A superfan of The Wanted who celebrated her 18th birthday with a surprise visit from the boyband has vowed to continue singer Tom Parker’s fight to raise awareness of brain tumours after his tragic death on March 30.
Devastated by Tom’s passing, aged 33, after being diagnosed with an inoperable glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) – a fast-growing and aggressive brain tumour – card shop assistant Kayleigh Henshaw, 30, is fundraising for Brain Tumour Research in his memory by jogging 26.2 miles in a month for the charity.
A fan since The Wanted launched in 2009, Kayleigh, who lives with her stay-at-home mum, Sharon Henshaw, 54, and warehouse supervisor dad, Paul Henshaw, 55, in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, went to one of their last gigs with Tom, in which he arrived on stage in a wheelchair, on March 12 in Birmingham – just weeks before his death.
She said of the father of two, whose brain tumour was diagnosed in October 2020: “I will never forget that performance. I don’t think anybody was thinking about how ill Tom was, they were just having a good time.”
Kayleigh added: “Looking back, you can see how sick he was – but it was also very clear he wanted to be there and nothing would have stopped him.
“When I found out Tom had died, I just burst into tears.”
She added: “It devastated me thinking we had lost this amazing person who was a force to be reckoned with.
“He was always so positive and he never gave up.”
She added: “Throughout his illness, he fundraised the whole time and I want to do my bit to continue that legacy in his memory.”
One of their first true fans, Kayleigh, who is single, loved The Wanted the moment they launched on the music scene in 2009.
She said: “I had been a big fan of JLS and then I started to hear a couple of songs from The Wanted on YouTube and the boys seemed quite funny.
“I heard they were visiting a school near me in the summer of 2010 and I asked my mum if we could meet them.”
Kayleigh added: “We left at 7.30am and waited outside the school to see them and they were so lovely.
“There was only me stood outside, visiting from another school, because they didn’t have a massive following yet and they just treated me like a friend.
“That’s where it all began for me.”
But her special relationship with the band reached new heights on November 16 2010 when they arranged a surprise with her mum’s help for her 18th birthday.
She said: “The Wanted were doing this TV show with BlackBerry mobile phones where they had been set the challenge of getting from Dover to Leeds with just £20, relying on fans to help them.
“They were having to put up with whatever food, hotels and lifts they were offered, so I thought I would get in touch.
“I share a birthday with one of the band members, Siva Kaneswaren, and I thought I could arrange something, but they emailed back to say they couldn’t make it.
“They offered me tickets to see them, but asked for my mum’s email to get parental permission.”
She added: “Little did I know that they were secretly arranging to surprise me for my 18th birthday.”
Going for her first legal drink in her local pub with her dad on her big day, she went to her grandmother, Jill Mayes’ house in the evening, only to find the lounge filled with camera crew, friends, family and The Wanted.
Kayleigh, whose celebration went out on BlackBerry: Live and Lost on Channel 4, said: “I walked through the door and it was bursting with people and cameras and the boys.
“I couldn’t believe it was real.”
She added: “They all sang Happy Birthday to me and I just stood there in disbelief before they all got up and gave me a hug.
“My family had been going through a tough time after losing my grandad and it just meant the world to us all.”
Over the years, Kayleigh collected every poster she could of The Wanted, attended every gig she spotted and blasted their albums out on her speakers every day.
She also took every opportunity she could to catch up with Tom and the band face to face.
She said: “I went to as many gigs as I could.
“I can’t put into words how good they were – the energy from fans was amazing.”
She added: “They would do everything they could to get everyone involved.
“I used to meet them outside the radio stations and on tour too.”
“They would always spend a good hour talking to me, taking pictures and signing autographs.
“There was one time on a school tour when I was with my friends and I had a picture taken with Tom. He just grabbed me and kissed me on the cheek and held me so tight.
“I knew he cared and really wanted to get to know me as a person. ”
Even after the band split in 2014, Kayleigh followed each member’s solo career religiously and was delighted to support Tom when he starred as Danny Zuko in the stage show of the 1970s hit musical Grease, when it was on across the UK in 2017.
“I went to every single show to see him perform from the beginning of summer to just before Christmas,” she said.
“He missed one show because he was ill and I had to leave a keyring I had bought him and some sweets behind for him.
“When I saw him at the next one he remembered and said he was so sorry and loved the gifts.
“Meeting him one on one just meant everything. He was such an inspiration and was always so nice. He never changed.”
Tom’s diagnosis in October 2020 came as a body blow to Kayleigh.
She said: “I was taking my two nieces to school and found out when I came home that he’d been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.
“I didn’t think too much of it at first. Then I read about it and realised how bad it was.
“But we all just thought, ‘This is Tom, he will get through this.'”
In awe of his strength as he went through gruelling treatment, she was delighted when she heard the band were getting back together in 2021 and that they would be touring.
“I was so happy, it meant I could act like I was 18 and feel young again,” she said.
“I could only go to the one show, which was two and a half weeks before he died.
“We had no idea it was so close to the end, but it was just amazing. We were all just jumping around and singing.”
Then, after finishing work at the Card Factory in Ely, Cambridgeshire, on March 30, Kayleigh saw that Tom had sadly died.
“My friend text me asking if I had heard the news and then I saw,” she said.
“She just text me saying, ‘Oh Kay, it’s Tom. He’s gone.’
“It was heartbreaking, but part of me was glad he wasn’t in pain any more and was at peace.”
While Kayleigh was unable to attend the funeral herself, seeing the images of Tom’s coffin and the flowers spelling out ‘Daddy’ broke her heart and pushed her to take action.
She said: “He was so young and I thought, ‘Something needs to be done.’
“I just wanted to be able to do something that could raise awareness and keep doing what he was doing and continue his legacy.”
So, Kayleigh has resolved to jog 26.6 miles during the month of May to raise as much money as she can for Brain Tumour Research – a charity Tom became a passionate advocate for after his diagnosis.
Setting a £500 target, she is hoping she will exceed it and that her efforts will be a fitting tribute to the memory of the singer she adored.
She said: “I’ve completed about 18 miles so far and I am just trying to get as much done as I can.
“I want to help find a cure for brain tumours like Tom’s, because nobody deserves to lose their husband at 30 or their daddy like that.
“I will always remember that hyper, bouncing-off-the-walls Tom that we all knew and loved.
“He was so lovable and funny and he deserves to be remembered as that.”
To support Kayleigh’s fundraising, visit www.facebook.com/donate/667253527714251.
For more information about brain tumours, visit https://www.braintumourresearch.org/