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Rock on Daddy!

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With Bobby Ball, Tommy Cannon's been making audiences laugh for two decades. But the funnyman has had more than his share of personal drama. Now he's discovering the joys of fatherhood second time around - with girlfriend Hazel and baby Kelly-Anne

When comedian Tommy Cannon left his wife five years ago for Hazel Winman, a dancer 20 years his junior, many thought it wouldn't last. But the couple have proved them wrong. Now they are more in love than ever, and 20-month-old daughter Kelly- Anne has completed their joy.

"I've never been this happy before," says Tommy, 54, one half of nutty duo Cannon and Ball. "Mates thought I needed my head examined becoming a father at my age. Even my grandchildren are older than Kelly-Anne. But she's given me back my youth and I get a tremendous kick out of her.

"You could say I'm obsessed. She's so beautiful, I spoil her rotten," he adds, pointing to the many toys scattered round the couple's Yorkshire farmhouse. "That little girl is a miracle to us."

Hazel nods in agreement. She suffered two painful miscarriages before Kelly-Anne was born. "That was the first time I saw Tommy cry," says Hazel, 35. "We had our hearts set on having children and couldn't understand how life could be so cruel.

"We'd talked very seriously about a family. Tommy was worried that, being so much older than me, he might not be around to see his children grow up. He was concerned he might leave me with the burden of raising them alone, should he pass away. But I told him that was nonsense. When two people love each other the way we do, age doesn't enter into it. I'd much sooner have Tommy's child to remind me of our love. Without a child, I'd have nothing left of him.

"I became pregnant straight after we had that conversation and couldn't believe it when I lost the baby 10 weeks later. Tommy took the news well but, when I had a second miscarriage, he broke down in tears. He didn't know how to cope.

"I was terribly sick during my pregnancy with Kelly-Anne, but I didn't care. I was just delighted that I hadn't lost her."

When Hazel went into labour six weeks premature, Tommy held her hand throughout the emergency Caesarean section. Then, after their baby daughter was born, he virtually moved into York District Hospital. He divided his time between Hazel, who was seriously ill with a blood infection, and the intensive care baby unit, where a fragile Kelly-Anne lay in an incubator.

Her weight plummeted from 61b 7oz to 51b and Tommy began to say his prayers. "It was touch and go," he says, grinning as Kelly-Anne climbs over him. "But it was all worthwhile. She's a little angel, and so fit and healthy now."

And fatherhood's even better the second time around. "I don't have too many fond memories about the first time. My eldest daughter Jeanette used to scream all night. I could have almost thrown her out of the window." That was 32 years ago, when he was struggling on �20 a week as a labourer in Oldham. And before he met partner Bobby Ball and hit the big time.

"We didn't have much brass then. I remember it would be bloody freezing, we didn't have central heating, and I'd be pacing up and down in the middle of the night with this screaming baby in my arms. When Jeanette wouldn't sleep, I'd put her in my van which was full of bags of cement and tools, and drive her round until she fell asleep.

"For some strange reason, it's much more magical becoming a father the second time and at my age. I'm much more tolerant."

Tommy's life today is a world away from those early days. Now a millionaire, his converted farmhouse in a North Yorkshire village boasts all mod-cons and the comedian owns the land for as far as the eye can see. In one field, there are three thoroughbred racehorses exercising alongside his Shetland ponies. Tommy and Hazel certainly enjoy the good life.

But there's a cloud on their horizon - Tommy's wife Margaret has refused to divorce him, preventing the couple from walking down the aisle until Christmas, 1993. "We'd love to be married," says Hazel, who's changed her name by deed poll to Tommy's real surname of Derbyshire. "It's only a piece of paper, but we wanted to be married so our names would be the same on Kelly-Anne's birth certificate. Now we all share the same surname, it doesn't make any difference."

Says Tommy, "I've asked Margaret for a divorce a couple of times and she's said, 'No'. I replied, 'Fine, I won't be asking again'. I don't think she intends any malice. It's just the way she is."

Margaret has never met Hazel, or Kelly-Anne, but her daughters with Tommy, Jeanette and Julie, 29, plus grandsons Ben, 11, Alex, nine, and Matty, six, are all regular visitors to the farmhouse. "I believe that time is a great healer," says Tommy. "I don't think there's too much resentment left now.

"Margaret was planning to go to the races recently when my daughters pointed out that Hazel and I might be there. She decided not to go and my daughter asked what she'd have done if she'd bumped into us. It's not like she's going to punch Hazel after all this time, is it?"

Hazel, who's from Gosport in Hampshire, first met Tommy when they were appearing together in pantomime at Bradford. A romance developed, but both were married to other people and didn't want to hurt their partners. When they met up a year later, Hazel's marriage was over and Tommy was ready to leave Margaret, his wife of 29 years. "It was a hard decision to make, with everyone so upset," says Tommy who, along with Bobby, appears in Babes In The Wood at Darlington's Civic Theatre from 5 December to 30 January.

The couple enjoy planning for the future. They've even put together a gift package for Kelly-Anne's 18th birthday on 17 March 2009. It's full of newspapers, house prices and the top 10 pop singles all relating to her birthdate in 1991.

"I never really saw my two daughters growing up, but this time we're doing it differently. Hazel and the little one come everywhere with me. The theatre has become second home to Kelly-Anne - I took her on stage with me when she was only three weeks old.

"My daughters are very like their mother, as I was never around them much. With Kelly-Anne, I hope I'll instil something of my own character as I'm with her so much. She's going to be more of a daddy's girl. It's pointless having a family if you're not going to see them."

Tommy happily changes nappies, prepares meals and sings pop songs (like Cannon and Ball's first ever Christmas single, Don't Forget My Xmas Present, which is out now), to his baby girl. "We'd love another kiddie. It would be smashing to have a boy next time round, he'd be company for Kelly-Anne. So we'll just have to keep working on that one.

"When Hazel lost the first baby, my attitude was okay. But after the second died, I was so upset. I'd read about women who couldn't have babies, and I thought, 'Oh no, not my Hazel'. I could never know how it feels for a woman to lose a baby that's growing inside her, but it must be terrible.

"I cried like a baby when Kelly-Anne was delivered safe and sound, so thankful it was all over. I watched her in intensive care. She was wired up to drips and monitors, but I knew she would be a survivor."

Interview by Gill Pringle

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