Pensioner James Gray places advert in newspaper for company on Christmas Day
The 85-year-old placed an advert in a newspaper looking for someone else to spend Christmas Day with for the first time in ten years
Heather Saul is a digital reporter for The Independent, currently working on the People desk. She has written news and features across a number of topics, paying particular attention to the activities of Isis and events in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Friday 13 December 2013
A former butler who has spent the past 10 Christmases alone has been inundated with offers after placing a newspaper advert asking for someone to share the day with him.
James Gray, 85, who was born in Ireland but lives in south London, had wanted to set up a pensioners' group to meet for the traditional lunch at a hotel in Sutton. He received only one response - from a woman who later changed her plans.
But since featuring on the front of The Irish Post he has received invitations from dozens of well-wishers and charities. "I'm used to the loneliness but I don't want it to be the same this year," he said.
"I think there must be quite a few lonely people around and I am on my own, so it would make sense, I think, if someone came here for Christmas lunch.
"I just had smoked salmon and prawns on my own last year and I had to put up with it. I think the last time I saw someone on Christmas Day was when I saw my accountant about 10 years ago."
Elderly members of the Irish community living in England are twice as likely as the rest of the population to be alone at Christmas. Mr Gray, who was born in Midleton, Co Cork - in a workhouse, because his mother was unmarried - has had no contact with his family since his first cousin died.
He worked in some of Ireland's and England's most lavish homes, including the Guinness family seat at Luttrellstown Castle in Dublin.
Jake Morrison, 21, a Liverpool councillor, heard about Mr Gray's predicament and said he hoped to invite him to a Christmas Day gathering he has organised for pensioners who would otherwise spend the day alone. He has offered to provide travel to and from London and a hotel for him.
"I always go to bingo and I've noticed that instead of feeling quite jolly at Christmas, some pensioners at Christmas feel a bit depressed, so I've been talking to them about it," Mr Morrison said.
Mr Gray is one of nearly 500,000 pensioners in the UK who face spending Christmas alone, according to Age UK.
The charity's director, Caroline Abrahams, said: "This heart-breaking case is all too often a reality for so many older people.
"It's really common for feelings of loneliness to be exacerbated during the festive season, and [it's] a huge concern that the majority of older people facing Christmas alone are aged 80 or over, making them the most vulnerable."
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