By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
DJ Jono Coleman had a top job in radio - hosting a London breakfast show - when he packed it all in to look after his mother, back home in Australia. It was, he says, time to start giving something back.
Looking after mum
It was a conversation he had 19 years ago, but one Jono Coleman will never forget.
His father Maurice made a dying wish to his son that he look after his mother. And nearly two decades later, that pledge is now being honoured.
Coleman junior, the radio DJ famous for his chubby figure and jocular style, has sold his London home and moved his family to Sydney to be near his very frail 81-year-old mother, Sylvia.
It has meant putting his contract with BBC London on hold and uprooting his two children Oscar, 13, and Emily, nine.
"Mine was a close family, I was close to mum and dad," he says, after a month in his new surroundings. "The older she got the more I felt responsible to fulfil my father's dying wish which was to take care of my mum.
"He had a heart attack before he died so he was forewarned and we had our fatherly chats and he said 'When I'm not around, you're going to have to be the man of the family.'"
Although the distance involved in his decision makes it an extreme example, it's a dilemma adults have to wrestle with the world over - how much responsibility to take for ageing parents.
Coleman's early childhood was in east London
A report last week by the Commission for Social Care Inspection said more and more elderly people are relying on relatives as the population ages. In England alone, there are 4.7 million people over 18 who are unpaid carers for elderly or disabled people.
That definition includes people like Coleman, whose mother is in a nursing home, since a common description of carer is someone whose life is affected by the responsibility.
"When you're young you say you can do anything and I can live in England for a few years. Then suddenly you get a bit older, your parents start getting older and you start being less selfish and think 'My parents looked after me and gave me all those benefits of a great childhood, so it's time to start giving something back.'"
Coleman's father died in Sydney in 1988, two years before Coleman married Margot and moved to the UK. He was already a radio and television personality in Australia but wanted to establish himself in the country of his birth. By the mid-1990s, he'd become one of Virgin Radio's top personalities, commanding an estimated £150,000 salary.
His widowed mother supported this career move, even though it took him thousands of miles away. In recent years she twice moved to the UK, where she also has a daughter, but missed Australia too much to settle and now lives in a nursing home in the suburbs of Sydney.
Help is on its way
The long distance strengthened the bond between mother and son and magnified the longing in Coleman's mind to be near her when she needed him. They spoke every day on the phone but an operation due in February crystallised Coleman's thoughts about moving back.
"In showbiz it's 'me, me, me, I want to do this, I want to be on the radio and television.'
He's the voice of CBeebies favourites, the Koala Brothers
"And then suddenly it's not just about getting a new car and being famous in England and Australia. You have to think about the people you leave behind."
There were plenty of reasons to stay in London - the careers of Jono and advertising executive Margot, the schooling of the children, the house and the friends - and it was an agonising decision.
But the emotional tug, and the added benefits of giving the Coleman children a taste of Australia and bringing Margot closer to her parents, won through.
"When you become more mature you suddenly notice that after years depending on mother or father or both, the ballgame changes completely. You feel them becoming frail and you have to care for them in return. It's the payback.
In showbiz it's 'me, me, me, I want to do this, I want to be on the radio and television'
"I gave my mother a paperweight that I bought which says 'Be nice to your children when they're young because they choose your retirement home.' It's exactly true."
He has found new radio and television opportunities Down Under and plans to return for periods to renew his UK career. But his mother, whom he describes as a fun and frivolous person, has noticeably "perked up" since he moved back. She spends most weekends with his family and he visits her during the week.
He's happy he made the decision with his heart and he knows his role as helper could one day pass to his children.
Coleman's father asked him to look after his mum
"I'm being very nice to them now so they will do the right thing when I'm sitting on the bath chair on the veranda.
"I hope they see what I'm doing for my mum so they have mercy on Margot and I when we ask them to help us out of chair or drop us off at an old people's home."
Caring for an elderly relative is a duty which is part of the social contract, says Kate Groucutt of Carers UK.
"Many people want to care for their family and they believe they can provide the best care. We are trying to help them to do that without destroying their own lives."
Having a parent move into the family home is more common in some other European countries than in the UK, where family ties are less strong, but campaigners believe unpaid care saves the British state £57bn a year.
Care enough about your parents and you will make the right decision, Coleman says. Don't and you'll blame yourself when it's too late to make amends.
Advice about health, training and benefits: 0808 808 7777
"That's a decision everyone has to make themselves. I've made decisions about work that have got me on television in the UK and the Australia but what's the use of that?
"Wrapped up in your own importance you miss the importance of the people around you."
Thanks for your comments.
I helped my Dad look after Mum until her death, then cared for him until he passed away. Although they were difficult times, I would not have missed the opportunity to pay them both back for the years of care and love they both gave to me and my sister. I completely empathise with Jono and applaud him for what he has done.
Russell Henry, Clacton
I loved reading about Jono's choice to care for his Mum. It warmed my heart. I do have to say though that Jono's parents sowed the seeds of that love. It was memories of a wonderful childhood that helped motivate that choice. I never had such love as a child. I try to create that love for my own children, so that they think of me as loving. And want to be near me. Thank you for a wonderful story
Good on you mate. Very thoughtful and caring of you to make the sacrifice of work and personal needs to tend to your mum. I hope she has a long live and hope she gets better. In the long run it will all pay off, trust me. I'm a British Muslim and we believe 'Heaven lies at the feet of your mother' so well done and all the best
Well done to Jono. I too am looking after my elderly mum, who has been very poorly for the last year. Also I look after her through love not duty. Being in full time work, having a disability myself and going through implant rehab at the moment, does make it a little bit harder. But I would not have made any other decision. Like Jono, other carers and I know the importance of family.
I'd just like to say well done. And I hope my children grow up as caring as you. All the best in Australia
Tasneem Shaikh, Birmingham
As much as I hated Jono's shows in London, I am here in Melbourne with my young family because my wife (an Aussie) wants to be near her ageing parents and not god knows how many miles away in the UK. My father died in the states last year and it was a very difficult time both logistically and emotionally having him die so far away
Having lost my mum less than two years ago at the age of 27, I support Coleman, that way he'll never have to deal with guilt. I knew my mum's life was never going to be long, so I was as nice as I could have possibly ever been, always! And I don't have an ounce of guilt to do deal with. My father is now about to re-marry, and he's letting his fiancée's mother move in too, much like they do in Europe. So this again backs up that Coleman is doing the right thing. If only more people in the world were more considerate. Too many think of themselves only.
Linsey Reeves, Bromley, Kent
I moved back into my father's home when he started getting frail. I was able to get flexible working and live-in carers and we kept him in his own home until almost the very end. He lasted 4 times longer than his consultant predicted and now I can look back at a rewarding period in my life rather than with any sense of regret. I think Jono Coleman made the right decision.
Good on ya Jono! You've made a selfless choice, putting the interests of others before your own. A true gentlemen! The door will always be open, should you wish to return to the UK. You are without doubt one of the worlds good guys! Best wishes, Simon
Simon Moss, Rugby
Great to have you home again. Mark Simon Townsend's Wonderworld Fan
Mark Pearson, Queensland, Australia
My mother spent most of my childhood slapping me around, denigrating me as much as possible, and giving me as much emotional and physical abuse as she could. Therefore, I will not be moving anywhere to look after her. Not all families are wonderful, family life can be hell.
Well done! Family is something that should always be cherished, it seems in today's society that this bond is no longer as important as it used to be (well not until you lose it and realise what you have lost!!!) Nice to see some media coverage given to real issues instead of stupid big brother trash!!! All the best, Sam
How refreshing to read this, what with all this Big Brother rubbish that is in the news. What a selfless act from Jono. You only get one mum Jono, good on yer mate.
Dave Hillir, South Woodham Ferrers, UK
Well done, Jono you made the right decision and let's hope a few more people follow suite, the elderly get left behind when family grows up. We should support them in their time of need, out of love not duty.
Paula Chapman, reading
This is incredibly inspiring. I am a British Asian and wish to follow in the same footsteps as Jono. My elderly mother lived with me for the past 18 years of our married life, until recently when a turn of events in our marriage has unfolded in my mother living with my sister. According to our culture we are expected to look after our elderly parents to their death. But more and more we hear in modern Britain of Asian families now following the western styles and elderly parents are either sent to homes or end up living with daughters instead of sons. Such a shame...whatever happened to those golden values.
Tariq Butt, Epsom, Surrey
Best of luck Johnno, you and I know each other, we both lived in Australia and went to school in Aus, I like you returned home but you made it big after WounderWorld, thoughts are with you mate....
Skippy in Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough UK
As much as I loathed Jono's asinine sense of humour I do applaud his decision to return to Oz to look after his mum. At least radio London listeners are spared his awful jokes and terrible interviewing! I wish him all the best.
Sue D, London
What a heart-warming story. I am a British Asian and this type of thing is common place in our culture. To read of an example of Western culture also adopting this approach is a pleasant surprise. I applaud Jono's sentiments - Good on you mate!
As a British Asian, I am touched to hear there are still people like Jono who believe in true family values. I have been misled my whole life into believing that Indian family values are the best in the world, that we take care of our parents. Well, when it came time for my wonderful mother to be taken care of, all my much older siblings made their excuses, defrauded her of her wealth in the process, and practically dumped the responsibility on me at the age of 27, the prime years of my life in career, personal life, etc. As a well educated person with a lucrative career, I had to give it all up to take care of her with nary a word from my siblings, since she was afflicted with a progressive neurological disease. Not only did they not care about my Mum, but they did not even care about me or my future. No guy (especially Indian guys) will come even close to marrying someone like since they don't want the burden of a mother-in-law, even though my Mum is really cool in all way!
Miss Patel, ex-pat USA
Jono - Well done you will never regret looking after your Mum and along you with your own family are doing the "right thing".
I looked after both my parents I speak from experience and I have delightful memories.
All the very best.
Margaret Lambe, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex
Well done Jono. In the West we have less family values & are quick to put relatives in homes. I reverted to Islam nine months ago & really admire the strong values places on the family in Islam. I would sell everything I have to look after my parents when the time comes. They gave me all they could when I was growing up, it will be the least I can do for them.
It is a pity that this story cannot be used to emphasise the saving every year that carers make to our social care and NHS system. This particular individual is fortunate indeed that he has the means to be able to make the change he has, but what about all those who can't do this and find themselves falling into the caring situation without realising it and without the means to do anything else but continue in the way in which they have become accustomed and often in extreme poverty?
Andy McCann, Nottingham