He was a menacing football star, and she was the childhood sweetheart who tamed him – despite years fighting cancer. Now, as Vinnie Jones mourns the loss of his wife at 53, JANE FRYER recalls their tragic love story
- Tanya Jones, 53, passed away at her home in Los Angeles surrounded by family
- Wife of British actor and former footballer Vinnie, she suffered from skin cancer
- Couple both previously fought skin cancer in 2013 and were given the all-clear
- The former footballer was a hard-man, biting into noses and waving around guns
- But Tanya was only person whom he would never lose his temper, never shout at
Vinnie Jones and his late wife Tanya could not have been more different, which makes their love story all the more extraordinary.
He is the former football hard-man turned film star, a tattoo enthusiast with a temper so explosive he’s bitten into noses, brandished shotguns — at himself and others — and been in endless fracas on the football pitch, on aircraft, in bars, with fellow footballers, drinkers, journalists and former friends.
With everyone, that is, but Tanya, who died on Saturday aged 53 after a six-year battle with cancer and decades of fragile health.
She was the one person with whom he would never lose his temper, never shout at or scream or yell — much less raise his fists.
Vinnie Jones and his late wife Tanya could not have been more different, which makes their love story all the more extraordinary. Pictured: The couple hold hands while shopping in a pharmacy in August last year
‘Vin wouldn’t dare lose his temper with me,’ she used to joke.
She was his ‘rock’, his north star and he loved her, cherished her and, in his own way, cared for her over the years with tenderness and gratitude.
For as Vinnie, 54, always likes to tell people, it was she who ‘saved’ him.
‘I take my strength from Tanya,’ he has said.
‘She has given me stability and it is my responsibility to be there for her. She’s the most incredible person. We’re the perfect match and I was lucky to find her.’
Tanya Jones (pictured left in 1994 and right with Vinnie at their wedding) passed away aged 53 at her home in Los Angeles on Saturday surrounded by her family after her condition worsened in recent weeks
Poor Vinnie. How he must be hurting right now. But perhaps, also, he is counting his blessings — because they could so easily never have met. For Tanya’s heart failed 32 years ago, while she was giving birth to her daughter, Kaley, during her first marriage to Watford footballer Steve Terry.
‘I remember hearing the ‘drooooooom’ as the heart stopped,’ she said. ‘I heard it on the heart monitor. Things started to get dark.’
She was only 21 and spent the next few weeks battling to survive — breathless, blue and listless — until, by chance, a cardiology specialist walked in and diagnosed heart failure triggered by the birth.
Six weeks after Kaley was born, and after cheating death on at least five occasions, Tanya underwent an emergency transplant with a heart from a 14-year-old German boy.
The 12-hour operation was a success, but the surgery brought endless medical complications that were to impact her entire life.
Poor Vinnie. How he must be hurting right now. But perhaps, also, he is counting his blessings — because they could so easily never have met. For Tanya’s heart failed 32 years ago, while she was giving birth to her daughter, Kaley, during her first marriage to Watford footballer Steve Terry. Pictured: Tanya Jones seen out and about with her former footballer husband in 2015 after her cancer scare was revealed
The drugs she took to stop her heart being rejected caused kidney problems, she had cervical cancer twice and a partial hysterectomy that meant she and Vinnie would never have children together.
Neither Vinnie nor Tanya could have imagined her future pain when they met aged 12 at a cricket match in their hometown of Watford and flirted self-consciously during their teens.
‘Even when he was a tearaway lad, I knew he had a good heart,’ she said of Vinnie.
He gave her butterflies in her tummy but they were both awkward and adolescent and never ventured beyond holding hands.
Tanya’s heart failed when was only 21 and spent the next few weeks battling to survive — breathless, blue and listless — until, by chance, a cardiology specialist walked in and diagnosed heart failure triggered by the birth. Vinnie Jones and his wife pictured in 2013, at the BritWeek Festival in LA
One night he mustered up the courage to walk her home, but nothing happened — other than an awkward tea with her mum.
And that was that, until the mid-Eighties. She had split from Terry and was a single mum to Kaley, then four.
Vinnie, meanwhile, was single and, by chance, living just a few doors up the same road in Hemel Hempstead.
‘The beginning of the rest of my life’ is how Vinnie has described the moment he saw her walking up the street.
He knew that his role in life was to look after Tanya and Kaley, as well as his son Aaron from a previous relationship, and he spent the next few months doing everything in his power to show her how serious he was.
As well as Vinnie, she is survived by her daughter, Kaley, by her former husband Steve Terry, and a son, Aaron, who she shares with Vinnie (pictured at the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret Premiere in London in 2002)
Naturally, just like any famous footballer, he was full of grand gestures. He bombarded Tanya with flowers and bought her ten dresses at a time. On Valentine’s Day, he gave her a Peugeot convertible, two dozen red roses and a little note telling her that she held the key to his heart.
But for Tanya, it was his unexpected quiet kindness that cemented their love.
The endless visits when she was admitted to hospital for gynaecological issues. The fact that he didn’t blanch when she told him her health problems meant they’d never be able to have children together.
And his steadfastness when her father warned him of his daughter’s fragile health and begged him to leave now if he wasn’t serious.
In an interview with the Daily Mirror in 2017, Jones described Tanya as ‘the most incredible person’, adding: ‘I think we’re the perfect match and I was lucky to find it’. Pictured together at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London in 1997, they were attending the Radio Industries Club Awards. Naturally, just like any famous footballer, he was full of grand gestures. He bombarded Tanya with flowers and bought her ten dresses at a time. On Valentine’s Day, he gave her a Peugeot convertible, two dozen red roses and a little note telling her that she held the key to his heart
She said she ‘knew’ he was the one when hard nut Vinnie picked her up from hospital, carried her to her car, packed her around with pillows and flowers and then tended her for days in her big baggy thermal pyjamas and didn’t even flinch when she suffered a haemorrhage.
‘He put me in the bath, rang the doctor, got me out of the bath, dried me, put something on me,’ she said. ‘He was so gentle, so loving and when he loves you you’re the centre of his world. He puts you on a pedestal.’
Gentle! Vinnie Jones? Could it possibly be the same man?
The son of a gamekeeper, born in a Watford bedsit, who by turns has been a juvenile troublemaker, kitchen porter, hod-carrier and professional footballer, has been called many things over the years, but never ‘gentle’.
He was a member of Wimbledon FC’s notorious Crazy Gang alongside Dennis Wise and John Fashanu, for goodness’ sake, with a fearsome reputation for dirty play.
During a career that had spells at Sheffield United, Chelsea and Queen’s Park Rangers, he was sent off 12 times, squeezed Paul Gascoigne’s testicles on the pitch, was banned by the Football Association, and fined £20,000 for doing the voice-over for a how-to-foul video, Soccer’s Hard Men.
Vinnie and Tanya’s love might have been strong, but their 25-year marriage has had to endure far more texture than most, even aside from her relentless health problems.
Vinnie’s endless visits when Tanya was admitted to hospital for gynaecological issues. The fact that he didn’t blanch when she told him her health problems meant they’d never be able to have children together all helped her love him. The couple were often pictured together showing affection. Left: The couple attend Royal Ascot in 2002. Right: The pair embrace at Vinnie’s 38th birthday party in 2003.
For years, he drank too much and, in 1995, bit the nose of a journalist in a Dublin bar before taking himself off with a shotgun into the woods behind his and Tanya’s Hertfordshire pile, intending to end his own life in shame.
Apparently, it was the family Jack Russell that shook him out of it with a long hard look, though I doubt he could ever have left his beloved ‘Tans’.
Two years later, he was convicted of assaulting a neighbour in a late-night row. He has always maintained that the shame of seeing Tanya’s frail face in the court as he was given 140 hours’ community service changed him.
Vinnie and Tanya Jones renewed their wedding vows after 13 years of marriage at the ‘Little white Chapel’ in Las Vegas in 2007
‘That killed me . . . Family stand by you, right or wrong. I know Tans will love me for ever. But she always says: ‘You’ve got to bloody stop this. You’ve got to calm down.’ ‘
It was just as his football career was fading that Guy Ritchie cast him as debt collector Big Chris in the 1998 film Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (he donated his £30,000 fee to the Harefield Hospital where Tanya was treated) and he began a new life as a Hollywood star.
For years he had yearned to be a millionaire and the minute his film career took off, as a typecast hard man, he revelled in his new celebrity friends — Guy Ritchie, Madonna, Jason Statham, Sting and Trudie Styler, Brad Pitt, Elton John . . . the list went on and on.
In 2013, the couple were both diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer, and fought it together. Pictured together in 2007 at the premiere of Stardust in Los Angeles
Tanya wasn’t remotely interested in money — she said she’d have been just as happy in a council flat if only her heart would last another 50 years — and was adept at puncturing his bubble and keeping his feet on the ground.
She also had no truck with celebrities, and if she didn’t like them would tell them, however famous.
‘She and Rod Stewart had a barney for about a year,’ said Vinnie. ‘I don’t even know what it was about — something trivial.’
Vinnie Jones and his wife Tanya during a visit to the Harefield Hospital in north west London in 2002. Throughout his flare-ups and fall-outs, punch-ups and blow-outs, Tanya adored her flawed husband
Throughout his flare-ups and fall-outs, punch-ups and blow-outs, Tanya adored her flawed husband.
‘Loving him is just everything,’ she said. ‘I live, breathe and sleep him and that’s never faded. It gets stronger all the time.’
She also calmed him, protected him and defended him.
‘When he walks through the door at night he is simply father, husband and son,’ she once said. ‘He’s not this big tough character like everyone thinks. He’s very vulnerable and he has a naivety that people outside aren’t aware of.
‘Vin has feelings just like everyone else — he gets upset if someone says something nasty about him in print or on the television. He’s no different to anyone in that respect.’
Mr Jones, a recovering alcoholic, blamed his outdoor lifestyle for the cancer – aggravated by his move to Los Angeles with wife Tanya to pursue his film career. Pictured with Tanya in 2000 at the premiere of Snatch in London’s Leicester Square
She once admitted watching Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels more than 50 times ‘just to see him’.
He, meanwhile, treasured every day with her, went to great lengths to make her happy and told anyone who would listen how much he loved her. When she was homesick one Christmas in Los Angeles, he had the garden decked out with fairy lights and decorated a tree in every room to cheer her up.
But still the moments of madness continued. In 2003, he was convicted of assault and threatening behaviour on a flight to Tokyo after slapping a fellow passenger ten times, smashing his head into a window in the first-class cabin and screaming, ‘I’m going to have you killed’ before threatening cabin crew.
And in 2012, in the most damaging incident of all, he was pictured kissing a girl in a nightclub in Russia — an incident he always insisted was a honey trap, but which nearly broke his 20-year marriage to Tanya.
In spite of Jones’ bad boy antics that involved two arrests, the couple stayed together throughout the 25 years that they knew each other. Pictured together in 2001 at the Evening Standard Film Awards at the Savoy Hotel in London
‘She went ******g ballistic,’ said Vinnie. ‘I had nothing to say other than: ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘
And he kept on apologising in person, as well as publicly in newspapers and in interviews for weeks. Terrified he’d lose her, he saw a psychologist, ‘virtually’ gave up alcohol, gained control of his red mists and, eventually, they weathered it.
But life had still more to throw at them. In 2013, Vinnie discovered a cancerous lump on his face, shortly before Tanya was diagnosed with melanoma, too — hers thought by doctors to be linked to the medicine she’d been taking since her heart transplant.
While Vinnie made a good recovery, Tanya’s battered body had finally run out of reserves.
Over recent months, she had barely been seen. But behind the gates of their immaculate Hollywood Hills mansion, with its vast stone greyhounds and shimmering pool, a new, calmer, stronger Vinnie has tried to keep things as normal as possible with ‘happy Friday’ barbecues for family and friends each week.
‘I’m nowhere near as brave as her,’ he said. ‘People call me hard and tough, but Tanya, now there’s someone who is really tough.’
When she was 28, Tanya said she hoped her heart would give her another 20 years.
‘I’ll be 48 then,’ she explained. ‘So I’ll have had a life.’ After everything she’d been through, she considered every year after — however turbulent — a gift. But for her grieving husband, every moment she is gone will be torture.
‘I am at my best when she is in top form,’ he said. ‘When she is sad or stressed, I bleed. Goodness knows where I would be without her.’
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