Former Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe said the mother of ‘best friend’ Bradley Lowery would be the first person he would call after being named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
The England international receives an OBE for services to his charity foundation - but admitted it was a time of mixed emotions following the death of the six-year-old boy he befriended during his time on Wearside.
The bond formed between Defoe and young Black Cats supporter Bradley, while he battled the childhood cancer neuroblastoma, touched the hearts of football fans around the world.
Bradley, from Blackhall, lost his long battle against illness in July last year.
But Defoe said his mum Gemma would be the first person he would tell about the honour.
And with the award coming just under a year after Bradley’s death, the Bournemouth star said he felt both pride and sadness.
Defoe, 35, said: “It’s obviously mixed emotions because obviously standing here (is) one of the proudest moments of my life, but at the same time remembering all the hurt.
“I’ve got great memories of Bradley in my head but it wasn’t easy seeing someone that you love suffer like that, especially a young kid, where he didn’t really understand what was going on and you have to remain positive.”
Having found out the news of the honour over the phone from his mother while he holidayed in Dubai, Defoe said he was looking forward to telling Bradley’s mother and the rest of his family.
“I can’t wait to tell Gemma, I think she is the first person I am going to tell to be honest and I know she will be happy, she will be proud,” he said.
Defoe, who said he felt “blessed and humbled” to get the honour, described it as his biggest achievement to date.
“It’s at the top because I feel like this is something completely different,” he said.
“I am proud of it to be honest. It’s important to just give back and try and help others.”
The Jermain Defoe Foundation was launched in 2010 after a hurricane in St Lucia, the Caribbean island his grandparents came from.
He said the charity hopes to open a home for abused and vulnerable children there in the next few weeks and added that the foundation has now expanded to help children in Dominica and the UK.