If the definition of a best friend involves being there through thick and thin, then John Gregory is one lucky man!
The 38-year-old nominated his best friend Samantha Holt for a national contest to find the country’s Best Friend of the Year – and they have beaten off stiff competition to reach the final.
The nursing home carer says Samantha Holt, from Layton, deserves to win for all her support over the years – from when he announced he was gay through to battling a life-threatening illness.
John, of Hornby Road, Blackpool, said: “We have known each other since high school but have stayed in constant contact since 1997 when we both worked in a factory after school.
“We just hit it off and we’ve been there for each other through good times and bad.”
John’s story captured the attention of the judges when he revealed how Samantha, who is also a nursing home carer, was the first person he announced he was gay to.
They then supported each other with revealing their sexualities.
In 2002, John went on a night out in Blackpool and never came back.
The bright lights and thriving gay scene were a contrast to their small town of Rossendale and, three months later, Samantha followed.
Then when John suffered a serious case of pancreatitis, he spent eight months in hospital and 12 weeks in a coma, with Samantha by his bedside every day.
John added: “I woke up one Sunday with a pain in my left side, I went to hospital and the next thing I remember is waking up 12 weeks later in the intensive care unit.
“I had a gall stone that had moved into my pancreas and caused pancreatitis.
“I was given a 20 per cent chance of surviving. I’m very lucky.
“Samantha was there every day to give my family some support and respite.
“She was there when I woke up.”
After years of living together on and off, they now live less than five minutes away from each other, working together and speaking every day.
The Best Friend of the Year UK competition was launched by online bingo company tombola, the sponsor of ITV programme Loose Women, who recently launched the campaign together to find the country’s Best Friend of the Year.
John and Samantha are one of 12 finalists, selected from more than 350 entries, who are set to be whisked off to London on June 8 – National Best Friend Day – on an all-expenses paid trip to watch the live filming of ITV’s Loose Women.
The overall winner will receive an experience day worth £500, to share with his or her best friend.
The winner will be announced by Loose Women presenters at an awards ceremony on June 8.
John added: “We are very excited, we keep saying ‘things like this don’t happen to us.’ We can’t wait!”