The lonely 85-year-old Irish pensioner in London, who took an ad seeking company for Christmas, once worked for the American Embassy as a butler and met Ronald Reagan.
James Gray’s story is revealed in the Irish Post newspaper in London where he had placed an advertisement seeking company on Christmas Day. He told the newspaper he had spent the last ten Christmases alone.
Following the newspaper story a worldwide wave of affection for the 85-year-old has meant he has received over 1,000 letters, and many gifts of support. Letters have come from Chile, the US, Australia, and Japan.
He has also been swamped by cards from Ireland and his native Cork.
He told the Post’s Niall O’Sullivan that he found it hard to take in the extraordinary outpouring.
He recalled his working career at the American Embassy where he served Ronald Reagan “All I remember is pouring champagne for the huge crowd that turned up for dinner,” he said.
“There were about 100 people there on the night Mr Reagan was there.”
He then worked for a top investment bank and served the likes of Prime Minister John Major and British royal Princess Anne.
“John Major used to come there because the businessmen who used to give checks to the Conservative Party would come there and meet him,” he recalled.
“Mr Major shook my hand when he came in a couple of times and I always meant to say ‘Your son has the same name as me’. But I didn’t get the chance.”
Princess Anne was a regular visitor.
“When they gave a dinner party for the princess I was behind a chair and she never even looked at me when she came into the dining room,” he added.
Gray also revealed he had a very tough upbringing as son of an unwed mother brought up in a workhouse.
“All day you were in a yard with a great big wall all the way around it – you were stuck,” he explained.
“And I know that in one corner there was a lavatory, but there were rats running up and down the place. It was not even a room, it was off the yard.”
He was rented out to work on farms but left to become a servant in posh houses.
“I enjoyed working for the rich at a stately home much more than I enjoyed work on a farm.”
It was then that James boarded a boat and set out for England where he found himself working very long hours.
“And I was working so much,” he added.
“You could be working all night, seven days a week.”
“I just couldn’t make friends,” he explained.
“I thought I might make a lot of friends when I emigrated, but I was not that sociable. I was very quiet, even though I went to parties and had parties.”
But he remains stoical, saying he “won’t be beaten”.
“I have been alone all my life – it’s been like this ever since I was 14,” he explained.
“You see, you have to be strong if you are pushed out into the world on a farm when you are 14, with a suit of clothes, a prayer book and a set of rosary beads and about 30 shillings.
“You just have to get on with it and it makes you strong.”
But he admits that he wishes things were different.
“Behind it all, deep down it hurts to have no family and no relations,” James added.
“You go through life feeling like you are the only one in the world. Anybody coming into the world today at least has the State behind them, but I had nothing.
“I wish I had a family behind me.”
He got married at age 45
“That was a mistake,” he lamented.
“I was 45 and I had known her about 12 months. I just got married for the sake of marriage.”
Niall O’Sullivan presents James with one of four boxes of cards and gifts from Irish Post readers
Later James fell in love with a woman from Northern Ireland but to his deep regret they broke up
“It was all because of a chicken dish,” he said.
“She cooked a chicken dish and then she went back there and said there was a piece missing. So I said ‘Well I didn’t take it’.
“But she was mad and I said ‘Oh well if you are like that then you had better leave’. And that was it. It was the biggest mistake I have ever made.”
Now James lives with chronic loneliness. But the Irish Post has intervened to ensure he will never be so lonely again.