12 September 2023

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Tom Allen: There’s so much positivity at St Christopher’s

Tom Allen 2019

Our ambassador speaks about his love for the hospice, his thoughts on dealing with grief, and what he imagines his own funeral to look like.

South London’s favourite funny-man Tom Allen shot to fame as one of Britain’s most charming comedians and has established himself as a household name on both stage and screen.

Despite his busy schedule of comedy, writing and presenting, Tom decided to become St Christopher’s first ever Ambassador in 2021 – much to our delight! Since then he’s visited the hospice on a number of occasions and given up his precious time to support our fundraising ventures. Earlier this year he hosted
a sell-out quiz at the hospice, helping us to raise almost £7,500!

Although he often shares his hilarious takes on life, Tom is also happy to share his more difficult moments with the world. In 2022 he published his second memoir, a beautiful yet heart-breaking book on the death of his father.

Tom Allen 2019

Tom generously took the time to answer some questions around his love for the hospice, his thoughts on dealing with grief, and what he imagines his own funeral to look like!

You’ve been involved with St Christopher’s for more than two years now, what initially inspired you?

Tom Allen: My parents grew up in Sydenham and Anerley and I have always really lived in South East London so I’ve known lots of people who were cared for at St Christopher’s. I wanted to be part of something local. In London it can often be difficult to find a sense of community but with St Christopher’s it’s exactly that – it brings people together. Whilst the nature of the hospice can be that people are only aware of it at times of great sadness, there is still so much positivity in that it is full of care, compassion and support. That is what community is really isn’t it?

What experiences stand out during your visits to the hospice?

TA: I think the atmosphere. It always seems full of smiles and warmth. As you can imagine the staff are so friendly. Also the bacon sandwiches and the booze trolley are FANTASTIC.

If someone asked you ‘what is a hospice like’? What would you tell them?

TA: Not sad. The ethos of St Christopher’s is as much to do with celebration and making sure that people are able to approach their end of life as positively as possible. I have found that every time I’ve met anyone connected to the hospice there is so much spirit and a real coming together for each other – it’s inspiring.

You wrote beautifully about your grief in Too Much, did you find it helped?

TA: I was about to start writing my second book when my dad died suddenly and in that initial shock I wasn’t sure what I should do really; whether I would even be able to write a book at a time like that. Then I realised as a comic, the best sort of humour is when we can look at all of life, even the sad times, and still laugh. So that’s what I did. Writing the book challenged me to be honest with the reader but also with myself about all the strange and confusing feelings around grief. Being as honest as possible meant I could start to understand what I was feeling and the more specific I was, the more I found people reading the book could relate too.

What have you learned about grief, and what advice would you give?

TA: It’s so tiring! Make sure you make space for yourself to sleep and just do nothing. The instinct is to keep busy all the time, but I found more peaceful things like gardening really helped. Also in the immediate aftermath, people would come round for a cup of tea but constantly making tea and buying milk got really annoying after a while so I just gave everyone brandy. So much easier.

What types of books/videos/articles/music did you turn to at that time?

TA: I found I couldn’t really concentrate for very long. Sometimes a short sitcom would help or something light like a cartoon (Bob’s Burgers worked for me). People kept telling me to watch Afterlife but that felt like a definite no for me at the time.

You’ve said funerals can be very camp… have you thought about your own ‘fantasy funeral’? What would that look like?

TA: Oh huge and very formal. I know there’s more of a fashion for upbeat or more muted affairs now but for me, veils, horses, top hats, wailing and a long period of mourning – like Queen Victoria had for Albert – would be essential. It would be a great comfort if everyone I knew wore black for the rest of their lives (if they’re reading this, they’ve got no excuse).

Our charity shops are a huge part of our community presence. Do you ever shop in charity shops? If so what’s been your best ever thrifty buy?

TA: I love charity shops! My friend Sharon pointed out to me how beautiful a lot of the tableware is – the rose glass, etched sherry decanters and patterned china. We seem to be obsessed with everything being modern and edgy now but I love anything that might have had a bit of a story; a life before I found it. In many ways I think I’m turning into a 75-year old woman.

:: This story was from our Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

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