From the heart: Singer Rick Guard today
With Lionel Richie, Barbra Streisand, and Shirley Bassey among his fans, singer Rick Guard is one of Britain’s up-and-coming stars. But the release of his new single means more than just a ticket to fame and fortune.
Called Missing Person, it is a tribute to his late mother Doreen, who died from Alzheimer’s at the age of 77 in 2008.
The poignant song about grieving for someone while they are still alive has, importantly for Rick, raised money to boost awareness of a disease that, he says, left his parents at the mercy of a care system that had little idea of how to cope with the illness.
‘There is a huge stigma to having dementia. People don’t know how to cope with it, so you are left feeling isolated at a time when you need help the most,’ says Rick, 35.
Dubbed the British Michael Bublé, Rick was 25 and had just been offered a record deal when he began to notice a change in his mother’s personality.
‘When she turned 67, Mum would forget dates and times but we laughed it off. Then she started making lists that appeared everywhere, in her purse, the bedroom, on top of the TV. Lots of people get a bit forgetful, so again we ignored it.
‘But a couple of years later at a family lunch to introduce her to my girlfriend Saskia, now my wife, she was withdrawn to the point of being rude. It was as if she wasn’t there.
‘She was usually so gregarious, friendly and polite. I knew something was bothering her but she was from a generation where you just got on with life and didn’t complain.’
The singer is the youngest of four – his eldest brother Nicholas is 55. While his siblings were scattered around the country, Rick lived near his parents in Preston, Lancashire.
‘My dad George is 86 now and it was tough for him to deal with Mum’s changing behaviour. She had always been the strong one and suddenly she was a different woman. I think we were all in denial. We hoped it was a phase she’d get over.
‘But by the time my parents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2002, we couldn’t ignore her condition any longer. Nicholas arrived and it was obvious that she didn’t recognise him.’
Simple things such as visiting the supermarket became a nightmare for Rick’s mum. She lost all concept of money, and forgot where she was and what she wanted, and the stress of looking after her began to take its toll on George.
Bond of love: Rick Guard as a boy with his mother Doreen
‘Dad was exhausted. He would forget to eat and didn’t have a moment’s peace because Mum needed his full-time attention. I knew that the only useful thing I could do was be there for my father and that meant I put my career on hold,’ says Rick.
‘They lost a lot of their friends because they didn’t know what to say or do when they came to the house.’
Rick finally persuaded his father to take Doreen, then 73, to her GP, where she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But Rick says that it was then that the nightmare really began.
‘To give Dad a break, Mum went into respite care but the staff had no idea how to deal with dementia patients. She lost some of her motor skills and couldn’t eat without help, yet they’d leave her lunch and when they saw she hadn’t eaten it, take it away again.
‘She had a fall and had to go to hospital and even though we said she had Alzheimer’s, the staff still asked where it hurt – as if she could tell them.’
When it became obvious that his mother needed full-time care, Rick visited more than 30 care homes and was horrified by the reaction of many staff to dementia.
‘One place shut the door in my face as soon as I mentioned Alzheimer’s. Others said they weren’t equipped for patients like that. I was terrified about what we were going to do until someone mentioned the Alzheimer’s Society (www.alzheimers.org.uk), who gave me a list of recommended homes and we found a fantastic one.
‘Although she didn’t recognise me, Mum loved singing and amazingly remembered words to songs and she had a smile on her face when she watched my music videos. But sitting next to her, it was as if she couldn’t see me.’
Rick, who has a five-month-old son, Cosmo, says he was determined to honour his mother’s name and raise awareness of Alzheimer’s, with proceeds from Missing Person going to the Alzheimer’s Society.
• Rick’s album, Anyone But Me, with the track Missing Person, is out now.