'I realised how privileged I was' – how a holiday in Mexico changed Jay Aston's life

A holiday on Mexico’s west coast helped Jay Aston recover her emotional strength - getty
A holiday on Mexico’s west coast helped Jay Aston recover her emotional strength - getty

After enduring surgery, a holiday in Mexico gave former Bucks Fizz singer Jay Aston a fresh perspective on life

By the time I was 21, I’d travelled the world. Bucks Fizz had toured everywhere from South America to the Philippines, but my unpredictable life meant I struggled to find time for a proper break. Italy was the furthest I’d ever gone on holiday.

All that changed two years ago when I flew to Mexico with my husband, Dave, and our teenage daughter, Josie. At the time, I was at a crossroads in my life: my mum and dad had both recently passed away after long periods of illness, and I was dealing with my own health scare. A biopsy had recently revealed that an infection had become precancerous and I had an operation in May of that year to remove a section of my tongue.

I was badly in need of a rest, so one of Dave’s friends kindly offered us a stay in his holiday home, a villa in Zihuatanejo, on Mexico’s west coast. The name rang a bell, and I realised it was where Andy Dufresne had been dreaming of, and eventually escaped to, in The Shawshank Redemption. That immaculate white sand beach at the end of the film had always looked like heaven, so a few weeks later we decided to head out there for 10 days.

The villa was a sprawling thatched-roof property – it slept 18 people – and was right on the beach in a sleepy little village called Troncones. There were only a handful of properties nearby and it felt like a remote and rustic spot, a million miles away from reality. It’s known as a surfer’s paradise and I knew it would be the ideal place to switch off.

A local family of five staffed the villa and we were treated like royalty from day one. The food was wonderful. Every morning, we had fresh coconut juice from the husk and masses of fruit, and they whipped up traditional Mexican dishes for lunch and dinner. It was tricky for me to eat certain things after my surgery, but the staff always made things that were lightly spiced and easy for me to chew.

A beach in Troncones - getty
A beach in Troncones - getty

I ate my weight in guacamole and fajitas. Mealtimes were spent sitting around a huge table in an outdoor living/dining area, under a thatched palapa roof, where we could look over the infinity pool to the swaying palms on the beach and hear the pounding of the surf beyond. Dave would sometimes play his guitar.

I was still in a lot of pain, but every morning I made sure I started with some gentle yoga stretches and a swim in the ocean. I’ve always been a keen swimmer and getting back into the routine of doing it regularly was lovely. I also went on long walks along the beach, with some new friends we made … Phillippe, my husband’s friend who owned the villa, had adopted some stray puppies and the staff had been looking after them, so we offered to take them out every morning and evening.

Slowly, the relaxed pace, the sunshine and the incredible scenery were having the desired effect: it was helping me heal.

When we did venture out, we went into the village of Troncones and to La Saladita, where I bought embroidered linens and handcrafted jewellery. But the poverty in some of the towns we passed through was really upsetting. On some streets, people lived in huts and all they had for beds was a string hammock. I think travel is so good for you, because it opens your eyes to what’s going on in the world and how other people live. I suddenly thought about the medical treatment I’d had at home and realised how incredibly privileged I was.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that holiday was crucial to me being physically and mentally in shape for what was to come. A follow-up appointment with my doctor revealed that more surgery would be needed. Apparently the section of my tongue they had removed was cancerous, which meant returning to hospital a few weeks later, where I underwent a seven-hour operation. I had lymph glands removed, along with a larger section of my tongue, which was reconstructed using skin from my thigh. I was warned it might prevent me from singing and even speaking. It was a terrifying time.

The trip to Mexico had been intended to help me recover from a nasty health scare, but instead it gave me and my family the strength to take the fall on our return.

As told to Kirsty Nutkins

Jay Aston is joining The Smiling Sessions, a charity that hosts virtual singalongs for the elderly in isolation and care homes. It is raising funds to buy much-needed iPads and tablets for care homes and their residents.

To donate, please visit localgiving.org/appeal/smilingremotely. If you wish to join in, email smiling@shapeshifter-productions.com.