Chef Darren Simpson's sister tells of grief over death: 'He was everything to me'
The sister of a renowned chef from Northern Ireland who died suddenly at the age of 46 has told how she will never get over the loss of the brother who meant the world to her.
Many leading chefs, including Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux and Richard Corrigan, paid tribute to Darren Simpson on his passing less than two months ago.
He died in June after a heart attack following a battle with alcoholism.
Darren grew up in Lisburn and had two sons, aged 14 and 12.
He was named UK Young Chef of the Year at 21 - the youngest ever winner of the prestigious accolade.
From 1992 to 1999 he worked in restaurants such as Paul Rankin's Michelin-starred Roscoff in Belfast, Albert Roux's Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London, and Sally Clarke's and Simon Hopkinson's Bibendum, also in the capital. His career then took him to Australia, where he enjoyed further success and appeared regularly on TV.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ruth said despite her brother moving away for work, they were "inseparable".
"Darren was my best friend and brother in one," she said.
"We were so close. He would have been back all the time and when he used to come home the excitement was like Christmas.
"It was just full of laughter and fun. Darren had an amazing personality and he was brilliant to be around - I have nothing but good memories."
She tearfully added: "I feel that Darren and I should have had another 30-plus years together, it's being robbed of that future with him. I can't imagine how hard it is for my mum."
Ruth (36) said it's the worst thing that has happened or will happen in her life.
"When I talk about him with my friends, they know the relationship we had and the bond and the connection - and he really was my everything," she said.
"It drives me insane when I think I'm never going to speak to him or see him again." Heartbreakingly, Ruth, daughter Erin and mum Sally had booked to go to Australia when Darren was in hospital, but he died days before they were due to arrive.
"I had this feeling that I needed to go to Australia to be with him," she said.
"On the Wednesday I booked flights for Erin and I to go out and take a month and stay near the hospital. The plan was to see if he wanted to come home again for a while and we would all fly home together. My mum arrived here the next morning, she phoned every day to the hospital and she said: 'Darren, I love you and I hope you know we've been phoning every day'.
"I got to tell him: 'Erin and I are coming to you and we love you'. And then he died that night." She added: "Darren knew how much he was loved and we know how much he loved us."
Through her grief, Ruth finds solace in the happy memories of her brother and she especially cherishes the precious moments Erin had with her uncle, taking comfort in the loving relationship they formed.
She said: "He was home in the last two years for six months at a time.
"It was amazing to have him back, Erin is 10 and for her to build up that relationship with him was amazing.
"It's special and I'm so thankful now that she has wonderful memories of him. He said home always called him. If he had been going through anything difficult or whatever, home was where he wanted to be, back with us."
Ruth said she can't put into words how proud she is of everything he achieved - and recalled with joy the first time she and their mum dined in Roscoff, where he was working as a pastry chef. She laughed as she remembered Darren warning her not to ask for red sauce. She said: "It just came so naturally to him. I was about 10 or 11 and he had made the most beautiful dessert for me - and had me forewarned not to ask for ketchup.
"He said: 'Do not ask for ketchup, we don't serve that in here'."
She added: "I have every newspaper cutting, magazine, we have all the DVDs from his shows in Australia, so they have been on a lot."
Ruth said Darren's passing has left a "massive void" in her life.
But she takes comfort from the hundreds of messages she has received from the people whose lives he touched and the family often sit and read them together.
"It's so lovely and my husband said to me: 'You are so lucky that you have all that'.
"My mum kept saying: 'I'm never going to hear his voice again'.
"This week she said: 'Ruth, the way he called me mum, it breaks my heart that I'm never going to hear him say that again'.
"But, as my husband said, we are able to put on his DVDs and hear his voice and his laugh - he had the most brilliant laugh.
"I know we are lucky, but it's still very hard."
Half of Darren's ashes were scattered in Australia and the family plan to scatter the other half in Northern Ireland, at a spot picked by Erin.