Coronation Street’s Antony Cotton has told how he responded to a desperate call about a suicidal soldier.
It was 11.30pm but the Corrie star did not hesitate and rushed to the struggling man.
He said: “I drove to a motorway bridge, to a soldier I’d never met who was suicidal and then drove him back to my house.”
That was five ago and Antony, 44, lost contact with him until Christmas Eve last year.
Antony said: “I saw him in a supermarket, walking towards me with a pram with his wife and two babies.
“There was Christmas music playing and I stepped round my trolley and hugged him.
“We were both close to tears and he just said: ‘thank you’. It made my Christmas and that’s why I do what I do.”
Antony, a passionate supporter of the armed forces, has been making other people’s Christmases this year.
He teamed up with the Sunday People to visit the residents of Greater Manchester’s Broughton House, a retirement home for ex-soldiers, to hand out presents.
But the modest star brushes aside any praise and insists he is fortunate to be able to laugh and joke with the residents.
He said: “I’m the lucky one. I genuinely feel like the honour is all mine.
“Meeting these amazing people makes my life all the richer. I feel privileged to be entrusted with their stories and invited into their world.
“It keeps my feet on the ground, which I think is really important in my business, which is all about frippery.”
Antony loves playing barman Sean Tully and all that he represents but wants his work with military charities to be his legacy.
He said: “I do it with such pride and pleasure and if somebody took it away from me, I’d be devastated.”
He has made dozens of close friends in the forces in the past ten years and word has spread he is always happy to lend an ear when someone is battling mental health issues.
He always keeps his phone on. Since opening in 1916 to care for First World War soldiers Broughton House has looked after more than 8,000 veterans.
Today it has 30 residents, both women and men, aged 74-95. In 2021 they will move into the new Broughton House Veteran Care Village for the North West, with up to 30 independent living apartments for younger veterans, as well as a new 64-bed nursing and residential home.
Among the residents who met Antony was George Simms, 95, who proudly wore his war medals, including one marking his participation in the D-Day landings 75 years ago.
Manchester-born George, who also worked in the fire service for 25 years, said: “It was really nice to meet Antony and it’s lovely that he’s so interested in what we’ve done.”
Another resident enjoying Antony’s festive visit was Jack Pilkington, 85, a veteran of Britain’s 1958 nuclear weapons tests on Christmas Island and Broughton resident for seven years.
Joan Jones, 94, who served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in the Second World War, is one of three women living at Broughton.
She said: “My father was a naval man and always talked about me going in the Navy, but I said I’d join the RAF as they’d got nice uniforms.”
Joan was a teleprinter operator sending messages between stations.
She said: “It was a huge machine and it was so noisy. That’s why I’m deaf.
Antony generously provided decorations, the gifts of jumpers and shirts were kindly donated by Marks & Spencer’s Veterans Network, which brings together and supports M&S colleagues who have served in the armed forces.
He said: “The people who live here are not lonely or isolated, because they’ve experienced the same things and they’re talking the same language.
“Sometimes the word ‘home’ has a negative connotation – it suggests you’re old and expired and no good to anybody, but Broughton House reclaims the word for what it’s meant to be.”
Antony plans to hunker down on Christmas Day with family and partner Peter Eccleston, lock the doors and watch telly.
But his door will always be open and his phone on for members of the armed forces needing his help.
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