FAMILY man Ryan Thomas was one of the millions whose life turned upside down in the coronavirus pandemic.

It was set to be unforgettable year for the 36-year-old star as he welcomed baby Roman into the world with his fiancée Lucy Mecklenburgh.

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the pair were forced into isolation and separated from their friends and family with a newborn.

Within the same 12 months of becoming a dad for the second time, tragedy struck when Ryan suddenly lost his own father Dougie James – and he was also left heartbroken by the death of his friend to suicide.

It would be enough to send anyone's head into a spin, but former Coronation Street star Ryan refused to lose his passion and positivity for life – and says his newborn son gave him the drive to keep going.

In an exclusive interview with The Sun, Ryan speaks movingly about his dad's death and how he's found the strength to help others who are struggling ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week.

"We've all lost loved ones, it's been difficult for everybody," says Ryan, who is fundraising for Campaign Against Living Miserably next week.

"I sympathise with everyone, including myself in that bracket.

"In the same year of losing my dad, I gained a son. We have to look at that and go 'wow, my dad made room for the next generation.' 

"We've got to focus on the next generation. It makes me very happy to have that focus in life. 

"Bringing a newborn into the world and creating a new family for Roman, that's been my drive this year, giving him the best start in life. That's been a good distraction for me."

Like many others, lockdown left Ryan lacking in motivation and the former Coronation Street star felt like he'd lost his purpose in life.

Following the shock death of a friend to suicide, Ryan set himself a challenge to walk ten marathons in ten days from London to Manchester, raising money for mental health and suicide prevention charity CALM.

He hopes to raise £25,000 by walking 262 miles across the country – and Ryan's never felt more determined.

Fundraising for CALM

RYAN Thomas hopes to raise £25,000 for Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)

  • CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably – are leading a movement against suicide
  • Every week 125 people in the UK take their own lives
  • 75 per cent of all UK suicides are male – this has been the case for decades
  • COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on mental health and has increased those suffering with severe depression
  • Middle aged men in the UK and Ireland experience higher suicide rates than any other groups
  • CALM exists to change this. Through frontline services, national campaigns, and by building communities, they’re there for everyone who’s struggling with life. No matter what.
  • The CALM helpline and webchat is open 365 days a year for people in the UK who are struggling for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support.
  • Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential – 0800 58 58 58 / for more information
  • CALM’s trained helpline staff directly prevented 564 suicides in 2020

    Donate here.

"Everyone this past year has gone through really tough times and it's been very testing," he says.

"It came apparent that people around me were really struggling with their mental health.

"Manchester lost a very dear friend of all of ours last year. He was larger than life, the life and soul of every party. He always made everyone feel amazing.

"He was all over social media, having a drink, but that same night took his own life. We need to act on that and make sure we are there for people when they need it.

"We are all having to struggle at the moment and people are taking their own lives.

"I want to play a part in saving that one person's life.

"It was about finding myself a purpose. That's what I've done with the walk and it's a purpose with meaning to it, people will benefit from it and raise money for it."

Throughout the tough times he's bravely faced over the past year, Ryan's rock has been his Towie star fiancee Lucy, 29.

They welcomed their first child together, Roman, in March 2020. His big sister Scarlett is Ryan's eldest daughter, with former co-star Tina O'Brien.

"Being a dad, there's no rulebook, you make it up as you go along," says Ryan.

"We all have issues with our children – their feeding and sleeping, being sleep deprived – it's so important that you work as a team.

"I couldn't have done this without Lucy. She's been a great role model as a mother and has really set the way for our family's foundation just to get through each day.

"It's important to work as a team and we've done a great job so far. We have taken on so much this year – a baby in lockdown, bought a house and we've come out of this with something to show for it and stronger than we came into it.

"If coming out of this is being fit and strong, physically and mentally in a good place, then everything else will fall into place."

Celebrity Big Brother winner Ryan – known for his infectious laugh – gets his positive attitude from his dad, Dougie, who died in November last year.

The 60s soul singer always used to tell him, "don't worry about it, son, life is just a game".

"And it is," agrees Ryan.

"Everything will work itself out, I'm really confident about that."

On Monday, Ryan will kick off his 262-mile challenge from Buckingham Palace on the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021.

After nine overnight stops via six canals, he will finish at Manchester Cathedral on Thursday, May 20.

With just days to go, Ryan admits his training suffered in recent weeks after a bout of food poisoning and injury.

"I've been really good up until these past few weeks when I've had some minor set backs," said Ryan.

"I got food poisoning and I was bed bound all week, then I got myself fighting fit back on Sunday and I slipped over the kettlebell in the gym and sprained my ankle.

"It's not been the best lead up to doing ten marathons in ten days. It's life saying 'slow down, take it easy, put the brakes on and relax'.

"It's been testing because I like to be prepared and keep motivated. I feel like it has taken the edge off me a little bit, but I'm not going to look at it negatively.

"I'm going to put it behind me, and think it's been a good time to reflect on what's coming up and prepare for this next few weeks."

Luckily Ryan's got support from his famous brothers, former Emmerdale actor Adam and Love Island star Scott Thomas, who will be cheering for him along the way.

He's also hinted he'll be joined by a host of famous faces as he treks across the country, stopping in Harefield, Tring, Wolverton, Welton, Coventry, E.Litchfield, Stafford, Congleton and Stockport.

Ryan adds: "Myself and my brothers are open to wearing our heart on our sleeve. We're really lucky that we've always had each other to turn to in our hour of need.

"If anything has gone wrong or feeling down, we've always gone to each other with our problems. But other people don't have that support around them.

"This is what CALM is trying to create – a support mechanism for them to have someone there to talk to."

Throughout the ten-day walk, Ryan will be staying overnight in a renovated removal van donated to him by a friend.

He says: "My friend tried to get a homeless man with mental health conditions off the street so he built accommodation in a removal van with a shower, toilet and a bed, microwave and fridge.

"I'm having all my logos fitted to the van so it can follow me to each destination on the ten nights. And you never know, I might have some famous faces joining me on the walk.

"Awareness is key. This walk is a great way of coming together. I want people to come and support, but also to walk, talk and share their feelings.

"This will hopefully encourage others to set their own personal challenge. We can always do something to make a small difference."

  • To donate to Ryan's fundraising page, click here.

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