TERRENCE Brian is still coming to terms with his elevation from humble Shaw pensioner to celebrity status, on first name terms with a clutch of household faces.
Entertainer John Barrowman and BBC news and sports anchorman, Dan Walker are two people he now calls friends.Piers Morgan, Gary Lineker and Zoe Ball are familiar with Terrence’s story as a gay rights campaigner for nearly 60 years, how he overcame depression and loneliness to become a core volunteer with Age UK Oldham.
Even carpet shop Lifestyle in Shaw has a new high-profile customer off the back of Terrence’s story.
But the 78-year-old won’t allow his new-found fame to distract him from the reason he has been unwittingly thrust into the national spotlight.
That’s why Terrence still visits Shawside nursing home every Monday to have his regular catch-up with one of the residents.
He remains passionate about his volunteering work especially with its Out & About Group, an informal social support group for the borough’s older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
In little more than a month, Terrence has championed the work of Age UK and was on television over Christmas more than Mrs Brown’s Boys!
Previously, the festive period hasn’t always been a time to celebrate for Terrence as he spent Christmas Day alone for two decades.
In fact, a new survey for Age UK found Christmas is the loneliest time of the year for over 1.5 million older people, with those who have been widowed feeling it the most.
Last year though on December 25 last year, Terrence found himself sitting on a studio couch at BBC’s MediaCity studios, updating the nation and a growing global following about his heart-warming story.
It has gone viral, initially through Age UK’s 2019 television advert, then via ITV before BBC took the cause to its heart.
“Five years ago, I became a volunteer for Age UK,” Terrence told the Correspondent. “Before that I had a lot happen to me.
“I suffered a heart attack, I was diagnosed with diabetes and had a very bad bout of depression.”
But at this low point, he was helped by Lucy Livesey, a former mental health nurse, who now runs Relax With Lucy.Taking up his story again, Terrence said: “A friend suggested I go to Age UK because they have an LGBT group.
“So, I got in touch with Maggie Hurley from Age UK Oldham and went down to see her.
“Eventually, I began to do more and more including taking a nine-week course. But I never imagined it was going to lead to all this.
“Initially, I spoke to someone at the BBC about what it was like to be gay in the very early years.
“I have been gay since I was 20 when we were all criminals in the eyes of the law.
“Then Maggie told me she had put my name forward for some filming with ITV. I also did Age UK’s commercial. Normally, they use actors but decided this time to use their own volunteers.
“By this time Christmas was coming up, BBC contacted Maggie and asked if I would go into the studio to tell what it is like to be on your own at Christmas.
“I had 20 Christmases on my own since my mother passed. I have lots of friends but I won’t trouble them at Christmas.“I know there are thousands who have Christmas Day on their own. Some of them never see anyone from week to week.
“I spoke to Dan Walker who asked me to tell them my story and as far as I was concerned that was going to be it.”
Far from it. Soon after Terrence received a surprise visit from the former Piccadilly Radio sports presenter and the Oldham College Choir.
They came and decorated a tree before serenading Terrence with a rendition of his favourite carol, Silent Night.
“I totally lost I and just broke down,” he said. “I was so happy about it.
“It was a fantastic night and so nice to see all these young people.”
By now Terrence’s tale was developing a life of its own.
Before he knew it, he was back at MediaCity, being invited to John Barrowman’s Christmas show at Sheffield City Hall by the man himself.
A limousine arrived at his modest Shaw home to whisk him, friend Andrew, Maggie and a present for John across the Pennines.“John Barrowman loved my rainbow carpet and wanted to know where I got it from.
“So, I went back to Lifestyle carpets, opposite Asda, and asked if they had another because I wanted it for someone famous. I got the last one.”
Once at the venue Terrence was introduced to John’s mum and dad and husband, Scott.
“John went berserk when he saw the carpet and just got down and lay on it,” laughed Terrence who became part of the American’s second half show.
“I said I hope you don’t want me to sing because I would clear the house in two minutes.”
Instead, Terrence was introduced from his seat to the audience of 2,500 who all broke out their camera phone flashlight before singing another version of Silent Night.
“I broke down again,” added Terrence who was soon in front of the cameras again at an Age UK Oldham tea dance at Queen Elizabeth Hall.
This time Beeb presenter Naga Munchetty interviewed Terrence but only after a spin on the dance floor.
“I told her I can’t dance; I have two left feet. Naga said ‘we will just shuffle’ and we did.”
Backstage there was a table full of cards and presents from Terrence’s new admirers.
“I said ‘Why?’ And Naga said: ‘Terrence, the whole thing has gone viral because you told it like it is.’
“I am glad it has happened because it has put the focus on elderly people on their own. People have been so kind.“I never thought when all this started this would happen but it has all snowballed.
“I have touched an awful lot of people and if I have done that for Age UK then I am quite proud.”
Terrence has subsequently written ‘thank yous’ to many of the people who have been in contact.
“I am going to stay in touch with John Barrowman,” he said. “And I have become a good friend of Dan Walker.
“I have also made an awful lot of friends from the College.
“With volunteering, the one thing you need more than anything is commitment. If you don’t have commitment you can’t do it.
“I hope I have inspired others to do what I have done for the last five years.”
Terrence though has one remaining ambition. “I would like to think I will be volunteering for years,” he added.
“I will be 79 in August and hopefully I am going to reach 80 next year.
“I also went to the gay village in Manchester long before it was the gay village.
“So, my ambition would be to lead Manchester Pride. That means I have gone down there for 60 years.”