The call that changed John Egbeyemi’s life forever, arrived out of the blue one Sunday morning in early 2016.
John, now 50, was living on his own in East London, enjoying what even he calls his ‘mad, weird life.’ As a former contestant on X Factor, he’d performed many times as a backing singer, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston. In his ‘day job’ as a driver to the stars he’d worked with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Girls Aloud and had regularly picked up ministers and MPs from private airports.
But that was all about to change when he picked up his phone to learn some shocking news.
"It was the eldest son of my former girlfriend who I hadn’t seen since we’d split up the in the summer of 2015," he says. "He was saying that his mum was in hospital in a coma and I went into a panic because of course I still cared about her. But he told me that I needed to come over now because my son needed picking up.
"I was like: ‘What?’ I didn’t even know she’d had a baby. I leapt out of bed and went straight over there but was struggling to get my head around the fact I had a baby. I have older children from a previous relationship so it’s not like I’ve never been around kids, but this was such a shock. I went to meet my son Max and he was just the tiniest little thing and immediately, I knew it was my job to take care of him while his mum was sick. But I was totally unprepared."
John raced around buying cots, bottles and baby equipment and brought his young son home. But it was a steep learning curve.
"I had no idea how to look after a baby and the reality really hit me that first day when I needed to pop out for milk and then realised that oh, I’d have to take him with me," says John.
"In fact, from now on I’d have to take him everywhere with me. Thankfully, Max went very easy on me. He was the loveliest baby, hardly every crying. I sought out the help and advice from friends who advised me on everything such as getting his vaccinations and putting him nursery. My mum – who was up in Lancashire was an amazing support and we moved up there to be nearer to her. She became like a mum to Max and together we built up a little family unit together."
That family unit was cemented when sadly, Max’s mother died two years later. Tragically, Max also lost his grandma – John’s mum – last year, leaving John alone and devastated.
"She was my best friend and was always there for both of us," says John. "For Max, this was the second major death in his life and he was only four years old."
Due to a rare painful condition that means he can no longer work, John found being a single dad with no support very difficult.
"I’m in pain 24 hours a day and there have been times where I’ve seized up in the middle of a supermarket aisle and staff have had to call an ambulance," he says. "I can’t manage stairs so we moved into a privately rented bungalow which is expensive, so I have to supplement rent with my benefits. It leaves very little for Max and I to live on.
"I was devastated about losing my mum and was so worried about money. The pandemic made things so much worse. My son has one pair of shoes and there were days when I was in turmoil, wondering how I’d put food on the table. It’s then that I started looking for help."
He found it through Home-Start, a national family support charity that helps over 27,000 families in need each year. "They came into our lives at a time when we really needed them," says John. "I felt tired, but they helped to push me to contact the Housing Association to secure more affordable housing. Bernadette, my Home-Start volunteer, immediately got on the case and managed to move me into a higher category housing band.
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"I’d started to think about how to prepare Max for a dry Christmas when Bernadette called and asked what Max would like. When you have nothing, and you get a call like this, it’s overwhelming. She also offered us a Christmas tree and some food. They made me feel like I was worth looking after."
Now Max and John are thanking the volunteer who made such a difference to their life. Max has written a thank you note saying ‘our volunteer makes nice things happen’ and it is lighting up the BT Tower in London as part of a Christmas campaign.
"Max is a total joy and I am so happy to have him in my life but I can’t tell you how much the Home-Start has helped alleviate my situation," says John. "I’m so grateful. It’s given us something to look forward to and be excited about."
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