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The Day That Changed My Life (1996)

1996-11-11 Daily Mail.jpg


  • Publication: Daily Mail
  • Date: 1996-11-11
  • Author: Colin Baker and Clare Campbell
  • Page: 42
  • Language: English

My mind was numb with shock when our baby died

COT DEATH is a fear that haunts all new mothers and its cause is still unknown. One controversial new report claims that poor parenting may be to blame, adding guilt to the grief of parents of infant victims. Here, former Dr Who star Colin Baker, who is to become chairman of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths at the end of this month, tells CLARE CAMPBELL how the tragic loss of his son from cot death changed his life for ever.

OUR SON Jack was born on September 27, 1983, and would now be 13. My wife Marion had a normal pregnancy and all the hospital tests showed Jack was a healthy and thriving baby.

He was our first child and his birth was the crest of a wave for me that year, both emotionally and professionally. At the age of 39, I was just about to take on the role of Dr Who in the BBC1 television series. I felt that nothing could go wrong for me.

Then, when Jack was four weeks old, I had to go to Sweden to direct and act in a play. I knew the timing was unfortunate, because it left Marion to cope with a newborn baby by herself, but I was reassured by the knowledge that her mother would come and stay while I was away.

It was at midnight on Remembrance Sunday, November 13, that I received a message at my hotel to ask me to phone my wife urgently. I had been out to dinner — I still feel guilty about that — and rushed to call her straightaway.

I shall never forget the anguish in her voice as she told me that our baby son was dead. For a moment, the news was so terrible that I couldn't take it in.

Marion told me that Jack had been sleeping peacefully in his Moses basket while she had gone upstairs to get ready for bed.

When she came down and looked at him, she suddenly felt that there was something 'not quite right' about him. In the instant that she touched him, she realised Jack was no longer breathing.

I cannot imagine how appalling that moment must have been for her. She told me she dialled 999 immediately, and the police arrived with the ambulance.

SHE SAID the doctor on call confirmed Jack was dead, and that he had been taken to the local hospital for a postmortem.

I would have got on a plane that instant if I could have done. Instead, I had to get a boat to Denmark the following morning and catch a flight from there.

It was a journey I shall never forget. I felt numb with shock, my brain devoid of rational thought. I kept looking at the other travellers, unable to believe that life was continuing normally for them, while for me the world had fallen apart.

I was convinced my agony must be written all over my face. I remember an air hostess offering me a cup of tea on the plane. I wanted to shout at her not to bother me when my baby son had just died. But I didn't. Instead I lust sat there, silently suffering inside.

I finally arrived at our cottage in Oxfordshire the following afternoon. Marion was in the garden alone, and I simply ran to her and took her in my arms. I don't know how long we stood there, just holding one another and crying. It seemed like hours.

The next few days passed in a blur. I went to the hospital alone to see my son one more time. He was lying wrapped up on a little bed, looking so tiny and vulnerable that it broke my heart.

The results of the postmortem were inconclusive. There was no obvious cause of death. All that the doctor could find was a slight inflammation of the lung, as if Jack were just about to catch a cold. The funeral was for immediate family only. There are no words of comfort following the death of a baby, no fond memories to talk over.

WE ALL stood there silently, red-eyed and grief-stricken. I have known couples whose loss drove a wedge between them — fathers who wouldn't talk and mothers who felt unsupported. Marion and I were lucky: we were always able to comfort each other.

And in those first weeks following Jack's death, we needed one another as never before. At first Marion kept blaming herself, torturing herself with 'what ifs?'

Eventually, I convinced her that she was not to blame and that there was nothing she could have done to prevent Jack's death.

Then, just two weeks after our tragedy, I took on the role of the new Dr Who. I can honestly say that I didn't give a moment's thought to the part until the day I turned up. All I could think about were Marion and Jack.

If I could have found a way to avoid having to work, I would have done. But I had to keep earning a living, however awful I felt inside. Perhaps, in some way, it was also good for me, forcing me once more into the outside world.

It was Marion who had the toughest time because she was the one left at home alone, with nothing to occupy her but thoughts of the child she had lost. Even her body reminded her that she was still a mother by continuing to produce milk.

Throughout that time we both gained comfort not only from one another but from the wonderful support of our health visitor.

Within a year we started thinking about having another child. Although we were anxious not to have a baby to replace Jack, we both knew that we wanted children more than anything on Earth.

Our first daughter, Lucy, was born in 1985. We were determined not to become over-anxious parents and tried our best not to worry unduly during those first few months after her birth.

Fortunately, she was such a wakeful, noisy baby that on the rare occasions she did sleep, we were both so exhausted that we slept as well. Lucy was followed by Bindy, now eight, Lally, six, and Rosie, four.

I was secretly relieved that they were all girls, perhaps because a boy might have represented a return of my fears, and also because I wanted Jack to remain special — our only son.

Jack's death changed my perspective on my life and work totally. From someone who lived and breathed acting, I became a man whose family came before everything.

AS A single man, I had been seduced by the glamour of the theatre — the people, the parties and the thrill of the performance. That appeal had lessened once I found myself in a stable and loving relationship —and even more so once I thought about having children.

Jack's birth had been miraculous for me and altered my perspective even more. Perhaps if he had lived, I would have changed anyway, but I suspect that his death speeded up that process of transformation 100 times over.

His loss made me question for the first time not only what was important in my life but also what matters for any human being. A professional career is at best only transitory, and the loss of my son highlighted that for the first time.

For the three years following Jack's death, I worked full-time on Dr Who. But I was not the same man who had won the part. Acting had become a part of my life, rather than my reason for living.

I waited for the moment when I could go home to Marion and the girls, rather than craving after-hours parties or adulation. Suddenly I was treating my career as the nine-to-five job I did to support the family, rather than a personal goal.

Almost immediately after Jack's death, I contacted the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths to offer my services as a celebrity fund-raiser. Very thoughtfully, the appeals chairman thanked me but advised me to wait for a few months, as she felt my bereavement was too recent and raw.

So I waited for two months and then rang again. That time they accepted my offer of help immediately.

Dr Who fans have contributed a great deal of money to the foundation and, hopefully, will do so even more after I become its chairman on November 27.

I enjoy fund-raising, and feel that if, in some small way, I can help to prevent the death of another baby, I am also showing how special Jack was to me.

If I could afford to have more children, I would have at least ten. Losing Jack made me realise that there is nothing on Earth more precious than the life of a child.

SEND donations to the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, 14 Halkin Street, London SW1X 7DP, tel: 0171-235 0965. Helpline: 0171-235 1721.

Caption: Colin with Marion and daughters Lucy, Bindy, Lally and Rosie. Their son, Jack, died in his cot

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  • APA 6th ed.: Campbell, Colin Baker and Clare (1996-11-11). The Day That Changed My Life. Daily Mail p. 42.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Campbell, Colin Baker and Clare. "The Day That Changed My Life." Daily Mail [add city] 1996-11-11, 42. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Campbell, Colin Baker and Clare. "The Day That Changed My Life." Daily Mail, edition, sec., 1996-11-11
  • Turabian: Campbell, Colin Baker and Clare. "The Day That Changed My Life." Daily Mail, 1996-11-11, section, 42 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The Day That Changed My Life | url= | work=Daily Mail | pages=42 | date=1996-11-11 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2018 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The Day That Changed My Life | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2018}}</ref>