Drag star Craig Whymark as Fanny Galore

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Drag star Craig Whymark: “With dementia it’s the families that are suffering as well”

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Drag star Craig Whymark as Fanny Galore

Drag star Craig Whymark as Fanny Galore

Tell us a little about yourself Craig.

I danced for Girls Aloud on three or four of their UK tours and did lots of TV work then fell into drag, first in London, now I do lots of shows in Essex and Kent and Hertfordshire, as my alter ego Fanny Galore.

So, a very different type of performer to your father…

Yes. Dad was a professional footballer who played for Ipswich Town during the 70s. He was at the club when they won the FA Cup in 1978 but was unfortunately injured so missed the final at Wembley.

The highlight of his time there was when he scored all four goals in a UEFA Cup match against Lazio in 1973. He won his one England cap in 1977 then played for various other English clubs also for the Vancouver Whitecaps. When he finished playing, he worked as a driver.

Got questions you're scared to ask about dementia?

Questions you're afraid to ask about dementia

Before his dementia diagnosis in 2019, how was your dad’s health?

He’d always been physically fit and healthy, but we first noticed things weren’t quite right after he retired and then his mum passed away. Initially we thought the trauma of the grieving and the stress of dealing with his mum’s financial affairs had sparked a depression.

And when that depression persisted…

I just felt it wasn’t that simple, so we got him to see a psychologist, but dad came out of the appointment saying, ‘Everything’s fine. I’m alright,’ but retrospectively I think he was trying to protect us all from the truth, as a few months later it because apparent that the symptoms – like forgetting relatives’ names or where things were kept – were getting worse.

Presumably you sought a second opinion?

Yes. We made a GP’s appointment and dad did a memory test. At that time there was a lot of talk in the press about ex-footballers suffering from dementia brought on my heading the really heavy balls they used to play with, and heading was always dad’s trademark.

The balls were so hard and heavy in those days when they got wet – and he used to spend hours and hours practicing and just doing thousands of keepy uppy’s on his head. The GP referred dad to a specialist, who diagnosed him with early onset Alzheimer’s, when he was about 67.

Trevor Whymark

Trevor Whymark, Former Ipswich Town and England striker

How challenging was the diagnosis on your dad and your family?

The diagnosis was actually a bit of a relief as we knew what we had to deal with, but it was hugely upsetting as well as we knew what was to come. I’ve seen other people decline and pass away from dementia, so it’s inevitable that you’re going to think, ‘they’re going to forget everything and then they’re going to die,’ and you just think, ‘further down the line, how are they going to be?’

Five years on, how are things with your dad and how are you all coping?

We’re rallying around, but it’s hardest for my mum. Dad still knows all our names, but he repeats things. For instance, he’ll ask if the traffic was bad then two minutes later, he’ll ask the same thing again. Or he won’t know the name of a dish he hasn’t eaten for a while, or he’ll start cutting up his food in a quite a childlike manner.

Is he aware of his own condition?

He is and sometimes he’ll suddenly look really sad and say to mum, ‘I don’t think I’ve got long left, have I?’ but mum is brilliant, and she’ll just say, ‘Trev, none of us know how long we’ve got. Don’t be silly. What do you want for tea?’ and then he’ll snap out of that sadness.

Has he still got the majority of his personality?

I wouldn’t say the majority, no. Emotionally he’s different, but he does say to my mum every day, ‘I love you,’ and he still reads the newspaper everyday although when he’s finished, he’ll just pick it up and read it again. He’s on these slow-release Alzheimer’s patches, but we don’t know if they’ve had a significant impact.

Your dad was a huge Elvis fan. Does listening to old records help?

Definitely. He visited Gracelands when he was playing for Vancouver Whitecaps and loves Elvis, but we have to play the records for him as he always says, ‘I’d love to listen to these if I had a record player,’ and we say, ‘Dad, it’s here!’

How much support have your family had since your dad’s diagnosis?

Apart from the PFA, who paid for a few weeks of counselling for mum, we haven’t had any help, but for me personally doing lots of fundraising events has given me a focus. People don’t always realise that it’s the carers and the families behind the scenes that are suffering as well.

They’re the ones that often don’t get the chance to speak to anyone or know where to go, although we do have a carer now that comes in for a couple of hours a week to give mum some respite or a chance to do some shopping.

Craig Whymark with his mum and dad

Craig with his mum and dad

Which projects does the money that you raise help?

I’ve raised nearly £18,000 so far for the Alzheimer’s Society plus a couple of thousand for local projects too.

Has your family discussed your dad’s future care plan?

We have. My brother, me and my sister are on a WhatsApp group, so we get to say things without upsetting my mum, and we have one with my mum too, so we share dad’s appointments and stuff, but to be honest we are living in the moment.

We know that eventually there’s going to be a time when dad might have to go into a home and when he doesn’t know who we are, and although I speak to mum and dad every day, I know it’s hardest for mum.

She told me that she gets up at six am every day and goes downstairs and just cries because she’s scared of what’s to come. Then she has to just turn it on and get dad up and say, ‘Come of Trev, off we go.’ It’s incredibly hard for her.

Because of Alzheimer’s inevitable progression, are you embracing the time you are spending with your dad even more than usual?

Absolutely. We know what’s to come so we just want to try to spend as much time with him as we can.

How to help a loved one living with dementia?

How to support someone living with dementia

How difficult have you found it to navigate the care system since your dad’s diagnosis?

There’s been very little follow up since his diagnosis. If people have cancer, there are regular follow up, but it feels like we’ve been left to our own devices. Like, ‘have a look at this pamphlet,’ or, ‘Go there,’ but apart from the beginning of Covid we haven’t had people coming round offering any help to mum.

We found a carer ourselves and we’ve had to navigate the whole power of attorney financial situation ourselves too. It would be a lot easier if there was a more organised structure. It feels like mum needs a lot more than she’s getting, but we have to find it.

It’s a huge pressure on everyone. Are you getting any respite?

My respite is actually on stage as Fanny Galore. It raises my spirits to see everyone else smiling.

What would your message be for other families dealing with a more recent dementia diagnosis?

I wish that at the beginning we would have got more support from going to a local dementia cafe and surrounding ourselves with other like-minded people that are going through it.

It’s also important not to feel ashamed about it, but I think with increased conversations about mental health that is becoming less of an issue now. The most important thing is to be able to talk about it.

Craig Whymark and parents

Craig and his parents Trevor and Rita

To support Craig’s fundraising efforts visit https://www.justgiving.com/page/craig-whymark-1681652220079

Caring for my wife with vascular parkinson's dementia

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Ray Proctor: “My hobbies are my lifeline – I couldn’t live without them!”

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Caring for my wife with vascular parkinson's dementia

Ray and his wife Jacqueline have been married for 58 years.

After 54 years of marriage, Ray and Jacqueline Proctor’s lives were changed forever by a devastating health crisis. As they tried to adjust to the new normal where Ray became Jacqueline’s full-time carer and a house husband, the Proctors discovered their hobbies were more important than ever. Here, Ray tells us how his weekly activities and the friendships he’s made through them have been vital to his wellbeing.

Just before the first lockdown in 2020, my wife Jacqueline and I were busy getting ready for another adventure – Caribbean cruise for our 54th wedding anniversary.

We loved travelling together, having lived in Germany when I was in the armed forces and then been all over the world on fantastic holidays.

The pandemic put pay to our cruise plans, but one day, things got much worse when suddenly Jacqueline’s head dropped, and we had no idea why.

It turns out that Dropped Head Syndrome is a neurological condition, and it took another year for us to get the right diagnosis – Jacqueline had Vascular Parkinson’s Dementia.

Vascular Parkinson's dementia

Ray and Jacqueline's world was rocked by her diagnosis

Jacqueline’s ill health meant I had to quickly learn how to become a house husband and carer.

Thankfully, I’m a practical man, as I was a Mechanical Engineer in the army, so I applied the same approach to household tasks.

However, I had seen what being stuck in the house 24/7 caring for someone had done to people I knew, and I had no intention of letting that happen to me.

Ray is a man of many hobbies

Ray wanted to continue leading a life full of hobbies

Walking had always been one of my favourite activities, and I had formed a group of walkers from the WeightWatchers club I attended.

As soon as the Covid restrictions were relaxed, I started regularly getting out and about with some of the WeightWatchers walkers and clocked up 118 rambles around Norfolk, which I faithfully tracked on the app Komoot.

I soon noticed another walker was ‘liking’ all my routes, especially those in the local area. When I walk, I always say ‘hello’ to those who pass us because I like meeting new people.

I’d regularly traded pleasantries with a chap I often passed in my village. One day, I stopped for a chat and discovered that Ivan was the same person from Komoot!

We’ve been walking together ever since.

As I stepped up my walking, Jacqueline was losing her mobility.

She could no longer use the walker that I’d got her to take a short trip up and down our road, and I needed to help her with most of the basic life tasks we take for granted.

I was, and remain, in awe of how Jacqueline handled what’s happened to her. As we carried on and coped, my hobbies and friendships became even more essential to my wellbeing.

While walking got me out and about, I also wanted to find hobbies I could play indoors, which led me to Bridge.

In the forces, you play a lot of cards, but this was one game I wasn’t familiar with. I started taking classes to learn the game and began playing with Peter and Gillian, who were also being taught Bridge.

I enjoyed the mental challenge of the game and going rogue in how I played it!

I started meeting with Peter, Gillian, and her husband David to practice, and our Thursday afternoon Bridge sessions are now a staple in my calendar.

David and I also joined the local bowls club after I attended an open day and signed up.

We play every Saturday with three other men and two women, all of whom are better than me, as I can only play once a week.

I don’t mind because it’s the social interaction that I thrive on, and the club offers so much with events, classes, and outings.

I feel so lucky that I’m able to enjoy active hobbies like walking and bowling, as it would be my worst nightmare to be in Jaqueline’s shoes.

I’m not getting any younger, but my general level of fitness – which must be helped by all the walking – means I can still carry Jacqueline around the house when she needs me.

bowling at the local bowls club

Ray loves to play bowls every week

I’d do anything for Jacqueline – we never argue, and I still make her laugh.

I make sure she can still get to her craft clubs, and I’ve recently taken on a carer so she can have some companionship when I need to get out.

On Mondays, I walk 7.5 miles with my walking friends Ivan and Ernie and then play Bridge in the evening. Every Tuesday, I do another 5-mile walk, and Thursday is Bridge with Gill, David, and Peter.

On Fridays, I walk again for another 5 miles; on Saturday mornings, I play bowls. Those activities are sacrosanct, and I never miss them – they are my lifeline, and I couldn’t live without them.

Holding a photo of Jacqueline

Ray loves this photo of Jacqueline that he took during a trip to Kenya

This year, Jacqueline and I will have been married for 58 years, and it all started on a blind date.

I was on leave from the army, so I hired a Mark 1 Cortina and drove her to a local pub.

We’ve made a lifetime of wonderful memories together, and our marriage and relationship remain the same in many ways.

My attitude from early on was that Jacqueline had given me over 50 years of contentment, and now it was time for me to pay that back.

For Jacqueline’s birthday this year, we’re going on one last adventure – a midnight sun cruise to Norway.

We sail on the day she turns 80, and although Jacqueline might not be well enough to go ashore, I know we’ll enjoy our days on the sea.

When we get home, life will return to normal, so I’m glad I’ll have my hobbies to lift my spirits.

travel photos

Ray and Jacqueline went on many happy holidays together