Alfred Boe

3 min read

Multi-platinum selling recording artist, Alfie Boe was just 23 when he lost his father Alfred to a brain tumour. Nearly three decades later, as he takes up the role of Patron of Brain Tumour Research, Alfie talks about the impact of his father’s diagnosis and loss and his hopes for brain tumour patients and their families in the future.

Brain Tumour Research patron Alfie Boe with his parents

Alfred’s story is told by his son Alfie Boe OBE

My father and I were very close and I feel his loss very deeply even now, 27 years after he passed away.

I was in my early 20s when Dad started to have pretty bad headaches and problems with his eyesight. He went for a check-up but his GP was very dismissive. He said Dad would be fine, he probably had the flu, and sent him away with some anti-biotics. Things clearly weren’t right and a week or so later Dad went to the optician who examined him and the outcome this time was very different. Dad was told to go to hospital urgently for a brain scan and the fear was that he had suffered a stroke.

The scan which was to alter all of our lives forever took place at Preston Royal. After a wait which seemed like an eternity, Mum and I, my brothers and sisters, went to the hospital to be told the biopsy results.

The doctors explained Dad had a brain tumour, it was aggressive, inoperable and there was nothing they could do.

“It was a very intense, awful experience and I remember even to this day how Dad was so apologetic. It was crazy; he was the one who had been told this dreadful news and yet there he was saying sorry to us and feeling guilty because he was unwell.”

We were asked if we wanted Dad to stay in hospital or go into a care home, but the answer was neither: he was coming back home with us. When he did leave hospital, I was the one who drove and I remember taking great care to drive as smoothly as I could to avoid any potholes or drains, anything which would cause a jolt meaning Dad would be in pain from the enormous pressure in his head.

He came home to the house in Fleetwood, Lancashire, where we grew up and spent the remainder of his life there until he died on 18 May 1997 with me holding him.

At the time Dad was diagnosed I was in my second year at the Royal College of Music and would study in London during the week and then come home every weekend to be with him.

“Week after week I would see the decline, all the more stark to me as I was away for a few days and the changes were evident each time I was back. He was on a lot of morphine and, towards the end, he was unconscious for most of the time.”

Treatment-wise Dad had some radiotherapy and chemotherapy which wasn’t nice for him to go through. A lot of people told us at the time that there were some potential new treatments in the States and sometimes now, looking back, I wonder whether we should have gone down that road although I realise now, through my work with Brain Tumour Research, that there are no effective treatments and knowing that does bring me some comfort to think there really was nothing we could have done.

“But it also makes me angry that, in all this time, the situation for patients like Dad hasn’t really changed. I feel incredibly sad to think that families are still facing this awful diagnosis and, nearly 30 years later, there have been so few advances in treatment.”

Just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease and that’s appalling. The brain is such a vital organ, it makes us who we are, controlling how we live, feel, what we like and dislike and is critical to how we function. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that research into brain tumours should be a priority and I am ashamed to think that charities are having to do so much in this area. The Government should be doing so much more.”

I feel very proud to be a Patron of Brain Tumour Research and I support its campaigning aims to secure more investment from the Government. On a personal level I am also doing this in memory of Dad and I hope that, in sharing my story, it will help other people who are struggling to come to terms with loss and perhaps even bring them some comfort to know they are not alone.

Dad was my first teacher for everything. He was fun and so gentle, full of laughter and joy. He loved music, having a beer, he loved his food and he loved to dance. He loved us, he was friend to everybody he met and the light shone from his eyes. He had a tough upbringing in a big family, he was very caring and did everything for us working hard to provide us with food, clothes and holidays.

He used to love his cars and would always have a vintage model which he tinkered with. I remember that his big bugbear was carburettors, but he would tinker away until, somehow, he always got them running! Dad passed his love of motors onto me as well as his love of music.

I was really keen on drumming and would imagine myself on stage with a big rock band. I would take all the cushions off the sofa, put them on the bed and drum away on them with my sticks. I’ll never forget the day that Dad called down to me to say there was something I needed to take up to my bedroom. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that he’d secretly bought a drum kit which we had seen in the window of a second hand shop. Imagine that – he introduced a drum kit into a household of nine without giving a second thought to how much additional noise that would create.

“It will always be a great regret that Dad never got to hear any of my records, to come to one of my concerts or to see me in Les Miserables.”

If he were here now, I would love to fly him out to New York or wherever I’m off to, to spend time with him, to have a beer and to have dinner with him at the restaurants where I love to eat.

When I do shows with Michael Ball I see the joy on his face when his dad is in the audience and how wonderful it is for them to share that experience. I wouldn’t begrudge them that for a minute, but I wish my dad and I could have had that. But my biggest regret is that he didn’t get to meet my children. My son is named after him just as I was.

I was very proud when my parents came to London to see me graduate but when I looked for them at the back of the room, Dad was asleep. He was in a lot of pain, the tumour had hit him hard and it was too much for him but I am glad he was there. I remember him bursting into tears when he heard my audition with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company had been successful and I said “Dad, I’m going to be an opera singer” – that was a wonderful moment.

(Credit Pal Hansen

Dad loved classical music, particularly operatic tenors. He would always listen to Richard Tauber on a Sunday and after dinner he would drink a small glass of Benedictine, he could make a bottle last a year. At the time it was pretty boring to be honest but as I got older I appreciated it more and now I often play that record when I’m doing Sunday dinner.

I was just 23 when Dad died so I have lived more of my life without him than with him and that is something which weighs heavily on me. Dad was 63, no age at all really, and by rights he should have had so much more time with us and Mum. They had been married for 47 years and has never got over his loss. I don’t think any of us have.

Alfie Boe OBE

May 2024

Brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. What’s more, they kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer... yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease since records began in 2002.

Brain Tumour Research is determined to change this.

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