Rio Ferdinand says hearing children talk about grief ‘broke him a little bit’

Sabrina Barr
Kate and Rio Ferdinand: Rex Features

Rio Ferdinand has spoken about how hearing his children talk about their grief after the death of their mother impacted him, saying it “broke him a little bit”.

In 2015, Ferdinand’s first wife Rebecca Ellison, with whom he had three children, passed away from cancer.

Two years later, the same year that his mother Janice St Fort died from cancer, the former professional footballer released a Bafta-winning BBC One documentary called Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, in which he discussed how he and his children coped with their loss.

Following the critically-acclaimed response the documentary received, Ferdinand decided to take part in a follow-up documentary with his partner, reality television personality Kate Wright, who he married in Turkey in September 2019.

The new film, which is due to air on BBC One on Monday evening, details the struggles the former The Only Way Is Essex star faced being welcomed into the fold as a stepparent, in addition to how Ferdinand’s children — 13-year-old Lorenz, 11-year-old Tate and eight-year-old Tia — have been processing their grief.

In the documentary, Ferdinand and Wright both express their concern over the children, particularly with regards to Tate, who appears less open about his emotions than his siblings.

The then-engaged couple pay a visit to Child Bereavement UK, where they speak to a group of children who have all experienced the loss of a parent and the arrival of a stepparent.

Emotions are heightened in the counselling session as the children talk to Ferdinand and Wright, with one young girl bursting into tears as she speaks about never having met her father.

Her story resonates with Ferdinand and Wright, as Tia was only around three years old when Ellison passed away.

Following their visit to Child Bereavement UK, the couple speak to Lorenz, Tate and Tia about the prospect of participating in bereavement counselling.

The children are then taken to a counselling session, where they speak about their grief in a way that Ferdinand and Wright have never heard them do so before.

Lorenz, the eldest of the three children, says he felt “worried about Dad coping” when his mother died, recalling how after being put to bed by his father, he would go downstairs and see several beer bottles on the side.

This revelation was especially hard-hitting for Ferdinand to hear, he explained during a preview screening of the documentary.

“It kind of broke me a little bit to be honest with you,” the 41-year-old said of watching his children voice their feelings in the counselling session.

“The scene where Lorenz says ‘I came down after Dad put me to bed sometimes and in the morning I saw there were beers there’ — you put your kids to bed and you think, that’s it, and he didn’t have any idea what was going on.

“I wouldn’t really drink like that in front of them, and for me to hear that from him was hard. So that hit home, definitely.”

Throughout the documentary, Wright speaks about the difficulty of not feeling accepted by certain friends and family members during the early stages of her relationship with Ferdinand, making her feel like a “failure” a lot of the time.

The 28-year-old states that while she often judges herself harshly for making little mistakes, such as forgetting to cut the children’s toenails, she has grown in confidence within the family.

“I love the kids,” she says in the film. “I treat them like they’re my own. I feel like a mum. I’ve always felt like a mum, but other people made me feel like I wasn’t.”

At the documentary screening, Ferdinand explained how he and Wright have strived to include the children in every big decision of their relationship.

The former England football captain recollected asking his children how he should ask Wright out, having first introduced her to them as a friend of a friend.

A couple of years down the line, Lorenz and Tate walked Wright down the aisle at her wedding to Ferdinand, while Tia was her maid of honour.

“A key point, especially for other families, is making sure that the children are involved at every single stage. That’s how we’ve tried to make it, from moving in, to getting engaged, to getting married,” Ferdinand said.

“They’ve been a prominent part from the first thought.”

Rio and Kate: Becoming a Stepfamily airs tonight at 9pm on BBC One.

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Ex-United defender Ferdinand reveals how he coped with wife’s death