For two decades she could not bear to watch home videos of the former BBC filmmaker which were gathering dust. But Esther, 80, has finally confronted her past and tearfully watched footage of the man she affectionately called Dessie. She said: “When Dessie died I felt like the sun had left the sky. “One of the things about death is there is so much to do. I must have been tearing around in a mad frenzy.
“I was now the bread winner, a single parent, and there were all these things that needed dealing with. If you can get to the point where you celebrate what you had, that’s a terrific place to be. I feel I have reached that place.”
In a Channel 5 TV programme tomorrow on grief, the former That’s Life! presenter meets those who have been bereaved to understand how they coped.
She also confronts her own grief over Desmond, who died from heart disease aged 69 in September 2000.
Esther has three children Miriam, Rebecca and Joshua and five grandchildren Benji, seven, Xander and Teddy, five, and Florence and Romilly, two. She said: “I think the saddest times for me are the happiest times.
“I have five grandchildren, they lift my spirits, they make me laugh and constantly fascinate me, but it is sad because Desmond would have loved to have been with them. The toughest time for me is going places I know my husband would have loved.
“In that first year I dreaded the anniversary. We’d just had a wonderful stay in the south of France, and I remember sitting as the sun set and he said to me, ‘We must come back here on this date every year, even if only one of us can make it’, and he died two days later.”
Esther set up phone help services ChildLine in 1986 and The Silver Line in 2013.
She has used lockdown to pen an account of her life, charting her way from a “dumpy frumpy 17-year-old” to her romance with Desmond, her then boss.
She said: “In the last year or so I thought I had invented him – that I had made him up – and thought to myself, was it a fairytale?”
After watching home videos Esther said: “It’s a glimpse to a time when we were very lucky to have each other.
“We had tough times as well, plenty for tough times, everyone does, but this is just a glimpse of a really golden moment. It’s lovely to see him. When he died my heart did break. Is it broken now? I hope not.
“I think I was stuck. It’s a bit like wandering around for ages and ages and ages with a plaster cast on and eventually being persuaded to take it off. Maybe I think the present and the future now are more important to me than the past. You never lose the pain but it has this wonderful context of a celebration, it’s a really good feeling.”
• Esther Rantzen: Living With Grief is on Channel 5 tomorrow at 10pm.