It might not seem like the most obvious of friendships: a university chief and a boyband member.
But Aberdeen mum Lori Houlihan and The Wanted’s Tom Parker became firm friends after being diagnosed with the same inoperable brain cancer and being treated on the same ward.
Mrs Houlihan’s daughter, Poppy, described them as “kindred spirits” and revealed the singer has stayed in touch with the family since her mother’s death six months ago.
Their relationship was showcased during the singers’ documentary, Inside My Head, which tracks his battle against glioblastoma.
‘Tom and my mum were kindred spirits’
Speaking to the Sunday Mail, Miss Houlihan daughter said: “When mum was diagnosed, she saw her illness as something that had happened to her so that she could do something to help improve things – and Tom is the same.
“Tom and my mum were definitely kindred spirits.
“When mum died, I knew I had to let Tom know and he has kept in touch. He is an absolutely lovely man – very sweet.”
Mrs Houlihan was the vice provost of the University College of London (UCL) when she was diagnosed, but previously worked at Aberdeen University.
There she was hailed for helping to transform the university’s landscape, and headed up the £150million campaign to develop the Sir Duncan Rice Library and Suttie Centre.
Before joining the university, the Aberdeen Grammar School pupil worked for NHS health promotions in the north-east.
Initially she had no idea who Parker was when they met on the ward, and asked her daughter if she had ever heard of The Wanted.
Poppy, 18, said: “My mum loved to chat, started talking to Tom and they just became friends from there.
“When they were talking one day, he mentioned he was in a boyband. I remember her coming home and saying to me, ‘Have you ever heard of The Wanted?’ I looked them up to show her and played her some songs. The fact Tom was in a band didn’t make any difference to her.”
In it together
The singers’ documentary focused on raising awareness for glioblastoma, which is an aggressive type of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord.
He also hopes the film will help promote fundraising and research into treatments and eventually a cure.
Similarly, Mrs Houlihan was determined to do something to help after her diagnosis in May 2019, and set up the UCL Dr Lori Houlihan Glioblastoma Fund.
Poppy added: “When mum learned the treatment offered to patients with a glioblastoma hasn’t changed in 30 years unless you go down the private route for so-called ‘experimental’ treatment, she knew she had to do what she could to raise money to fund medical research.”
Last month the singer invited Poppy to a special concert, which was hosted by DJs Roman Kemp and Sonny Jay and featured Ed Sheeran, Liam Payne and The Wanted.
She added: “While mum set up her glioblastoma research fund, Tom set up his charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall and made his documentary.
“She was a real advocate for change. As part of her working life, mum had raised more than £600million through her fundraising capabilities for UCL and different charities.
“Almost as soon as she was diagnosed, she set up a fund to raise money for research into glioblastoma. So far the fund has raised £250,000.
“She knew average life expectancy for glioblastoma was a year but she survived for 23 months and, right up until very near the end, she lived life to the full.”