Belfast Telegraph

Watch live: Man speaks from the grave in Belfast

Dubliner John Edwards spending three days in coffin offering addiction advice

By Jonny Bell

An east Belfast church is to hold a funeral with a very big difference.

Dubliner John Edwards is to be buried at Willowfield Parish Church on Wednesday at 2pm.

The difference with this funeral is that the 62-year-old is alive and kicking and will be broadcasting before, during and after his 72 hours in the dirt.

It's part of his 'Walking Free' project which aims to provide support and advice to people with addictions or who are feeling suicidal.

"We've our head screwed on, we know what we are doing," said John.

"This is about bringing people together, interacting with them and offering help and support and words of life from the grave. I am a committed Christian but we welcome all-comers joining in.

"We are trying to get across the message that you need not be in a coffin prematurely, there is help there and you can overcome addiction and illness. I was locked into addiction for 25 years."

John will be entombed in a coffin 8ft long by 3.5ft high and 4ft wide.

It has been kitted out with electric and broadband to enable him to broadcast to the world as well as having a mattress and caravan toilet.

A tube will be fitted to supply fresh air and supplies through his ordeal and he will have his home comforts - his woolly socks and hot water bottle.

There will also be 24-hour security at the site.

Willowfield Rector, David McClay said: "John is going into the coffin on Ash Wednesday which marks the start of Lent. The season of Lent is one when Christians talk about dying to ourselves. But the message from the grave is one of hope - hope for those who are struggling with addictions, hope for those who feel life is hopeless, and hope of life that is eternal."

For John it is the second time being buried. He first took on the challenge in his adopted home-town of Halifax in England last July and says millions tuned in and thousands contacted him from right across the world.

"It was very freaky," he added.

"I was nervous at first going in. There are people gathered around the grave, the lid is sealed and you can hear them throw the soil on top - it really is freaky.

"But as soon as the coffin was buried the phone went mad, the text crazy and the Skype mad.

"I wondered how it would be received but the reaction was incredible and overwhelming not just from Christian media but the secular media as well. We were told 18million tuned in.

"It is not a survival exercise, but about grabbing attention.

"There are moves to try and de-criminalise drugs and make it the new normal. For me, the new normal should be about having recovery available online and they can do it in anonymity and from the comfort of their own homes."

He continued: "We have prepared video to switch on for when I need a break or a few hours kip. I want to talk to as many people as possible so will only sleep for two or three hours.

"I'm not claustrophobic but you do feel hemmed in especially with the lack of light and not having the room to exercise.

"Plus with so many getting in touch other people's problems cling to you. Physic debris I have heard people call it and it can weigh you down.

"But I have been blown away by the support. The good thing about this is that people get in touch and start offering advice, sharing their experience among themselves so they don't even need me in the end."

John was a chronic alcoholic and drug addict for 25 years. At one point in his life he was taking 150 tablets of valium in one day. He was institutionalised, in-and-out of comas, overdosed some 20 times, survived cancer twice and has had a liver transplant. He jokes that as his liver is only 11 his age averages out to 50.

"I have been close to death myself and this reminds me of those experiences," he said.

"I came from a middle class Dublin family and developed a ridiculous addiction - you don't need to be poor to have an addiction, it can affect all people from all walks of life.

"But I have been clear for 25 years and I'm married, have four wonderful step-children and grandchildren and my life has been blessed."

John has travelled over 50,000 miles visiting towns and villages sharing his experiences.

He also has a 33ft syringe to promote his message of "injecting hope" into people and is trying to secure a stay with a billionaire or multi-millionaire to show how addiction can hit the rich and famous.

"I am passionate about it," he said.

"For me it is about helping people navigate through cancer or illness or addiction. I was kicked out of school at 15 for knocking out my history teacher, but I have an education on recovering from darkness."

You can watch John's experience from 2pm Wednesday or contact him here, on Facebook or interact on social media on #GraveChat.

He will remain in Northern Ireland until April 16 to meet people and offer prayer - where wanted.

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