Being jilted just before her wedding day was the toughest thing Katy Colins thought she’d ever have to face.
But it was nothing compared to the heartbreak that was yet to hit when her beloved dad was killed by a heart attack – while walking alone with her six-month-old daughter.
The baby was found in her blood-stained pram after a frantic three-hour search but it was too late for Katy’s dad, Colin Gough, who sadly died on route to hospital.
Speaking to Mirror Online, Katy, 34, said: “I thought being jilted at the altar was bad but it didn’t come close to this heartbreak.
“Dad had a massive heart attack just yards from his front door. Despite kind strangers rushing to his aid no one could save him.
“He was gone.
“When I heard that he had died I collapsed and heard this animal noise and realised that it was me; sobbing on the hall floor, desperate for this to be a sick joke.”
Before her father’s death, Katy had become Britain’s most famous jilted bride after she was dumped by her former fiance, Thom Sutter, weeks before her big day in 2012.
But instead of wallowing in sorrow, determined Katy set off to travel the world – and wrote a best-selling novel based on her travels through heartbreak.
She became known as the ‘backpacking Bridget Jones’ and secured a book deal for a series called The Lonely Hearts Travel Club.
And her story took an even more heart-warming romcom twist when she fell in love with the journalist, John Siddle, who first broke her story.
They married in their home town of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, in January, 2017, and their first baby, Everleigh Grace, was born months later.
But their “perfect” little world was rocked in November that year when Katy’s dad Colin Gough, 62, suddenly collapsed, knocking little Everleigh’s pram to the ground in the park close to his home.
A passerby called an ambulance before a police officer pushed little Everleigh around the neighbourhood, trying to find out whose baby she was.
Speaking about that day, Katy said: “It was just a normal day. Dad was going to mind Everleigh because I had a deadline coming up.
“He said that he felt a bit jittery that morning.
“But he insisted that he was fine to mind Everleigh.
“’She’s my tonic’ he told me before he left. He really adored her.
“I gave him a hug in the kitchen and held him a bit longer than usual and said ‘have a good day. See you later.’
“I didn’t know then that I’d never see him alive again.”
Later that morning, Katy received a frantic call from her aunt, saying that her dad had been taken away in an ambulance.
“”What happened? Is dad OK? Where’s Everleigh?'” Katy asked, but her aunt did not know.
“I was convinced he’d maybe had a fall or suffered a bad panic attack and that I’d be kindly telling him off later for giving us a scare and forcing him to take it easy,” Katy said.
“After a tangled web of calls to hospitals and the police we learnt that he’d fallen in the park pushing her in her pushchair.
“She had fallen out of her buggy but she was wrapped up in a big, thick pink snowsuit – she looked like Maggie Simpson in her star suit – so I think she just bounced off the ground.
“Dad must have cut himself in the fall as we later found blood on the pushchair cover.
“People tried their best to help dad with a defibrillator while paramedics and the air ambulance were despatched.
“The police were called and a female police officer took Everleigh to find who she belonged to. Dad didn’t have any ID on him.
“We believe she walked Everleigh in her pushchair around town asking people if they knew who she belonged to, but with no luck.
“In the meantime John and I were calling hospitals and the police to find out where they both were and what had happened.
“I was on the phone to my brother saying something had happened to dad when the policewoman with big ugly boots and sad eyes arrived with John and said: ‘Katy, we need you to sit down.’
“My dad had died.
“I’d only seen him five hours earlier, laughing at the baby burping, showering her with kisses and hugging me in his kitchen.
“My brain kept telling me that there must be a mistake. He can’t be gone.”
The following weeks became a blur of tears, and phone calls for Katy, heavy with words like ‘coroner’s reports’, ‘cremation’, ‘probate report’.
“My brother and I clung to each other in the minefield of grown-up decisions. It was the most adult I’ve ever felt,” Katy said.
“How do you even begin to plan a funeral for someone who you can’t believe is never coming back?
“I just wanted to go in the gutter and drink and smoke. But I had a baby to look after.
“I kept her alive and she kept me alive during that time.”
Katy’s experience of heart-shattering loss has taught her that grief needs to be discussed more openly in British society.
“Grief is the last taboo subject,” she said. “People talk about their sex lives more than about grief or loss.
“I don’t know whether it’s to do with the British stiff upper lip but you’re expected to just get on with life again after the funeral which is toxic.
“Grief is a blanket that will one day cover us all and we need to be able to talk about loss and our own mortality.
“There’s both beauty and darkness in it. And it’s empowering. It reminds you that you can’t change your past but you can change your future.
“Dad was 62. He had recently retired, he was learning Italian and had all these grand plans about building a new life. He was the happiest and healthiest I’ve seen him in years.
“His death taught me that you don’t know when your time’s up so don’t wait around for the things you want to happen.”
“I still don’t know what life is going to be like without my lovely, kind, generous and funny dad in it.
“We saw him three or four times a week and he was a huge help with Everleigh.
“He even came to my antenatal classes and was the first person to hear Everleigh’s heartbeat.
“He was my biggest supporter. He read all my blog posts and books, he helped me come up with ideas for character and plot, we discovered this huge talent that we didn’t know he had.”
But Katy’s dad is still a huge influence on her writing.
Her new book, How to Say Goodbye, was motivated by the grief she felt after his death, and by a female funeral director who organised her own dad’s last goodbye.
“I wondered how someone gets into that life, talking to very sad people all day about coffins and hearses,” Katy said.
“The woman in my book, Grace Salmon, is a funeral director. She lives a tiny existence. Her job is everything, she thinks giving people a perfect funeral is one of the most important things you can do.”
But Grace becomes obsessed with a young woman killed in a road crash, forcing her to “step out of the shadows and start living.”
The new novel will be published on June 13, just three days before father’s day.
“Dad’s there on every page,” Katy said.
“Father’s Day will be very bittersweet.”
Katy said that the hardest part of losing her father is knowing that he can never see his grandchildren grow up.
She said: “Everleigh will grow up never knowing just how much she – like her cousin, Phoebe – was the apple of his eye despite only having six months together. A snapshot in a life.
“She’s too little to remember anything from that day but I desperately never want to forget how both their faces lit up when they were together and how he was her best friend and was with her at the end.”
“How To Say Goodbye by Katy Collins is available in paperback, e-book and audiobook from Amazon“.