Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls legend Jamie Peacock on supporting Sue Ryder's Sense of Grief campaign

The stirring anthem Abide With Me is sung before many notable sporting events, including every Rugby League Challenge Cup Final. But while the hymn reminds former player Jamie Peacock of his four wins in those epic finals, it has an even more poignant meaning for him, bringing back happy memories of his late father.

Peacock, who played for Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls, as well as captaining the Great Britain and England rugby league teams, attended many Challenge Cup finals as a child with his dad Darryl, who died from lung cancer in 2013 at the age of 58.

“They played Abide with Me at Wembley and it reminds me of going to Wembley with my dad as a child, and of course I played there later myself,” he says. “They’re positive memories with a tinge of sadness, but it’s great to remember him in that way.”

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Peacock, 45, is supporting the new Sue Ryder bereavement charity’s Sense of Grief campaign, which is highlighting the profound impact our senses have on the grieving process, after data revealed 91 per cent of people say sensory triggers remind them of someone they’ve lost.

Jamie Peacock. Picture: Richard Sellers/PAJamie Peacock. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA
Jamie Peacock. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

The former rugby star, who is considered by many to be the greatest player of the Super League era, having won nine Grand Finals, four Challenge Cups and four world titles in his glittering professional career, has another way of bringing memories of his dad back – through the earthy smell of Aramis aftershave.

“My dad wore Aramis in the Seventies and Eighties when he was going out as a kid and taking my mum to the pub on a Sunday night,” says Peacock, now a father-of-three himself. Despite the fond memories of his dad that the smell evokes, he hasn’t got any Aramis himself, as he’s not actually keen on the smell. “When my dad used to wear it I used to think he had plenty on!” he recalls. “I haven’t got any myself, but when I do smell it, it really takes me back.

“Our senses can take us back quite quickly to environments we’ve been in before, much more than our eyesight does, for example.”

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Peacock’s dad died after receiving “brilliant” palliative care at the Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds, and his grateful son has since raised many thousands of pounds for Wheatfields and is an ambassador for it.

Jamie Peacock with the Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Richard Sellers/PAJamie Peacock with the Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA
Jamie Peacock with the Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

“You never realise how important those places are until you use them,” he stresses. “They need all the support they can get.”

Discussing his feelings after his dad’s death Peacock, who retired from playing rugby in 2015, explains: “My grief at that time was pretty challenging because I was still playing when my dad passed away and I was still front and centre in the public eye, which could be a bit difficult. For me, it’s about remembering the good times, remembering what that person brought to you and understanding that while you’re sad at the time, over time that will become less and you’ll become more and more focused on the positive memories.”

He agrees that time is a healer – although that doesn’t mean those left behind stop feeling sad.

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“My dad was only 58,” he says, ”and maybe as time goes on you have less of that wishing he was still here. You still do that, but I think it’s about learning to move on, learning to accept that feeling sad is part of the grieving process – it’s normal to feel that way.

“Time does heal – the intensity of the emotions gets less and you learn to move on and cope with things in a better way. But that sadness will always be with you and I do think that’s important.”

Since retiring from rugby, Peacock has forged another successful career, as a motivational speaker with a particular focus on wellbeing.

“I think people are more aware of wellbeing, it’s been a lot more in the public eye,” he says. “People are understanding that to deal with being stressed and things that are different or not working out the way we’d like, the best thing is to make sure you’ve got a really strong foundation of wellbeing, like a positive mindset, sleeping well, eating healthily and being physically active.

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“If you can create some small habits you do all the time in those areas, I’m not saying you’re never going to get stressed out, but you’ll deal with the stress a lot better, and it’ll give you armour to help deal with it.”

It’s all very well advising people what to do to improve their health and wellbeing, but does Peacock practice what he preaches?

“Yeah, massively,” he says, adding: “I think you’ve got live and breathe it – for me, you’ve got to lead by example.”

Peacock’s just taken part in a Hyrox competition, doing eight 1k runs, with a functional exercise like rowing, pushing a sled or carrying weights in between each run. “I probably enjoy exercise more these days,” he reflects. “I think sometimes when you get paid to do something, it can take some of the joy out of it.”

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Does he ever play rugby now? He’s almost aghast at the suggestion…

“No, not a chance! Just because I like to remember being actually good at it, and not someone who’s rapidly approaching their fifties,” he says.

Instead, he’s passed the rugby playing mantle on to his eldest son Lewis, 19, who signed his first professional contract with his dad’s old club, Leeds Rhinos, in March this year.

“He’s at university and he’s part-time now for the Leeds Rhinos, so he’s got his own little journey,” says the proud dad. “So I’m still involved in rugby – not like it used to be, when it was all-consuming, but it will always be a part of my life.”

Jamie Peacock is a Sue Ryder celebrity ambassador supporting the charity’s Sense of Grief campaign to raise awareness of the impact our senses have on the grieving process.