It’s September 2020, and Hollywood tough guy Vinnie Jones is in tears and having arguably one of the most difficult interviews of his career. The actor is appearing on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories to talk about the love of his life, who tragically died the year before. And his experience there will lead him to share a heartbreakingly poignant message left for him by his wife.
Vinnie’s beau had joined him on a career journey which saw him rise to fame not as an actor, but as a soccer player. He was a member of the Wimbledon F.C. team that garnered the nickname “Crazy Gang” due to their macho behavior and brutal style of play. Vinnie played as a midfielder and was particularly known for his aggression, which led to him receiving 13 red cards during a bruising career. But he didn’t just kick a ball for Wimbledon. No, the star also played for other teams such as Sheffield United, Leeds United and Chelsea.
Vinnie was also the holder of a somewhat unenviable accolade from his time on the pitch. For a number of years, he had the record for the quickest-ever yellow card in an English soccer game. The former player apparently received the booking just three seconds into the 1992 Football Association Cup tie between Chelsea and Sheffield United. He wrote in his biography published six years later, “I must have been too high, too wild, too strong, or too early because, after three seconds, I could hardly have been too bloody late!”
But Vinnie’s tough-guy approach on the pitch didn’t stop him from reaching the top of his profession. In the international soccer arena, he played for Wales on nine occasions, despite having begun life in Watford, England. Vinnie was able to qualify for representing the country due to his maternal grandfather being Welsh. The future actor was first called up for international duty in 1994 at the age of 29 and went on to captain the national side.
But the year 1994 had more excitement in store for Vinnie beyond his soccer achievements. He married the love of his life Tanya Jones at this time, too. And the actor revealed the extraordinary story behind their unlikely romance in a 2012 interview with The Guardian. He said, “My wife Tanya and I were 12 when we first met in Watford. We had a brief date when we were 16, then she went her way and I went my way.”
“I was away in Leeds, then I came back and signed with Chelsea,” Vinnie continued. “I had two of the football lads living with me and one of them looked out the window and said, ‘Wahey, look at this!’ Tanya was roller-skating outside, and I went, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it!’ She was just getting divorced, so it was all meant to be.”
When they got together, Tanya had a daughter named Kaley from her previous marriage to soccer player Steve Terry, and Vinnie would go on to adopt her. Unfortunately, the actor’s beau had experienced serious complications during childbirth. As Vinnie told The Guardian, “Tanya’s heart collapsed when she gave birth to Kaley, and she had to have an emergency heart transplant.”
But Vinnie was determined to be with Tanya – no matter what. He said, “We’d been together for two years when I went to her dad and said I wanted to marry her, and he said, ‘You know what you’re taking on?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I do know and I’m going to take care of her and look after her.’ I feel she was saved to save me, and I was meant to look after her.”
In 1998, with his soccer career winding down, Vinnie made his first big-screen appearance in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But how he transitioned into acting might surprise you. In fact, he told The Big Issue magazine a few decades later that his move into acting was a “complete random accident.” Producer Matthew Vaughn simply offered him a cameo as intimidating debt collector Big Chris, due to his reputation as a soccer hard man.
“I said, ‘Yeah, no problem,’ and I went and [did] a couple of days’ filming,” Vinnie revealed. “At the end of the film, [Ritchie] asked me to do some reshoots and they made my role bigger. I didn’t think I’d be especially good at it, but I just related the character to a couple of angry people I knew.”
Things then began to move very quickly for the budding actor. The next thing he knew, Vinnie was flying to Los Angeles to meet iconic Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who had seen him in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Apparently, the latter had wanted to talk about a potential role for Vinnie in the action movie Gone in 60 Seconds. The football hardman’s charm ultimately paid off, and he got the part – starring alongside Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie and Robert Duvall.
In 2015 Vinnie told Scotts Blog that Robert – legendary star of The Godfather – gave him a sage piece of acting advice. The British star remembered, “He told me to forget about the camera and remember that when you’re talking to another actor, you should be listening to them and they should be listening to you.” He added, “What’s important is to really communicate.”
But what convinced Vinnie to make the leap from soccer to Hollywood in the first place? Well, he answered this question in a 2020 interview with Looper. The actor said, “I didn’t jump, really. I slid into it because I did Lock, Stock when I was still playing.” Vinnie went on, “And then Jerry Bruckheimer saw it and [he] gave me a call. So, I sort of was lured into it more than anything.”
In truth, Vinnie had never imagined leaving the world of soccer before this. He said, “I always thought that I was going to be a football/soccer coach, that’s where my destiny was. And you never know what’s around the corner.” Either way, he certainly made the most of his accidental second career by going on to star in blockbusters like X-Men: The Last Stand and TV shows such as Arrow and Elementary.
In the mid-2000s Vinnie and his family made the move from England to Los Angeles in order to further his acting career. And in a 2013 interview with Radio Times, he spoke glowingly about the City of Angels. He said, “People say you can get bored of the sunshine in L.A. No, you can’t. I play golf six days a week, and I’ve still got my football team: the Hollywood All-Stars.”
Life was good for Vinnie at this time, but that same year would have some horrible surprises in store for the actor. Both he and Tanya found out that they had melanoma – a type of skin cancer. They sought treatment and Vinnie made a full recovery. But his wife sadly passed away on July 6, 2019.
Vinnie and daughter Kaley then made an emotional appearance on the breakfast television show Good Morning Britain three months after Tanya’s death. The actor revealed, “We found a letter from Tans to Kaley that kind of made us strong, saying, ‘Don’t grieve, I’ll be waiting for you.’ I believe that.”
Vinnie went on to explain how he has been looking at Tanya’s message in a positive way. To him, it reinforces his belief that after he dies, the actor will be reunited with Tanya. Vinnie said, “I’ve got something to look forward to. If you turn a negative into a positive… and she’s waiting. So that’s what you deal with.”
According to Vinnie, finding the letter from her mother made Kaley “very strong.” And with a tear in his eye he added, “She’s now taking up the reigns, you know.” As for himself, Vinnie also revealed that he’d received a card from his wife before she died, and it had a poignant message inscribed within.
Vinnie went on to explain how he struggled to live in a world without his wife, as everyone else carries on with their lives as normal. He told presenters Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan, “Everybody’s life goes on. You’re looking round and you go, ‘This is the biggest tragedy of your life,’ and people are still going to work…”
“… They’re still coming home from work, they’re still queuing up for Starbucks,” Vinnie continued. “And the enormity of it all, it’s just heavy.” The actor’s words struck a cord with fans on Twitter, who were quick to write messages of support. One user posted, “Such a moving interview. Thank you, Vinnie, your openness and honesty allows us all to remember what is most important in life: love, family and friends.”
“Seeing Vinnie today just shows you cancer doesn’t just attack people that have it, but also the people [who] live through the aftermath of someone passing away with it,” another Twitter user posted. Another fan tweeted, “My dad is going through pancreatic cancer and I’m all over the place with my emotions.”
Almost a year later, Vinnie was scheduled for an appearance on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories for a more in-depth discussion about his late wife. And in an unusual move for the show, it would be the actor’s second interview. In the lead-up to the episode airing, Piers told the Daily Express in September 2020, “Vinnie’s the first time we’ve ever had a return guest.”
Piers went on to explain why the interview with Vinnie was particularly poignant for him. The presenter said, “I knew Tanya for a long time and observed at first hand the extraordinary marriage they had – through thick and thin for many years. And then ultimately their wonderful love story ending in complete tragedy.” Piers then moved on to speaking about the memoir Vinnie had written, which is called Lost Without You: Loving and Losing Tanya.
“I felt when I read this book Vinnie has done, it’s just so powerful,” Piers revealed. “So eloquent, so moving, so inspiring. The last time I interviewed Vinnie on Life Stories, Tanya was sitting in the audience. But as he says, his life has now been two lives. One with Tanya, and one that he is trying to build now after Tanya.”
Piers then looked back a year and remembered a poignant moment he and Vinnie had shared. The presenter said, “When I interviewed Vinnie on Good Morning Britain after Tanya died, it was one of the most emotional interviews we’ve ever had on the show.” He apparently also expected the same from this new Life Stories conversation. Piers added, “So I think it’s guaranteed to be very emotional for obvious reasons, but I also think it’s going to be incredibly inspiring, too.”
“Vinnie is very keen about trying to help others who are going through the same hell he has been going through,” Piers continued. “He is a remarkable character, but it will be a very different Vinnie who I interview ten years on from our first Life Stories encounter. He has now been tee-total for seven years, and his beloved wife has so sadly died, he has a very different life now.”
And as Piers had predicted, the show was just as emotional as he expected it to be. Vinnie confessed that he hadn’t always been the best husband, but Tanya would always have his back – no matter what. The footballer-turned-actor spoke with awe about how she would always be there through all of his ups and downs.
“Just the trampoline of being there for me,” Vinnie said. “Yeah, I’d let her down so many times, but she’d catch me. And it was so much, many times, it was like catching a falling star. She never once, Piers, wouldn’t put her arms out and catch me. I said, ‘Just love me unconditionally.’ And that was her promise.”
He then talked about his wife’s diagnosis, which naturally would have been a difficult subject even for a hardman like Vinnie. The star went on, “They said to us maybe days, maybe weeks, maybe months. I was on my knees howling. You find yourself going to Forest Lawn cemetery to make arrangements before she passed. You think you’re in a horror dream, that is the only way to describe it.”
And seeing his wife in such terrible pain was agonizing for Vinnie. He said, “I knew the pain was horrific, I knew it was time to stop and I begged the nurse to stop it.” But then the decision was sadly taken out of his or anyone else’s hands. Vinnie revealed, “All of a sudden she took her last breath and I felt all these butterflies leave her.”
“You’re just not in real time,” admitted Vinnie. “I felt all these butterflies, Tinkerbell, and she was free. Painless.” He then spoke movingly about a time – after Tanya had passed – in which he was sitting in the garden of their home in Los Angeles. There, he apparently saw something that he couldn’t quite explain.
“As I sat there, I noticed above me a white light,” Vinnie explained. “I knew it couldn’t be a star because of the cloud cover, but there it was. I already knew that when you lose someone you can start to look for things, for signs, so I was on guard.”
But would a man notorious for his tough-guy image believe in the supernatural? Vinnie confessed, “I never believed in any of that stuff and I wasn’t about to start now.” Though the experience clearly left an impression on him. The British actor added, “But that white light was there, and there was no denying it. It definitely wasn’t a star and it wasn’t a helicopter or a plane. It was too low.”
Piers then went on to ask if Vinnie would ever consider remarrying, and he was steadfast in his response. The actor said, “I think that’s an impossible question to answer. But if you asked me if I would get married again that would be an impossibility, she wouldn’t want that.”
The actor then further clarified his position by saying, “There won’t be another marriage, Piers, I can tell you that. It was the perfect one and done for me.” Interestingly, though, Vinnie told the Daily Star that he has thought about making a movie about his relationship with Tanya. Apparently, he believes it would honor her memory.
“The only thing I would consider – whether it will be in the near future or something that I come to late on – is the movie,” Vinnie stated. “It would make a magnificent love story. For the rest of my natural life, I want to make Tansy smile every day.”
The day after the interview aired, Vinnie took to social media to share the beautiful card with the emotional message inside. It had been written for him by Tanya before her death and featured the words, “Always believe something wonderful is about to happen” on the front. Inside, Tanya had also included a heartfelt note for her husband.
Tanya wrote, “To my love Vin, something wonderful happens to me every day… Being with you! You are my morning sunshine the moment I wake. With all my love.” Vinnie accompanied a picture of the exterior and interior of the card with the post, “I would just like to thank everybody for their really kind messages and support towards myself and especially Tansy.”
Finally, the actor revealed to the Daily Star that he still talks to Tanya every day. He said, “That helps. You learn to get through most of the day, but there are lots of great, big drop-offs.” Vinnie then spoke of attending therapy, which is helping him cope with the loss. He said, “I can’t recommend it enough. Blokes think, ‘I don’t need to see a shrink,’ but you don’t lie down on a couch.”