Eight months after The Wanted star Tom Parker died of brain cancer, his wife Kelsey reveals her ongoing experience of grief, and the physical and mental challenge that offered an opportunity for contemplation and healing
The weekend before her interview with Happiful, actress and influencer Kelsey Parker was a guest at a wedding where she unexpectedly found herself sidelined by other guests.
“No one wanted to talk to me,” explains Kelsey. “People don’t know what to say to me, so they say nothing at all. I tried to speak to people that I hadn’t seen for a while, but after the ‘How are you?’ nobody wanted to take the conversation further.”
For the uninitiated, that conversation is grief. And, according to Kelsey, the widow of singer and The Wanted star Tom Parker who died in March at the age of 33, after an 18-month battle with brain cancer, it’s time we all did better at speaking out about life after loss.
“I’m coping with my grief by speaking about it, but in the UK we just don’t talk honestly and openly about grief, death, and everything else associated with these painful experiences. These are realities that will one day affect us all,” says Kelsey, who has made a six-part ITVBe miniseries about grief, which airs this month. Welcoming cameras into the south London home she once shared with Tom and their children Aurelia, three, and Bodhi, two, and being filmed as she explored alternative ways to navigate grief was, says Kelsey, “hugely healing”.
As well as visiting a death cafe where people drink tea, eat cake, and discuss death, she tried grief yoga, where movements and breathing techniques help participants process their feelings. She also met with members of Widowed And Young, a national charity for people who are aged 50 or under when their partner dies.
“It’s shocking, isn’t it? I’m 32 and I’m a widow,” sighs Kelsey. “Although my friends are amazing, they can’t truly relate to me because they’ve not lost their partner, so I really enjoyed meeting with the WAY members because they truly understood where I was coming from, and that was lovely.”
With this in mind, you can sense the appeal of another activity that Kelsey is embarking on as part of her life journey post-Tom.
Alongside her close pal, actress and podcaster Giovanna Fletcher, TOWIE star Pete Wicks, and TV personality Vicky Pattison, this month Kelsey is trekking 100km across the Sahara in aid of breast cancer awareness charity, CoppaFeel!
Flanked by 100 CoppaFeel! supporters, the team will hike for 10 hours daily through Morocco’s unforgiving landscape, a gruelling challenge that would intimidate most. But not Kelsey.
From the day he was diagnosed with an inoperable grade four glioblastoma tumour in October 2020, during his 60 sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and until the day he died just hours after lying beside Kelsey and placing his platinum wedding ring on her finger, Tom never lost sight of hope. And now Kelsey says she is channelling her husband’s strength to complete the biggest physical challenge of her life.
“Nothing can be harder than what Tom faced during those 18 months,” she says, adding that she always admired his steadfastness under pressure.
“Tom had such a good mindset. He threw himself down mountains on ITV’s The Jump, and when he took part in MasterChef, he became a chef. Whatever the challenge, he always took on the task, and that’s what I’ve got to do. Get to the Sahara… and take on the task.”
Having hit the gym and packed in reformer pilates classes to physically prepare for the trek, Kelsey is gearing herself up emotionally, and as well as looking forward to sharing “deep conversation” with her teammates, she is ready for deep moments of quiet reflection.
This month, Kelsey Parker is taking part in CoppaTrek! in the Sahara to raise vital funds and awareness for breast cancer charity, CoppaFeel!, proudly sponsored by Regatta Great Outdoors. To learn how to check your chest, head over to the ‘Self Checkout’ page on coppafeel.org
“It’s going to be a good, healing place for me,” says Kelsey. “There are things I need to let go of, things I’m still punishing myself for. I’ll think, ‘Why didn’t I do that for Tom? I should have done this,’ even though I know deep down there was nothing more I could have done. I guess it’s human nature to torment yourself with what ifs and self-blame.
“But the past two years have made me realise how strong I actually am, and that is a big motivator for getting through the trek. This experience has taught me so much. Oh my god…” Kelsey momentarily pauses.
“That’s so weird,” she continues. “A feather literally just fell on my car as we’re talking.”
Before Tom died, he promised to send Kelsey ‘signs’ of his presence. Minutes after he passed away at St Christopher’s Hospice in south London, a white feather fell from the sky onto a bench where Kelsey was silently weeping.
Recently, Kelsey says two framed pictures of the children have fallen to her bedroom floor.
“It doesn’t scare me. Thomas Parker never wanted to leave so I know he’s going to be hanging around, watching what I’m doing and guiding me. That’s hugely comforting,” she says, adding that although she has not had bereavement counselling, her own spiritual beliefs and deep conversations with a spiritualist pal are helping her “reach a place of healing”.
As for the children, Kelsey believes in speaking “with honesty” to Aurelia – and, in time, Bodhi – about their father’s passing, and all the emotions connected to that loss.
“I don’t want them to ever look back and feel I’ve lied to them about anything because I’ve shielded them,” says Kelsey. “In the beginning, I explained Tom’s condition to Aurelia as ‘daddy’s got a bad head’, but now she’s a bit older, she’s overheard me talking about his brain tumour and now uses that terminology.
“At my friends’ wedding, she was a bridesmaid and had a picture of Tom on her bouquet. In the car on the way to the church, she was saying, ‘That’s my dad. He’s dead. He died of a brain tumour. He’s with The Queen now.’ The father of the bride was in tears.”
For all the decline that she witnessed during his last 18 months, Kelsey now mostly remembers only pre-cancer Tom.
“I think of the Tom before who would rock into a room with his quiff, going, ‘Alright!’ He was such a force, and I feel blessed to have shared such a closeness to him.
“We were so connected, it was like Tom had a radar to see where I was. Somehow, wherever I was, he’d turn up for half an hour, stop for a bit of lunch or dinner, then go off to the studio, and then pop up again. Even now in spirit, I feel he’s doing that. I know he will never leave me.”
Photography | Archive by Ryan courtesy of S Creative