On a cold winter night last November, with just moments to go before he went live on air for the first time in three years, TV presenter Simon Thomas shot up a quick prayer.
“God you know you’ve got me here. Please give me what I need to do my job tonight.”
In November 2017 – following the sudden death of his wife Gemma to acute myeloid leukaemia which led to anxiety, panic attacks and depression – Simon left his dream job as a Sky Sports football presenter.
He also took the decision to come off air so he could be there for his eight-year-old son Ethan as he dealt with the trauma of losing his mum. Back on TV for the first time since that tragic day marked a major milestone in Simon’s life, which he never dreamed would be possible.
“I would sum up that evening in two words: massive relief. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be. I’d come through the mental health issues I’d been having when I stepped away. I haven’t experienced any of that for a long time thankfully.”
The key source to Simon’s hope and strength that helped him through the last three years has been his Christian faith which was rooted in his upbringing as the son of a vicar while growing up in Norfolk.
“I can’t begin to image what it would’ve been like to go through this without faith. When you have belief in God it gives you hope which is incredibly powerful, particularly knowing that it’s not the end for any of us who have faith.
“There were times in those early months when I felt like God was quiet and wondered where he was in all of this. But he has always been there in this journey throughout the past three years.
“At that moment when I first went back on TV I wanted to give glory back to God. I know that I can only do what I do because of him and the gifts he’s given me. So, it’s important to recognise that.”
After leaving university it was a calling from God that provoked Simon to pursue a career in television, starting as a presenter of Blue Peter.
“I watched the show as a kid and I thought it would be amazing to work on that. I don’t think in my heart of hearts I ever thought I actually would. But after finishing at Birmingham University I remember on a very hot July day in the summer of 95 asking God if this was the direction for my life.
“At that moment I noticed an article in a Christian magazine about why more Christians should be working in the media, and it was like the article had been written to me. Three years later after doing a number of other jobs I somehow got the position at Blue Peter.”
The rest, as they say, is history as he then went on to work for Sky Sports in 2005 until the day his world fell apart when his wife Gemma lost her brief battle with leukaemia in November 2017.
That moment brought him to the point that no father should ever have to face – telling his eight-year-old son that his mother had passed away. So how is Ethan coping with life today?
“He’s doing really well. I take so much happiness and joy and comfort from seeing how he is. On that day when I told him what had happened to his mum, you’d think life was never going to be good for him again.
“But to see him now, how strong he is emotionally, intelligent and how happy – that gives me so much joy. He’s probably been more of a help to me than I have been to him, but he’s a great kid and our relationship has grown stronger with each year.”
As well as the miracle of how well his son has coped and his TV career getting back on track Simon also unexpectedly met a new companion in his life.
“I met Derrina through a church connection. We initially started writing to each other and then became friends and just hung out a little bit. Over time it grew to something much more but neither of us were expecting it.
“That’s actually the way I’ve seen God working in my life the past three years.”