherapy. Roger makes light of it, but he gave up his job to ferry her to appointments. ‘I didn’t really work for a year. We got in a routine,’ he says. ‘I’d get her breakfast, we’d do a few quizzes, then it would be off for an appointment or what-not. You do become someone’s carer, which means you are with them 24/7. That makes it harder when they go, because your life has become them.
‘But she made me go back to work just a couple of days before she died. She’d said, ‘You have to get back to some normality.’ ‘
Roger and Jess feel, with hindsight, that Jo knew how bad things were.
‘We realised after that she’d probably been preparing us,’ Jess says. ‘Not in an overt way, but we realised, when we were doing things like closing bank accounts, that we knew how to do them.’
There never was a big heart-to-heart about what Roger should do with his life – and all the love in his heart – should she die before him.
‘We probably did joke about it, but I’d have said, ‘Get away with you. You’ll never go before me. Don’t be daft.’ ‘
And then she did. ‘She’d been poorly, but she still insisted on a holiday to Italy two weeks before she passed away,’ he says.
‘She was still trying not to spoil things for everyone, but one day at home she was tired and I gave her the choice of me putting her to bed or settling her on the sofa. She chose the sofa.’
Jenny Johnston: After Jo died, Roger told their children that he wished it had been him
He tucked her in. She never woke up again.
They are a close family. All three children have partners of their own, and this has been a comfort. ‘I’m just thankful she got to see Jess married, and that she had her three children,’ says Roger. ‘We packed a lot into our lives.’
After Jo died, Roger told their children that he wished it had been him, because their mum would have been better placed to cope and carry them all through.
‘The kids sorted the funeral,’ Roger says. ‘The first six months were the worst.’
Yet they got through it, with the children whisking him off on holidays and mini-breaks to, as Jess says, ‘stop him looking at the four walls’.
Going on a dating show was an extension of this, then?
‘Yes, she says. ‘We just wanted him to have fun. And to find himself again.’
Will he find love on the way? In some ways, he already has.
He tells me: ‘I’ve got a family who have pulled me through and I’ve got people, even strangers, saying, ‘It’s all right, mate, you’ve got this.’ That means a lot.’
- Your Mum, My Dad is on Monday-Friday, ITV1 at 9pm.
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