THE LONELY pensioner whose ‘Christmas companion’ ad touched thousands around the world is planning to let his upcoming birthday pass under the radar.
“When you get over 50 you don’t bother with birthdays,” joked James Gray, who turns 86 at the end of the month. “It’s no good because you want to forget your birthdays when you are getting old.”
Mr Gray’s poignant story, in which he took out an advert to find friends for the festive season, was met with a global avalanche of emotion last December.
Facing his 10th Christmas with just a TV for company, the London-based Cork man resorted to extreme measures in a bid to end his lonely streak.
The Irish Post took up the story after he placed an advert in the paper asking fellow pensioners to get in touch so he could set up a group lunch on December 25 near his Sutton home.
What followed was a wave of good-will as people from as far away as Australia, Chile, Japan and the US felt compelled to allay his loneliness, sending more than 1,000 cards and gifts to Mr Gray in the space of just two weeks.
Shortly after receiving his first cards in years, the retired butler tucked into Christmas dinner with two Irish Post readers who offered to spend the day with him.
With Mr Gray’s 86th birthday fast approaching, The Irish Post has already received cards and emails from those who remembered he was born in late August.
But the unassuming man himself said he wants to spend the day away from international attention and asked well-wishers not to send anything.
“I don’t want to celebrate my birthday and I don’t want any more cards,” he added.
Mr Gray, who has no living family, is not expecting any company on his birthday except his carer and his cleaner.
And as he looks further ahead to Christmas 2014, he said that he was so “overwhelmed” by the response he got last year that he has decided not to run with a newspaper advert.
“There was so much fuss made about it, putting it on Facebook and all of that hassle. I definitely won’t do it again,” he said humbly.
Mr Gray, however, has kept in touch with the London-Irish couple who spent Christmas Day with him — Marian and John Cunningham.
He added: “It is the people I have known all my life, who used to send me cards and everything, that do not bother ringing.”