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January 2011



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 Jeff Brazier, right, and his brother Spencer

Getting closer: Jeff Brazier, right, and his brother Spencer 

By Nikki Murfitt
Last updated at 9:26 PM on 11th December 2010

Television presenter Jeff Brazier and his younger brother Spencer have always led very separate lives. Jeff’s has involved the hard graft (and glamour) of establishing a showbusiness career, while Spencer, who was born with cerebral palsy, has a sheltered existence, never straying far from home, with daytime TV and computer games replacing an active social life.

This acute disparity in their lives had been concerning Jeff, 31. Perhaps it was as a result of reflecting on recent tragic events in his own life, including the death of his former partner Jade Goody.

Overnight he became a full-time father to their sons Bobby, seven, and six-year-old Freddie when Jade died in March 2009, aged 27, from cervical cancer.

A month later his grandfather Jack Smith, 81, killed himself after being diagnosed with throat and mouth cancer.

So much of Jeff’s family life has been out of his control  -  including the tragic early death of his father, Stephen, who was skipper of The Marchioness pleasure boat which sank in the Thames in 1989 when Jeff was just ten years old.

But he was determined to change his relationship with Spencer.

Earlier this year, he set aside three weeks to improve his brother’s quality of life and their poignant journey is captured in a BBC documentary Me And My Brother. The programme does not make for easy watching and highlights how difficult it can be to reconcile two very different lives when divided by disability.

‘I’ve known for a while that Spencer isn’t happy,’ says Jeff. ‘He wants friends and maybe eventually a wife and family. That’s his dream, but he has lost the confidence to go out and look for it. He’s been wrapped up in cotton wool by my mum – a perfectly natural instinct – but I want to do what I can to help him achieve the best life possible.’

So far, Jeff admitted his contribution towards helping Spencer had been limited to turning up for family and festive celebrations and allowing their mother Janette, 47, to take responsibility for being Spencer’s sole carer.

‘I’m not critical of mum’s parenting,’ says Jeff. ‘I know that when it takes him hours to tidy or wash up, it’s easier just to step in and do it yourself. But over time, it’s taken Spencer’s independence.’

The presenter, currently training for ITV1’s Dancing On Ice, says: ‘With everything that has happened in my life, Mum agreed to leave her friends in Colchester and move, along with Spencer, near to me in Newhall, Essex, so that she could help bring up Bobby and Freddie.

‘She has made a big sacrifice for me and I wanted to repay that by helping in a constructive way. Since Spencer was born, Mum has looked after him full-time. But I think he has come to rely on her so much he’s become lazy. He’s more isolated and that in turn means he lacks confidence to meet people. As a result he’s bored and frustrated. It’s easy in this kind of situation to get stuck in a rut and I was determined to see what I could do to help them.’

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to part of the brain called the cerebrum which controls communication skills, memory and the ability to learn. It usually occurs before, during or soon after birth and known causes include infection in early pregnancy, a difficult or premature birth, or bleeding in the baby’s brain. About 1,800 babies in the UK are diagnosed with the condition each year.

Symptoms normally become apparent during the first three years of a child’s life when they are slower in achieving important developmental goals such as crawling, walking or speaking. They also tend to have problems with muscle tone.

Although Spencer, 25, has a normal IQ, like many of those with cerebral palsy he is unable to speak and uses a series of hand gestures – which only close family understand  -  to help him communicate. He also has limited use of his hands, which means simple tasks such as shaving can take more than two hours.

Jeff was always protective of his brother when they were young. He remembers getting into fights when Spencer was ridiculed for dribbling, which is one aspect of his condition.

Inevitably, when Jeff left home at 16, to pursue a football career with Leyton Orient and subsequently a TV career, they drifted apart.

Jeff also points out that in a household that was not always happy, Spencer’s needs were sometimes not met.

‘Although he had physiotherapy and speech therapy and went to a school for children with physical disabilities, because there was a lot of arguing at home Spencer’s development was put to one side.

‘Because he can communicate only by using his own hand signals, I’ve felt for years that it was a massive stumbling block and the first thing I wanted to do something about.’

And with the help of the ACE Centre Advisory Trust in Oxford, which specialises in providing technology to help people communicate, Spencer was given a laptop and software which had a pre-programmed voice. By typing in messages, he was able to have his first ‘telephone conversation’ with his mother.

‘It was an incredible moment to hear him communicate properly. I had tears in my eyes and I thought it was such a breakthrough,’ says Jeff. ‘Mum was delighted  -  you could hear the catch in her voice, knowing that Spencer was effectively talking.’

But their hopes were dashed when, days later, Spencer refused to use the device, claiming it made him feel ‘disabled’. Despite his lifelong condition, he had never considered himself disabled, just different.

‘It was a real blow. I want to be able to have conversations with Spencer but without a communication device I can’t go beyond the most basic level, which I find incredibly sad. However, to hear that Spencer doesn’t consider himself disabled was something I never knew before. He believes that asking for help makes him appear disabled. To me it was just something to improve his life.’

…  Jeff Brazier: Me And My Brother is on BBC3 on Thursday at 9pm.

Read in Full:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1337593/Do-right-tell-disabled-live.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

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