As four of Mark Wright’s family members battled Covid on hospital ventilators, he turned to his mum, Carol, and said: “We will be lucky if only one of our family members dies from this.”
This time last year was the darkest period Mark has ever experienced and he would eventually tragically lose his beloved uncle, Eddie George Wright , who was 65.
“He’s the heart of our family,” Mark said at the time.
“We're all heartbroken beyond belief. I’m trying to be there for many, many family members who are devastated.”
Speaking to The Mirror about how Covid struck down six of his relatives and left his family forever changed, Mark admitted he was getting “choked up”.
“We are sort of getting through it, I get choked up just thinking about it,” he said of the difficult healing process.
“It really shows how strong the mind is and how strong the body is.
“It was devastating, the only way I can describe it is, it was a depressing time last Christmas, it was so hard.
“At one point I had my dad, his two brothers, and my nan, their mum, all in hospital, and then my grandad at home with Covid. He couldn't get out of bed, so we had to care for him.
“I was saying, ‘We will be very lucky if only one of our family members dies from this.’ They were all in hospital on oxygen machines.
“Last Christmas was just before my dad went into hospital, so he had to stay upstairs, he couldn't come down, his oxygen levels were so low.
“And we had to be at home on our own, so I couldn't see him.”
One year on, Mark, 34, is still reeling from the heartbreak.
“Looking back, now we are here this year, I was thinking about this the other day and it made me realise how tough it was,” he said.
“It was the toughest time of my life, 100 per cent, and I am still scarred from it now. But you have to move on, and that's what life's about, isn't it? Without the downs you couldn't have the ups.”
Mark was keen to acknowledge his was not the only family who lost loved ones through Covid.
He has previously spoken about how conspiracists and anti-vaxxers targeted him when he spoke out about the “avoidable” deaths – and it infuriated him.
“But grief is inevitable when a family bond is so close”, he told us.
“When one leaves it's devastating, but you’ve all got each other and you support each other.”
And the family would finally receive some good news in November, when Mark’s younger brother Joshua, 31, announced he was expecting his first baby with wife Hollie Kane Wright, 29.
Mark agreed the exciting news was “all the more poignant” given the difficult year they had overcome.
“I'm ecstatic, when [Josh] told me and my brother I got very welled up, very emotional,” Mark recalled.
“We have such a tight bond in our family, and to know another little human will be joining us is just amazing.
“And he is the first of our siblings to have a baby, and it's the first time I am becoming an uncle, so it’ll be a special time for sure.”
Meanwhile, Mark and wife Michelle Keegan have been busy renovating their house and turning it into their “dream home” – and it’s likely to be finished early in the new year.
“We are at the final but they are the longest stages, it's the finishes,” he explained.
“The shell is there, but now it’s about choosing what colour door, what colour taps, I’ve never had to think about that before.
“When you’re building your dream home it makes it so much tougher, because you don’t want to move in and have any regrets.”
Ex-footballer Mark runs his own fitness platform, and his diet and exercise regime means he sometimes prefers to ditch the booze.
And so while in lockdown, he started drinking alcohol-free beer HEINEKEN 0.0, which will be rolled out on draught to hundreds of pubs next year.
“Some people go to the pub and have an orange juice or a diet coke, but for me, I want to taste a beer,” he explained.
“It’s not always about feeling tipsy, it’s about that taste. You can have a couple and still have that gassy beer feeling.
“I love going to the pub, and the temptation is always there to drink alcohol, but if you’re not in the mood to drink or you’re on a fitness diet like I am a lot of the time, this is my answer.”
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