The teens who moved me to tears: Gok Wan reveals how two brothers taught him the real meaning of courage
When they agreed to take part in a series about troubled teenagers, hosted by fashion guru Gok Wan, it’s hard to see what brothers Ben and Michael Watson could have hoped to gain.
For their problems were in a completely different league to the acne/bullying/unrequited love ones that normally plague teenage years.
In short, their father was dying. At the time they invited the cameras in, they simply did not know how long he had left – six weeks, six months or six years.
Gok with Michael (front), Ben (fourth from right) and the other stars of his new series
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Career dreams: Michael would like to be a paramedic because of his experiences
Listening to the boys explain exactly how they puree Sunday lunch for their father is heartbreaking, especially when Michael – just 13 years old – explains why there is a special method. ‘You don’t chuck everything in like you do with baby food,’ he says. ‘You have to do each item separately so the carrots stay orange and the meat is brown. That way, when they’re laid out on the plate, he can tell it’s a roast dinner.’
Letting TV cameras film their daily routines was no small matter for this family. Intensely private, there was a time when the boys didn’t even want their close friends to know what was going on at home. ‘I never wanted to invite friends home from school because I didn’t want the questions,’ says Ben. ‘And I never wanted anyone to think, “Poor Ben”.’
‘Sometimes life got a bit annoying,’ admits Michael. ‘When friends came into school moaning about tidying up their bedroom I would think, “Try being me for a day.” Mostly, though, we just got on with it. It’s not as if we were forced to do it, either. We wanted to do it. He was our dad. We wanted to do our best for him.’
Many people who are diagnosed with MS go on to have relatively healthy lives. Ian was not to be so fortunate, and last October, after developing a chest infection, he was rushed into hospital where he deteriorated quickly. Doctors told Kate to bring the boys to the hospital. ‘They were able to spend the afternoon with him, and say their goodbyes,’ Kate recalls. ‘He died just before 10pm. It was a shock. We knew we were going to lose him, but we didn’t think it would be so soon.’
The family made the difficult decision to allow the programme to be shown. As Ben puts it, ‘It was meant as a tribute to Dad. That didn’t change.’ Kate adds, ‘We knew when we filmed it that the boys would be able to watch it and be proud of their role. Their love for their dad shines through in everything they do.’
How proud Ian Watson would be of his boys today. Both have career plans that they possibly wouldn’t have considered had caring for their father not been a part of their lives. Ben wants to train as a funeral director, even though he admits it is an odd choice for someone of his age.
‘I think I could make a difference to people when they’re in a vulnerable state. And I know what it’s like to lose someone.’ Michael, meanwhile, wants to be a paramedic. ‘We’ve had a lot of paramedics in our house over the years because of Dad’s seizures. I’d like to be able to be that voice of calm for someone else some day. I could tell them, “I was in your shoes, terrified out of my wits, many times, and someone helped me, too.”’
Little wonder Kate is so appreciative of her boys. ‘You never know what life is going to throw your way,’ she concludes. ‘On some days I think I got the worst possible deal, but then I look at the sons Ian and I produced and I think, “No. We couldn’t have done better.” Their Dad would be so proud.’ n
Gok’s Teens: The Naked Truth, Tuesday 7 February, Channel 4, 8pm