James Whale says Phillip Schofield 'will never work again'
JAMES Whale and his wife Nadine Lamont-Brown are discussing the etiquette of funerals. It’s a subject they can’t easily ignore. The terminally ill broadcaster and Daily Express columnist has “six, maybe eight months” left before the cancer he has been fighting for three years claims his life. Having ended treatment, the veteran radio star is now planning for what happens next – but that doesn’t mean he can’t have fun.
“You’re not supposed to invite people to funerals, are you?” he says to Nadine, sitting next to him on a sofa at his Kent home, their three dogs Daisy, Lulu and Muttley curled up nearby. She shakes her head: “No, you don’t invite them.”
“Then we’ll change that,” he declares in typically bombastic fashion.
“We’ll have amazing, gold, terribly over-the-top invitations.”
Nadine digests this news briefly. “Oh-kay,” she says in her soft voice, her sparkling blue eyes searching his face.
“Well, you can design those. You can be the first person who sends out invites to their funeral – date to be confirmed!”
This dry wit, some might call it gallows humour, peppers their conversation on this bright autumnal afternoon.
It is in part, they admit, a coping mechanism for their heartbreaking situation.
When the Express last met the couple in the spring, James admitted that, without his wife, he would have considered a trip to Dignitas in Switzerland. Today he bravely concedes this will be his “last Christmas”.
While he beat kidney cancer 25 years ago, the disease returned in 2020 and ravaged his brain, lungs and spine with tumours.
“We’ll cry and get fed up and miserable and everything else, but you can’t spend the time you have left like that, can you?” James, 72, muses.
His wife, 58, a tax adviser with luminous silver hair, smiles. “No, better to have a glass of wine.”
Tragically, this is not their first merry-go-round on the cancer circuit.
Melinda, James’s wife of 48 years, and Simon, Nadine’s late husband, both died of lung cancer. Indeed, they shared the same hospital consultant.
James and Nadine met by chance four years ago at a bucolic pub in the Kent village where they live.
They’re polar opposites – she’s far more liberal than he is – but they could pass for childhood sweethearts so devoted are they to one another. Indeed, there is much more to this strident-sounding broadcaster than initially meets the eye – or ear!
He is well liked locally, I’m told by an employee of that same pub who drops me off at the broadcaster’s home after I get lost en route.
Later, another friendly villager who drives James to his weekly show, confides: “He’s not the same person on the radio.”
I’d agree wholeheartedly. In person, he is friendly, polite and warm, far from the brusque, finger-jabbing “shock jock” familiar to millions of listeners.
He’s lost the bloated weight he gained while on steroids and is feeling better since stopping his treatment three months ago.
The drugs extended his life but caused nausea, backache and debilitating headaches.
He could barely walk to his front gate to collect his post. Friends feared the worst, but coming off them has revitalised him.
That said, even now he has the odd day when he feels downright awful.
“Yesterday, I would have been quite happy to die,” he says plainly.
“He is a bit of a drama queen,” Nadine interjects. “Me?” he replies incredulously. “Why would you think that?”
James, currently on TalkRadio and TalkTV, plans to continue working for as long as possible and the couple have made a modest “bucket list”. Foreign holidays are no longer an option, due to the risks. And he can no longer get travel insurance.
But they plan on holidaying in Cornwall and visiting James’s two grown-up sons, James and Peter, as much as possible.
They recently spent a lavish night at the Savoy – “We had afternoon tea followed by dinner,” Nadine exclaims – and successfully bid on a seven-course tasting menu at a Michelin-starred London restaurant at a Macmillan cancer charity auction.
And in between making memories, they are planning James’s funerals…
Yes, that’s right, he wants two so he can attend one himself.
The idea was suggested by a local publican who James jokes is “probably thinking double bubble”.
Still, it hasn’t taken too much persuasion for him to consider a “living funeral”.
He explains: “The fun part of the funeral is the wake afterwards, or what I like to call the ‘after funeral party’ – the showbizzy bit – where we’d invite all our mates.
But I won’t be at the other one so I thought we’ll have one before as well.”
Nadine, ever the voice of calm, intervenes: “There’s always the danger that if everyone turns up to the first one, they won’t show up to the second.
Maybe you can do one for your mates – like a sort of stag do?”
“A funeral stag do?” James says aloud. “Yeah, now that’s a really good idea.” A funeral stag do it is, then.
As for the real event, the one where James won’t be around to crack jokes and squeeze Nadine’s hand, he insists he won’t have a “horrible old brown wooden coffin”.
The colour isn’t confirmed, but they’re considering having a whale painted on its side.
Guests will wear black but the day will be one of celebration rather than mourning.
After the church service, attendees will retreat to the pub to consume “a lot of champagne” and hear music by a live band.
“We might get one of our friends who’s a comic to do lots of bad taste, funny, jokes,” James says.
Who has he got in mind? His good friend, the comedian Bobby Davro.
“Bobby’s very funny – there’ll be jokes about funerals and dying all the way through,” he says.
Other celebrity friends will perform, and James plans to regale guests from beyond the grave with a “Spike Milligan-like” video message.
We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info
As for his final resting place, James has no plans to become “just a cup of ashes”.
He looks at Nadine again lovingly. “And you don’t like crematoriums,” he says. “No, I prefer a nice burial,” she replies.
Despite not being religious, James plans to be buried in a hillside church graveyard overlooking green fields.
“I like that it’s got a great view of the weald of Kent so I can rise out of the coffin occasionally and look at the view,” he says.
“Going to do some haunting are you?” Nadine jokes, to which he replies: “I’m thinking about it.
“There’s a lot of people I’d like to haunt… or at least just sit in their living rooms and see what they’re really up to.”
It’s been five decades since James pioneered late-night talk shows on the radio. “I’ve had an interesting life,” he says.
“I’ve been sacked a few times but I’m proud that I’ve worked from my 20s to my 70s, and I’ve never had to claim the dole.”
Born in Ewell, Surrey, he struggled academically because of his dyslexia, which remained undiagnosed well into adulthood.
He wanted to act but after he became a father, aged 18, with Melinda, he had to make big money fast.
“I found out I could earn more DJ-ing in one night than a whole week as a repertory actor,” he recalls. “There’s quite a lot of performing in what I do so that’s fine.”
Is his “shock jock” image a persona then?
“Maybe, I don’t know,” he says, somewhat perplexed. “But I have to focus myself on the stories and I don’t talk about anything I don’t have a point of view on.”
In fairness, he does seem to have an opinion about everything: cyclists, graffiti, people who drop litter.
We are speaking two days after he tweeted the British Medical Association should be “ashamed” for facilitating doctors’ strikes.
Last month, Nadine suffered a burst appendix on the same day industrial action was taking place.
“She spent 12 hours in A&E before anyone looked at her,” James says. “Twelve hours!”
She had called 111 on the Sunday in question and waited four hours for a doctor to call back. By this point, she was in excruciating pain and could barely speak.
“The doctor said, ‘You need to go to hospital now. I would say call an ambulance but there is a four-hour wait at the moment – so can you find someone to take you?’”
James couldn’t drive so a friend rushed Nadine to hospital. Looking back now, she believes her appendix burst while she was on the phone.
The pain subsided so she made little fuss on arrival – unlike other noisier patients – and was deemed a low-priority case even though her life was in morbid danger.
She was finally examined after her friend protested and was promptly rushed into surgery.
For James, stuck at home, himself severely unwell, the experience brought back distressing flashbacks of the day Melinda left home for the last time by ambulance, never to return.
“He said, ‘You can’t go to the hospital, you can’t go in an ambulance, you’ll never come back again,’” Nadine remembers, wincing at the memory.
Thankfully she has made a full recovery, and James stresses his own NHS journey has been nothing short of fantastic.
“The team who are looking after me at St Bart’s hospital are doing an amazing job, they’re brilliant,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, would I?”
Nadine nods in agreement.
“But if you want to be a doctor and look after people, why would you put them through all this extra pain and suffering? I don’t understand it.”
He’s angry, he says, with highly paid consultants and the management responsible for hiring hundreds of diversity officers at great cost and leaching resources from the frontline.
“I’ve got cancer, I’m not going to be around long, but I’m in my 70s. What about a child aged five years old? What about a young mother with babies?”
He turns to Nadine. “We both know people who’ve been in that situation haven’t we? It’s just appalling.
“If you don’t think about your patients or you’re more interested in your own money then you’re not really in the right job, are you?”
He stops and apologises for going into “work mode” acknowledging how easily he slides into it. But his anger is passionate and honestly held.
And the couple, who have a podcast of their cancer journey, Tales Of The Whales, clearly bring comfort to many others.
James will go to a hospice in Kent when the time is right. The care, he says, is first-rate and there’s a pretty garden. Moreover, the couple’s dogs will be allowed to come and visit, which is of huge importance to James.
In May, he was honoured with a special recognition award for his long service in TV and radio. So what would he like to be remembered for? He thinks for a while.
“Probably as the person who showed this country that there was a need for night-time broadcasting,” he says.
“It was hit-and-miss before me. They realised there’s a really good audience here, we should put something out at night instead of the test card.”
Nadine nods. “It gets a little boring after a while doesn’t it?” she says.
Without missing a beat, he adds: “You told me you prefer the test card to what I do!”
Even if that’s true, millions of people would disagree.
Tales Of The Whales is available on all podcast platforms. Read James every Monday in the Daily Express
Source: Read Full Article