Jonsel, 40, has lived hard and played hard as a professional footballer, pop star and actor. He’s now performing a one-man show about life with Type 1 diabetes called: Keep Calm, I am only Diabetic. He lives in Warwickshire where he was brought up by his father. His mother also has Type 1 diabetes and has recently had serious complications.
Type 1 diabetes
“I’ve never felt any different to anyone else. I realise I will never be a ‘perfect diabetic’ but it's so important to really look after yourself. No one is invincible forever.”
Jonsel's diabetes journey
- Diagnosed aged 12.
- Prescribed insulin and injected twice a day as a child.
- Prone to low blood glucose and hypos.
- In 2012 experiencing blurred vision, he was found to have a tiny macular oedema in one eye.
- Now uses an insulin pump which has improved his life, helping regulate blood sugar levels on a consistent basis.
I can’t remember feeling upset when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I had seen my mum, who also has Type 1, inject herself with insulin, so it seemed quite natural to me. I thought I could live with it. But I've been shocked and upset at times by other people’s reactions. At 14, I was in a fast food restaurant when another customer complained to the staff that I was ‘shooting up heroin’ when I was in fact taking my insulin. I also felt angry when I was evicted from a rented house after I had a hypo and left the bathwater running. The only time I thought ‘why me’ was about five years ago when my vision became blurred and I was found to have a miniature macular oedema. That made me think I'm not invincible.
Friends and family
I was brought up by my father and sometimes I feel he has suffered more than me. He has been there to call ambulances and he still does check up on me. If my speech sounds slurred when I talk to him on the phone he acts immediately, asking me if I've checked my blood sugars and has sometimes called 999. He has always been very encouraging – helping and supporting me in everything I do. He is my ‘wing man’.
My mum has suffered very badly with her diabetes. She's only in her early sixties and is partially sighted. She's had a toe amputated and doesn’t have much sensation in her feet. She's also been diagnosed with lung cancer. It makes me realise how important it is to take Type 1 seriously. I'm quite strict about testing my blood sugars.
Most of my friends have been very supportive. They recognise the danger signs and will look after me. Some people can’t deal with it, but I've never had any qualms about telling people about my condition.
Football was my first love. At 17, I played for Birmingham City youth team and at 18 I played for Gillingham reserves. Then I went to Turkey and signed for the then first division side Altay. My dad is Turkish and advised me to keep quiet about my diabetes. I did tell some fellow players but not the management. One day I suffered a major hypo in front of them. Luckily a team mate knew what was happening and I got the sugary snack I needed. But the next day I was called into the chairman’s office and he told me diabetics can’t play football at the highest level. My contract was terminated then and there.
I then embarked on a music career and became one-fifth of the band ‘Word on the Street’ in the late 1990’s. We toured with 911 and B*Witched, and shared the stage with Westlife and Five. I wasn’t eating very well, and I was drinking all the time. I was injecting but I wasn’t checking my blood sugar levels. I thought I was living the dream. I do remember falling off the back of the stage but the audience thought it was part of the act. My manager was always in the wings with a bottle of Lucozade. I was young and fit, so I wasn’t really aware I was storing up problems for the future.
In 2016, I was inspired to write a one-man show about my life with Type 1. With the help and direction of Olivier award-winning stage actress Amanda Harris, I performed my show at The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone, London and was really touched when a member of the audience thanked me after the show in tears. He was also Type 1.
Diet, nutrition and exercise
I've always been very fit. I love playing sport and I continue to keep myself in very good shape. I'm naturally energetic – I still find it difficult to sit still. I admit to not always doing the right thing for my diabetes, not always eating regularly and drinking. But as I've got older, I've got much better. I'm rigorous about checking my blood sugar levels and taking the right amount of insulin, I also wear a band saying I'm Type 1 diabetic and I carry sugar with me at all times.
Diabetes UK and me
I was invited to the charity’s head office to perform my show to the staff there. It was one of the most special shows I've ever done. It was brilliant to perform in front of people who have their hearts invested in the subject. While I was there, I did an interview as the cover star on Diabetes Balance magazine
"Part of the reason behind writing and performing my one-man show is to tell people that diabetes doesn’t have to stop you doing what you want to do. I also want to raise awareness so people recognise the symptoms of a hypo or hyper. I realise I haven’t always been perfect and probably never will live the perfect lifestyle for a diabetic. But I am trying, and I recognise just how important it is to take it seriously. I used to feel I was invincible, but now I realise no one is."