THE lonely pensioner that tugged at heartstrings around the world last Christmas will not be alone on December 25 this year.
James Gray, the London Irish man who via an ad in The Irish Post was searching for someone to spend the holidays with, will enjoy a festive feast surrounded by friends later this month.
“All I wanted last year was some company. It was great to get that,” he said speaking to us this week.
“This year I will be sharing Christmas with a friend of mine from the local Ramblers Association we are both joined to and we will have dinner together at a hotel with two other people.”
James and his guests will be dining at a local Holiday Inn again this year — a gift from the hotel who stepped in to help last year when he spent Christmas Day with John and Marian Cunningham, an Irish couple living in north London.
James, who was overwhelmed by the response to his story in 2013, said he has even stayed in touch with some of those who wrote to him from across Europe, Britain and Ireland as well as the US, South America and Australia.
“I’m feeling much fitter this year than last year but I’m not 100 per cent,” he said in reference to a pre-Christmas operation he underwent last year. “There was such a huge reaction to my story last year that I couldn’t really deal with it all with my health the way it was.
“Thankfully I’m better this year and have taken time to go through the cards I received and even managed to send a card back to about a dozen people who sent one to me.”
He added: “I have also had a couple of phone calls with people who had put their number on the card. So it’s been nice and it has opened me up to a lot of new people. I’m enjoying that and am feeling fit enough to go through the cards.”
Last Christmas hundreds of Irish Post readers from around the world were touched by James’ story, who, after spending 10 Christmases alone, reached out to find someone he could share the festive season with.
Sacks full of cards arrived at The Irish Post offices for James, with kind messages and offers of friendship.
But the story of James Gray also highlighted the many others who face spending the holidays — and often the rest of the year — alone.
And so this year rather than sending cards and gifts, The Irish Post and James are asking you to donate the cost of a card and a stamp, or whatever you can spare, to help more lonely people.
“It’s great that The Irish Post is supporting a charity which is reaching out to people who may be lonely this Christmas,” James said.
The Irish Post has teamed up with the London Irish Centre’s Christmas Appeal to allow our readers and those who were moved to write to James last year to support older Irish people in London.
The London Irish Centre provides advice and outreach year round to those who are lonely, isolated, sometimes confused and at times afraid.
WAYS TO GIVE:
• ONLINE: A regular or one-off donation at www.justgiving.com/londonirishcentre
• BY TEXT: Text CMAS05 £5 to 70070 to donate £5
• IN PERSON: Call 020 7916 2222
£5 will provide a hot meal for a pensioner
£10 will help to extend the London Irish Centre’s befriending service to lonely older people