Former England football captain Rio Ferdinand talks for the first time about his pain at losing soulmate to breast cancer

Rio Ferdinand has opened his heart about losing his beloved wife to breast cancer earlier this month, and revealed she insisted on planning her funeral before her death.

Writing a heartfelt open letter in the Sun on Sunday, Rio reveals: ‘After Rebecca died we held a service on a lovely sunny day which was arranged to perfection. Rebecca planned her own funeral, while the kids picked the music.

‘She wanted it to be a celebration of her life, rather than a morbid occasion and it went just the way she would have liked. She got the send-off she deserved and it really did her proud.’

Rebecca was laid to rest at a ceremony on Wednesday 13 May, attended by 200 people including Wayne and Coleen Rooney and Frank Lampard and fiancee Christine Bleakley.

Rio wrote how Rebecca was determined to keep her fight against cancer a secret and carry on with life as normal.

‘Rebecca was an incredibly brave and private person who didn’t want anything about her illness to appear in the media while she was fighting for her life’, Rio, 36, writes.

Rebecca was careful to keep life as normal as possible for the couple’s three children, Lorenz, nine, Tate, six, Tia, four. She continued to do the school runs and Rio kept up his training schedule for Queens Park Rangers football club.

But he soon pulled back from his commitments when Rebecca’s health deteriorated.

‘I couldn’t go into training every day because I needed to be there for her and the kids. Something had to give.

‘I wanted to carry on for the team but I couldn’t make any promises and it wasn’t fair on the boss wondering whether I was available or not.’

Rio, who spent the last 15 years with Rebecca by his side, confessed he felt guilty at not being able to play for QPR when they were struggling.

‘I admit I felt guilty that I was letting the club down in our relegation fight.’

He eventually asked the QPR staff to break the news of Rebecca’s cancer to his team mates.

Talking of that painful time, he says: ‘It has been the most difficult period of my life, what with managing the emotions of our three children and watching such a great woman as my wife die without being able to do anything about it.

‘As footballers, we often talk about missing important games through injury as if it was the end of the world. Believe me, it isn’t when compared to your wife and mother of your children dying of cancer at the age of 34.’

Rio had hoped he would still have a precious few years left with his adored wife after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead, Rebecca died just five weeks later on 1 May.

But the support of friends and fans has comforted the family after her death. Rio writes: ‘The day it was announced that Rebecca had died, we were overwhelmed by messages of support. To hear the fans at Old Trafford and West Ham singing for us and seeing Steven Gerrard hand flowers to my team mate Joey Barton was special. The kids saw it all and were telling me: “Look dad, have you seen what they are doing for mum?”‘

Rio and Rebecca met when he was a player for West Ham in 2000. They wed nine years later and Rebecca shied away from the spotlight, preferring to focus on her home life.

Rio once said about her: ‘She isn’t interested in the flash life. She trained as an accountant and would never even go to a game if I wasn’t playing.’

After her death Rio released a moving statement, describing the shock loss of his ‘soulmate’.

He said: ‘My soulmate slipped away last night. She was a fantastic loving mother to our three beautiful children. She will be missed as a wife, sister, aunt, daughter and granddaughter. She will live on in our memory, as a guide and inspiration.

‘Myself, my parents Janice and Julian, along with Rebecca’s parents Lesley and Stephen, would like to thank our families, friends and my club colleagues who have rallied around in these desperate days, weeks and months.

‘I would also like to express my gratitude for the dedication and expertise of the staff led by Professors Johnstone and Clarke at the Royal Marsden. Their valiant efforts to prolong Rebecca’s all-too-short life will not be forgotten.

‘Our grief, as a family, is total.’

Rio says that he and the kids are ‘taking things day by day’.

We wish Rio and his family all the love and support in the world.