Video: James Nesbitt pal’s surprise as car he was to fix with tragic son is restored to former glory
A Northern Ireland father has told how his family lifted his spirits on the second anniversary of his son's death by organising the surprise restoration of his prized vintage car - with a little help from actor James Nesbitt.
Billy Rodgers' only son John promised his dad during his wedding speech on October 17, 2015, that they would finally restore his precious MGA together when he returned from his honeymoon in South Africa.
But just six days later, Billy (61) his wife Johann (60) and their daughters Gwen (33) and Kathryn (27) were plunged into grief, when newlyweds John and Lynette drowned only a short time after checking into their holiday hotel.
Mr Rodgers said that having the car transformed from scrap to a stunning MGA last November was a fitting tribute to his beloved son, and one that gave him "a big lift at the time".
The father also admitted that he had been humbled by the gesture - which youngest daughter Kathryn had initiated to "see the smile on dad's face that I only ever saw when he worked on a car with John".
Motor restoration show Car SOS kicks off its new series tonight with an emotional episode that welcomes Nesbitt as a guest presenter and features the 1959 roadster that had been left rusting for over 40 years.
"I knew nothing about it until Jimmy said to me, 'Well, Billy we've got you here under false pretences ... this is your car'," said Mr Rodgers. "Up until then, I thought Jimmy had just invited us onto the London set of Lucky Man to spend a day watching the filming of the TV programme he was in ... but it was a fake episode set up especially for the reveal on Car SOS.
"I found it a very humbling experience that so many people went to so much trouble for me. For so many people to keep such a big secret just for the sake of giving me a happy moment was very, very humbling."
He added: "Now, when I look at the car, it will always make me think of John and the happy times we shared."
Retail worker Billy revealed how his family "worked together behind my back", with the actor and Car SOS stars Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw, to finish the project on his late son's behalf.
Ahead of the show, which airs on National Geographic at 8pm, Nesbitt, a family friend, spoke of his pride at being involved in helping the Rodgers' find something positive to focus on.
"Billy's daughter Kathryn started the ball rolling on this project because she saw that the family could have fallen apart after John's death," he said.
"She knew that Billy has been the glue that has held his family together and that he truly deserves this moment."
Viewers tonight will see Tim and Fuzz travel to Ballygowan to take on what turns out to be the worst car they have ever encountered.
The MGA Roadster, which belongs to former engineer Billy, had been falling apart for more than four decades and really should have been rejected by the channel for financial reasons.
But after learning how Billy's family life had been turned upside down when his son and 26-year-old daughter-in-law were tragically killed, they accepted the project and returned the MGA to the most deserving of owners.
Speaking publicly for the first time since he lost 28-year-old John, Mr Rodgers said his family was coping with their unimaginable loss.
"Everybody is getting on as best we can," he said."It wasn't just down to one person to hold the family together; we all held each other together. As much as they may feel that I held them together I felt they held me together as well."
Describing Car SOS as "a big bonding exercise that helped bring the family together" he added that the swanky, revamped, light blue MGA is now in the garage of his Co Down home.
He added: "It's sitting safely secured at the moment and is not going out until the weather is suitable for driving it."