When Cardiff dad-of-three Brian Elsey was admitted to hospital with coronavirus on Christmas Eve, he thought he would only need some oxygen.

A popular former rugby player and football fan, the 40-year-old Admiral employee had previously been fit and healthy, a devoted father to Joshua, 10, James, 7, and Jessica, 4.

When the unimaginable happened less than three weeks later, his close-knit family were left in shock. An outpouring of love and grief came from the community around them, raising more than £16,000 in just a matter of weeks to try and help those left behind.

Now, days after Wales’ marked one year since losing its first coronavirus victim, Brian’s family have paid tribute to a man who was “always smiling”.

Brian with wife Nadia and children Joshua, James and Jessica
(Image: Sian Clements)

“Everyone who knew him said what a nice person he was. He was always happy, always smiling”, Brian’s sister Sian said.

“He loved rugby and supported his football teams, Man United and Cardiff City. He played rugby for Llandaff North RFC, the youths and adult team but stopped once he had kids.

“We couldn’t do a big funeral but they did a big drive by and all the rugby boys went out on Station Road. They were all out on the pavement, socially distanced, clapping when the hearse went past.”

Known as BopBop to friends and family for both his dance moves and for “talking with his hands” after a drink, Brian was a proper family man.

After growing up in Fairwater he moved to Creigiau with his wife Nadia and Nadia’s parents but would often see siblings Sian, Mark and Laura and parents Lesley and Vincent.

When Sian married Brian’s best friend David the group became even closer, with the family spending countless occasions together.

In a heart-breaking turn of events, Nadia’s father Raymond Fettah died with coronavirus only 18 days after Brian’s death on January 10, leaving Nadia and her mother with three young children.

Brian was a “devoted” and loving father to his three children
(Image: Sian Clements)

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Sian, 39, said: “Brian fell ill the week before Christmas. He went in Christmas Eve just thinking they would go in and give him a bit of oxygen or something. Christmas Day we had a phone call to say they were going to ventilate him as they wanted his body to recover and he died on the 10th.

“[The staff] were all amazing but it was such a weird time. You can’t visit and you’re relying on nurses and phoning nurses and them speaking to you to give you an update and they’re so incredibly busy. You are in a bit of a limbo land. Because he was on a ventilator he couldn’t text to say he was okay.

“My mum and Nadia got called in but by the time they got there he had gone.

“My husband said he’d never celebrate Christmas again now he’s lost his best friend. It will be a hard one for the next few years.”

Brian was known as BopBop for his famous dance moves
(Image: Sian Clements)

In the weeks since Brian’s death, Sian said the family had been overwhelmed by support, including by Brian’s employers at Admiral who have kept in touch to offer any help.

Previously Brian had also worked at Coral, spurring on his love of horse-racing as well as befriending the older customers he’d meet due to his chatty nature.

Looking forward Sian said she and her family will try to focus on the happy memories they shared with Brian, as well as prioritising his young family.

The money raised by the GoFundMe page will go towards his children’s futures, Sian added.

Siblings Mark, Sian, Brian, Laura and mum Lesley
(Image: Sian Clements)

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As well as the financial support, comments on the fundraising page also pay testament to way Brian is being remembered. Comments describe him as a “true gentleman who always made everyone feel happy and welcomed” as well as “one of the good guys whose smile lit up a room”

A “doting and loving father”, Brian will also be remembered as a “wonderfully loyal friend to all” known “for making everyone laugh with his quick wit.”

Sian said: “The children were close to their dad and grampy, they were all daddy’s kids.

“Nadia is only 38 years old being left with three kids, it’s a shock. If it wasn’t for them it would be a different story but we have to put them first.

“We are quite a tight family so we do quite a lot of get togethers.

“Last year Brian was 40. He did say last year I’m not celebrating my 40th, I’m pushing it back a year as I can’t celebrate in lockdown’. Obviously he is not going to do that this year. We’ll have to do it for him.

“There was nothing not to like about him.”

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