Jonnie Irwin celebrates 50th birthday on family holiday: 'I never thought I'd be here for this'

Jonnie Irwin celebrates 50th birthday with family
Jonnie Irwin celebrates 50th birthday with family

Blowing out his 50th birthday candles during a sunshine holiday with his wife and three adorable sons, Jonnie Irwin is counting his blessings as he celebrates a milestone he never expected to reach.

Exactly a year after the TV presenter revealed that he had terminal lung cancer and had been given six months to live two years earlier, Jonnie has defied the odds again to spend his birthday on Saturday (18 November) on Spain's Costa del Sol, where he has been swimming, playing football with his boys and enjoying meals out.

Jonnie Irwin celebrates 50th birthday with family
Jonnie celebrated his 50th on a family holiday in Spain

"I never thought I'd be here for this, so I'm chuffed to bits," Jonnie tells HELLO! in this exclusive interview as he shares photos from his break with wife Jessica and sons Rex, four, and three-year-old twins Rafa and Cormac.

"I feel really privileged to be able to celebrate my birthday looking at blue skies and with sand between my toes. I had an early birthday party at the start of the year because I didn't think I'd make it. It was like being at my own wake; lots of fun, lots of dancing. But here I am. I view it as a complete triumph."

Family holiday in Spain

The past year hasn't been easy, but Jonnie is looking and feeling well and has put on weight since he exclusively revealed his diagnosis on the pages of HELLO! Being well enough to celebrate his birthday in the sunshine with the people he loves has been the icing on the cake.

Speaking to us from Mijas, where the family has been staying at the Wyndam Grand resort, he says: "I have been spending all day with the kids; playing in the pool and in the hot tub, playing football. When I went to bed last night I said, 'I feel like a real dad today.' This morning I couldn't get out of bed, but I'm not sorry and I'll do it again. I'll rest when I absolutely need to but I'll have fun until I drop."

Jonnie Irwin celebrates 50th birthday with family
"I have been spending all day with the kids; playing in the pool and in the hot tub, playing football," he said

"Every little thing is so valuable to me, even kicking the ball against the wall for half hour," he adds. "Every little thing you take for granted means something to me. It's another memory. It's so special and being away with my wife and the kids for my 50th is brilliant.

Family first

"I tire easily but I feel good, I feel strong. It's bizarre; I've got cancer and I'm running around like a normal person - just with less hair and less weight."

Jonnie's health battle with cancer

Since his diagnosis in August 2020, Jonnie has endured gruelling chemotherapy as the cancer spread to his brain and liver. But, thanks to alternative therapies like vitamin C infusions and twice daily sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, protein shakes and a healthy diet under the guidance of Jane McLelland, author of How to Starve Cancer, he's feeling fitter and stronger.

But there have been setbacks. Over the summer, Jonnie found himself in a hospice suffering from intestinal complications brought on by strong painkillers and Jessica was warned that he might not live to see the twins' third birthday two weeks later.

"They sent me home to die but I slowly started to get food in me and I started to feel stronger and stronger and I had a really good summer," he says.

Jonnie Irwin celebrates 50th birthday with family
Jonnie was treated to a delicious chocolate cake

Jonnie was back in hospital with jaundice the weekend before his birthday, when doctors discovered the tumour on his liver had grown, and he now faces more treatment this week after he returns home.

"This latest scare is a big bump in the road and I'm hoping beyond hope to get a solution," he says. "I don't think it's going to be easy. Some people correctly say I'm burying my head in the sand, and I am. I don't want to think about it; I want to think about positive things.

"I wanted to share my story to inspire other people with cancer but I don't want cancer to define me. It's a challenging part of my life, but it's a challenge I'm willing to accept."

Jonnie Irwin celebrates 50th birthday with wife Jessica
"It was important to get away for Jonnie's birthday because we honestly didn't expect him to be here," said Jessica

His three children with wife Jessica

He says he and Jessica have told the children "absolutely nothing" about his illness. "They've got bad news coming so I want them to have as blissful a childhood as possible," he reasons.

Jessica, 41, says: "When I was told Jonnie might not live to see the twins' third birthday I was a mess. I didn't know what to do and nobody can help you with what is going to happen and how you are going to feel.

"It was important to get away for Jonnie's birthday because we honestly didn't expect him to be here, so it's really special. It's lovely to see him with the boys around the pool and outside in the warm weather. It's not just celebrating his birthday; it's celebrating that we're on holiday, we managed to get on a plane, and he's still here, which we weren't necessarily expecting."

Jonnie's positive outlook

Jonnie, who runs his own business finding people homes abroad and also appears on the BBC's Morning Live and Escape to the Country, says he still has hope he can beat his illness.

"Who knows what the future brings? I'm not going to live forever, but I seem to have got so far that I believe I can survive and that's half the battle, the positive mindset that I can beat this. People with stage 4 cancer have beaten it in the past," he says. "We no longer live day to day; we're living more week to week and month to month and we're making plans, and if I feel well enough, I can do things. With my condition the reality is, I'm probably looking at death. But secretly I think, we'll see about that."

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