Two years after the death of his wife, Rebecca Ellison, the former England and Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand is opening up about his grief in his new book, Thinking Out Loud.
Following Being Mum And Dad, the BBC1 documentary that Ferdinand hosted a year after his wife passed away, which examined how families – including his own – coped with bereavement, he received an outpouring of support. Talking to Decca Aitkenhead in the exclusive clip for The Pool, Ferdinand explains he received “thousands of emails, thousands of direct messages on social media, handwritten letters” with good wishes and nice words. “It all gets a bit emotional and you don’t know what to do, but it’s been such an overwhelming response that a book was just a natural way of stepping forward and helping more people.”
This is Ferdinand’s goal – to help other people in whatever way he can, and he hopes his new book will do just that. In Thinking Out Loud, he writes about meeting, marrying and ultimately losing Rebecca and how he and his three young children have dealt with their grief. He hopes that, by opening up, he can help others who are struggling with loss: “Because of the path I’ve been on for the last couple of years, you put yourself aside a bit and you think, ‘Listen, I don’t mind putting myself up if it means helping other people.’”
Because of the path I’ve been on for the last couple of years, you put yourself aside a bit and you think, ‘Listen, I don’t mind putting myself up if it means helping other people’
It’s hard not to see Ferdinand’s – one of the most decorated English footballers of all time – willingness to open up about his emotions so publically as a step forward in how we think of masculinity and how society treats men who are in touch with their emotions. He explains that this book taught him a lot about who he was as a person: “[Prior to Ellison’s death] I would never speak about my feelings or emotions; I wasn’t a touchy-feely person at all. In the book, I unravel a lot of the reasons for that.”
Of course, there are things in Thinking Out Loud that he would have liked to tell his wife, to talk to her about. Ferdinand concedes that whenever they talked about his feelings, “I’d be awkward, I wouldn’t be able to open up at all.” He would have liked to be able to explain why he found it so hard to talk her about his emotions: “She knew, I think, and she worked it out herself, but it would have been nice to have come from me, the horse's mouth.”
Ferdinand and his family are moving through their grief and starting to look towards the future. When asked what that might mean for him, there’s no mention of a career or more accolades; instead, he says, “I just want to be happy and I wanna be able to walk around with a smile on my face and try and enjoy life. And watch my children go through school and play football and do different horse-riding activities.”