In the months following the death of his beloved wife Val in August 2009, dad-of-two Paul Kingdon started to take part in fundraising activities for The Hospice of St Francis, where she was cared for. The pinnacle of his fundraising came when he conquered his fears and took on a Skydive raising £1,500 in aid of hospice care.
Little did he know that he had inspired his youngest son Alex to follow in his footsteps. Alex went on to not only beat his Dad’s fundraising total but also, at the age of just 16 years and one week, he became one of the youngest people ever to jump out of a plane.
Here they tell their story….
Paul says: “I did the midnight walk a couple of times with my two sons, Matthew and Alex, to raise money for the Hospice. I also abseiled down a 100ft building in Hemel Hempstead and even walked on hot coals!
“In September 2012 I saw a poster in a local bakery advertising the Hospice’s Skydive and thought – why not? I got a group together from work and set about raising money. Of all the fundraising challenges I’ve done, the Skydive was the one I have been most nervous about.
“In the build up to it I just kept thinking, ‘what have I let myself in for?’ Obviously you go on holiday in a plane but the last thing you want is to see the door open, let alone to jump out of it!
“I dealt with it by thinking to myself ‘the fear I have of jumping out of a plane is nothing compared to the fear that Val had of what was going to happen to her’.
“Val was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2006. She went on to have treatment but unfortunately the cancer came back in her bones and liver. She died aged just 37 on 6th August 2009. By then she had stopped treatment and was receiving only palliative care.
“Val had started coming to the Hospice in January that year for pain relief and acupuncture in the Spring Centre. She was desperate not to go to hospital and the holistic care she received from the Hospice gave her that time to live the way she wanted to – in her own home.
“The children’s services team also helped with the boys who were seven and nine at the time, explaining to them what was going on and helping them to understand what was happening.
“On 13th April Val and I renewed our wedding vows. It was a very special day. We threw a party for all our friends and family, and hospice chef, Chris Took, made a huge cake. But then over the summer Val started to deteriorate.
“She came to the Hospice as an inpatient for the first time on 2nd August. A week before she died I would not have thought we would lose her so soon. But when she got to the Hospice it was as if everything stopped. I think she had found herself in a place of peace where she could relax and finally let herself go. She felt as if everything had been done and she was in a place where she felt safe.
“Being in the Hospice rather than a hospital, meant me and the boys could be with her as much as we could. She had a lovely secluded room and we were able to spend those last days together listening to the music that she enjoyed.
“In the months after Val died, me and the boys took part in some of the children’s activities like the pony days and the woodlands walks organised by the Hospice. We met other families in a similar situation, which I think we all found helpful.
“When I did my Skydive, Alex came with me. He had wanted to do one himself from the age of 11. He ended up doing it pretty much as soon as he was legally able – just one week after he turned 16 on 30th April 2017.
“In my job as lead instructor for forensic provision with the Metropolitan Police, I teach the detectives that come through Hendon for training and all of my students sponsored him. Even people I went to school with when I was 10 gave money - I was astonished by people’s generosity.
“Alex was still very young when he lost his mum and as a result he doesn’t hold many memories of her, which is something he has struggled with. Doing the Skydive gave him a way to remember her and enabled me to reintroduce some memories to him. It has been a really positive experience for us as a family.”
Alex said: “Doing a Skydive for the Hospice turned out to be a really good experience but in the run up to it I was really nervous. In the car on the way to the airfield, I felt ill but I had raised so much money I knew there was no going back. My dad had done one before, so I couldn’t not do it. There was a bit of competition between us about how much we would raise, but I beat him hands down.
“I got so much support from everyone at school. It was even mentioned in assembly. I had a target of £500 at the beginning. I put it on social media and it just kept going up and up as more people found out I was doing it. I ended up raising £3,300!
“It was really nice that people were so caring. Some people obviously knew my connection with the Hospice. I’d done a sponsored walk before but with a Skydive more people are willing to donate.
“I’m really proud that I’m one of the youngest people ever to have done a Skydive. I would have done it on my actual 16th birthday but it was my last ever football game that day playing for my team Hemel Athletic in a cup final – that we won!”