The Pearly King of Bermondsey has spoken out after battling for his life with coronavirus – to urge the public to follow the rules.
Jimmy Jukes, 65, is known for being the ‘Pearly King’ of Bermondsey and Camberwell, alongside running UK Homes 4 Heroes, a charity which helps feed homeless ex-service personnel.
Speaking to the News after being discharged from hospital, Mr Jukes told of his fear as he lay breathless on his hospital bed – and now he wants to warn others against taking risks with the disease.
“The first 24 hours, it was touch and go with me, it was so scary,” he said. “You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.
“But when you go to the supermarket, they put the arrows down to go one way and you still see some prat walking the wrong way without a mask on.
“I just don’t want anyone to get it unnecessarily. I know people are social animals, but this is a pandemic. It’s better to take care now than lose your friends and family and never be able to see them again.”
Mr Jukes, who was given an MBE by her Majesty in 2015, first became aware of trouble breathing on Christmas Day.
But it was only several days later when he started really struggling for breath. By January 10, an ambulance was called to his home to rush him into the Intensive Care Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital.
“When they took me away in the ambulance, I didn’t know if I was coming back. It was so scary, to sit there and not be able to catch your breath,” he said. “I’ve had heart attacks before, but this was on a different level.
“I was in the ICU and there was a lady who I thought was elderly, but then they pulled down her mask and she was only a young woman. It broke my heart.
“There was a man the same age as me who passed away. There were four of us in there, the two opposite me were in comas, on ventilators.
“The nurses were devastated by it all, it’s so sad. They moved me after a couple of days.”
While in the hospital, Jimmy tells the News there was an anti-mask protest outside. “My answer is: You go inside those wards, and see all those people lying in hospital.”
Paradoxically, says the well-known figure, getting Covid may have actually saved his life, because doctors discovered that he needed stents put into his heart.
“In a way, kind of kicking Covid saved my life,” he said.
Since being discharged last Tuesday, he is recovering at home, but still cannot walk very far without getting out of breath.
“I’m getting better, but I’m still in bed, I still can’t walk from here to the toilet which is about ten foot. Hopefully things will improve,” he said.
“My message is: Some people, youngsters especially, might think ‘well I’m going to die one day’.
“But you really don’t want it to be in a hospital bed gasping for breath.
He added: “It’s serious and people should take it seriously.”