TRIBUTE TO ‘DIGGER’
Digger and Buddie were born in February 1999 and had a showbiz start in life. My friend Simon Jay, who was a makeup artist at GMTV. had a sideline, when he wasn't whacking mascara on Lorraine Kelly, Penny Smith and myself he and his partner Nick bred Golden Retrievers from their home in Cornwall. I had always said to him "The moment I leave London I'll be on the phone".
In 1999 Grant and I bought our first country home Barbins Grange, Grant’s daughters, my beautiful Step Daughters Lily then 7 Amelia 6 and Claudia 4, were enjoying their Daddy's new home but something was missing - dogs. It was Grant who persuaded me that two are just as easy to look after as one and it’s better for them, “even when we're out” he said “they'll never be alone”, and “maybe there’ll be less destruction” - he lied!. I asked Simon and Nick to choose two boys from their litter who got on, and, when they were ready to leave their mother, we couldn’t wait to pick them up.
We left Surrey with two new fluffy empty dog beds in the back, collars and leads and a few puppy chews. We’d arranged to meet Simon and Nick at a friends house, Noel Edmonds, at his home in Devon. After a lovely evening with Noel, and his then wife Helen, we went to bed thinking about our two little puppies, and what a wonderful addition to our lives they were going to be, and we were very excited. The next morning Nick and Simon drove up Noel’s drive, which to most of us was a road, and opened the boot of their car. The excitement was infectious ! It was love at first sight, hugging, licking, scratching, massive excitement!. The next thing I really recall was all of us sitting around the table in Noel’s kitchen having cups of tea where the inevitable question was posed "So what are you going to call them?" we looked at the breeding papers and one was called Excavator and the other Explorer. We tried to adapt Excavator with silly names like JCB ! It was actually Helen who said how about Digger? We looked at this cute little pup, as a small puddle of yellow was forming on Noel's kitchen floor, and decided Digger it had to be! Digger’s little brother was called ‘Explorer’ but we wanted to change that too, and we started to think of explorers and Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut came to mind, although we were all convinced it was Bud Aldrin, and we came up with Buddie, it all just seemed to fall into place. We raised our tea mugs to christen Digger and Buddie. Those of you who are a little brighter than us will know that it’s Buzz Aldrin, not Bud, but there was no going back now.
The moment we arrived home with our two little bundles of fluff our lives changed. My shoes were at risk for a start, I actually remember crying over one pair of Gucci favourites. The washing basket was a source of entertainment and the laundry room got through 4 sets of skirting boards, and, replacement cat flaps were on standing order from the manufacturers. Digger felt if the cats could get out that way why couldn’t he. We once came home to find him wearing flap number 6 around his waist as a sort of belt!. For the most part the destruction was Diggers way of punishing us for going out without him and his brother. Emptying waist paper bins, chewing the tassels off rugs, and rolling in fox poo before coming into the house (the worst smell ever) was just for fun. Workmen's lunch boxes were raided, the record was 5 in one mornings.
One day exasperated at Diggers latest act of defiance a friend suggested that dog behaviour classes would bring some sort of order to our lives. We did have a small success here but sadly didn't graduate with honours.
On one occasion I found something very funny and just collapsed with laughter, this ended with me under a pile of fluff being licked to death by Digger while Buddie, much larger than his brother, performed his favourite trick of sitting on my chest and pinning me to the floor. We were advised returning was pointless as no more could be achieved.
We found out about Diggers cancer bizarrely because of a photo shoot I had agreed to take part in for the DPSA, a charity I have supported for many years. Digger, Buddie and myself were to be photographed by Lord Lichfield for their 2008 calendar. I had met Patrick for the first time when I was presenting 'Wish You Were Here' for the ITV. We were visiting Mustique as part of the show and Patrick, being one of the founding members of the islands notorious social scene, was good enough to grant us an interview and allow us to film in his home there. His charm was infectious so the thought of doing a shoot with him was something I was looking forward to. Then the terrible news that Patrick had died of a stroke, he was only 66, a tragedy.
After much sadness it was decided that the calendar would go ahead with another photographer and luckily for me he was a friend of mine Jason Frazer, I say a friend, he was once my sworn enemy. Jason, years ago was the Godfather of the paparazzi rat pack, iconic shots splashed across the tabloids which over the years we have all found irresistible viewing, were Jason's work. Handsome, educated, and fluent in 3 languages, he could take himself anywhere, blend in, and shoot anything including me, mostly on beaches. One afternoon in Switzerland while staying at the chalet of Stephen Perdew who owns Champneys I was making a snowman with my youngest step daughter Claudia, I looked up and in my third eye saw a round black lens stomping over and ready for battle, I was stopped in my tracks he stood there with his hand up as if I was going to shoot him we both laughed I was charmed and the chase was off.
So back in 2008, on the day of the calendar shoot, all the performers have a bit of a pamper and tidy up and Digger and Buddie were no exception. It was while washing and clipping we noticed some lumps on Digger’s chest, and had a bit of a panic. I know that many dogs have these and they are more often than not they’re benign, but on further investigation Diggers’ were cancerous. Digger had to have an operation to remove the lumps. This horrible scare meant we had Digger thoroughly checked over and sadly the results were not what we wanted to hear, the cancer was still there. In a very similar medical process to humans our local vet referred us to a specialist and from there we set about tackling his illness.
Caroline Prymak, who is a veterinary specialist in soft tissue surgery on small animals, has over the last 2 years on every level been simply amazing and any owner under her supervision could not be in better hands both professionally and emotionally. Outside of the cancer Digger was a particularly agile healthy dog with bundles of energy that belied his age and this gave him and us a good chance of the cancer not recurring but extending his precious life. We all agreed that if operations, drugs and chemo were adversely affecting his ‘jour de vie’ we'd stop immediately. Caroline removed the tumours in his anal sac and lungs and we started his first course of Chemotherapy. Unlike humans I think dogs are oblivious to the viciousness to the emotional side of this vile disease and after a day of chemo the only effect he displayed was tiredness for 24 hours and with the exception of Maryland Cookies not very interested in eating. You'd probably fall asleep if I trawled you through all his notes (unless you are a vet maybe) so I'll refrain but what I do need to share with you is that amongst all the aforementioned. and remember I said he was a bundle of energy, he decided one fine day to step up his obsession for chasing the postman's van and trying to bite the wheels. This game had been going on for 8 years. David our patient and wonderful postman knew the game had ended when Digger turned around heading back to the house wagging his tail feeling he had performed his canine duty of seeing off the little red van from the premises. One day though last year they both got it wrong and the result was that Digger ended up under the back wheel, yelping in pain, Grant pulled him out and rushed him to Noel Fitzpatrick an amazing veterinary surgeon. The damage was extensive and it was either an amputation or a hip replacement. Noel is a pioneer in this area of canine hip surgery and by luck his state of the art hospital and research centre is 10 minutes from our house. 24 hours later I visited him, Digger was sporting a very pink bandage wagging his tail! However, Digger’s claustrophobia, hatred for cages, and, any door which is closed to him, made rehab a challenge how we got through those 2 months I'll never know.
Digger had a miraculous recover and celebrated by chasing the post van yet again and this time there was a score to settle.
Not a night has gone by when Buddie hasn't slept like a century at the top or bottom of the stairs and Digger on the floor of our bedroom. We did try shutting the door but the carpet was taken up in protest. Digger’s had claimed a beautiful sheepskin rug as his own. His nightly ritual was to gather it up into a shape he was happy with then, letting out a large sigh, collapse in a heap. I've been woken by his dreams, snoring and of course his internal alarm which is set 2 hours before anyone else's. Digger had a way of waking you up, in 3 stages. First the pawing of the bed sheets just infront of your face, then a nose lick and if no response a Scooby Doo type talking bark. He knew I couldn't and wouldn't take the risk he actually wanted a wee so would stagger down stairs open the door and then he'd stand there with that look of you're up now so what are we doing today?
Digger and Buddie grew to know how certain items of my wardrobe and even accessories could affect their day. Their favourite was jogging bottoms, trainers or wellies, any of these items meant going outside for a walk or a run and there reaction went from 0 to 10. The worst item however, was a suitcase, Digger would sulk when one of these monsters was detected, he'd then sit across the front door in an attempt to block our passage.
The last visit I made to Caroline's practice in Hook, Hampshire, with Digger was the most difficult. After 2 years of scans, operations and chemotherapy the fight had come to an end. The x-rays showed that whatever we did the cancer was not slowing down in fact it was taking a march on his body, he still looked fine, had bundles of energy, but the cancer time bomb was ticking and there was nothing we could do to stop it.
I remember walking back to the car with Digger, clutching a leaflet about a pet crematorium, sobbing my eyes out, I rang Grant and could hardly speak.
As the weeks went by I could see the change in Diggers health, it was a decline I had dreaded and was now powerless to do anything about. Food was never at the top of Diggers agenda unless it was on someone else's plate but his appetite together with his energy levels were declining rapidly. Cancer has a habit of creating secondary problems and what it triggered in Diggers case was Megaesophagus. The muscles of the esophagus become flabby and cease to perform and do the job of passing food and water down into the stomach. We all worked tirelessly with him chopping up his favourite morsels, little and often feeding him baby food in a body position which would help him digest it but, it was a struggle and, he was starting to just not want to bother. His last few days were peppered with tail wagging, funny old Digger, then exhaustion and a vast amount of sleeping but the lack of appetite was now having a real effect.
On the Sunday I was packing up the car to take my step daughter Amelia back to school, before we left Digger did something which was totally out of character. He wondered off. We were frantic trying to find him shouting his name and looking in all his favourite places, eventually we found him curled up under a tree. I've done enough work with animals to know what this meant. When animals are nearing death they leave their pack. The photograph with his brother Buddie and Amelia, which Grant had to take, as I was in tears, is the last one we have of him.
That night I brought his bed down stairs and for an hour we both lay there with a blanket over us and I stroked him until he drifted off to sleep. If your dog leaves this world naturally count yourself lucky, the decision to take matters into your own hands is horrific, every fibrer of our being says hold on to life but Digger was in pain and we had to stop it.
Grant carried Digger and laid him in the back of the car, I curled up by Digger’s side stroking and talking to him. The journey to the vets was awful. Once inside the surgery we both kept our vigil of talking softly to him. A friend of mine, Penny who’s the editor of my site, had told me that when her cat was put to sleep she’d looked away, losing eye contact with her beloved cat, and had regretted it ever since. I remembered her words and kept focused on Digger’s beautiful eyes talking to him stroking him and telling him how much we loved him eventually they closed and he'd gone. It was the end of an era, Grant and I hugged each other and cried.
The surgery were very kind, I came home gripping his collar, a bag containing a lock of fur and now I have a little box containing his ashes but most importantly we have an abundance of memories of the happy times we spent with Digger a dog who will live in our hearts forever