Premium

'Our parents were killed in the Boxing Day tsunami, but they wouldn't want us to look back'

Rob and Paul Forkan
Rob and Paul Forkan's parents died in the Boxing Day tsunami Credit: Paul Grover/Telegraph 

F三级成人视频ifteen years ago today, Rob Forkan shook his younger brother, Paul, awake. Water was flooding into their hotel room on the Sri Lankan coast – the first sign of the 90-foot churning waves that were about to hit land. The brothers, then 15 and 17, clambered onto the roof of the guesthouse as their parents, Kevin and Sandra, tried to help their younger siblings, Matt and Rosie.

三级成人视频By the time the waves that engulfed the region abated a few hours later, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami – the deadliest in recorded history, triggered by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake – had killed a staggering 230,000 people; Kevin and Sandra, among them.

The orphaned siblings travelled home alone to their elder sisters, Marie, who had been planning to join them in the new year, and Jo, who had already flown home early.

“We didn’t know what had happened to our parents for a few months,” says Paul, now 30. “You tell yourself every day that it’s fine and they’re going to come home. We were like, ‘No, Dad couldn’t… he’s strong, Mum’s strong. They’ll come back.’ It was tough.”

It was against the odds, then, that the Forkan brothers forged a successful clothing and lifestyle brand, Gandys三级成人视频, which they created in 2012 in their parents’ memory – and the proceeds from which have funded charity school projects from Nepal to Brazil. 

When we meet at their Covent Garden store, Paul and Rob, 32, are both dressed head to toe in their own brand clothing and speak excitedly about their upcoming travels. As close as brothers could be, they work, travel and socialise together.

三级成人视频Their youngest sister, Rosie, 22, has recently returned from Canada and is about to start working with them. Matt lives in the US, while Marie and Jo are settled in the UK with children.

Kevin and Sandra pulled their six children out of school to travel the world in 2000 Credit: Rex

The six siblings had an unconventional upbringing, with “free spirited and spur of the moment” parents, says Paul, who enjoyed taking them to lesser travelled parts of the world.

The brothers, both dyslexic, struggled in school and their parents thought they would learn more on the move, so after a holiday to India, the Forkans sold their south London house in 2000 to travel the globe.   

“We were meant to go for six months, but it ended up being four-and-a-half years,” says Paul. “Our dad had a Lonely Planet book and would call out places. We would put our hands up for where we wanted to go; that’s how we decided to go to Sri Lanka.”

On Christmas Day 2004, the family were surfing and played football on the beach – the next morning, the tsunami struck and Rob and Paul never saw their parents alive again.

British and Sri Lankan authorities helped the distraught siblings, then aged between seven and 17, return to the UK. With their parents missing and no home to go to, they went to stay with their eldest sister, Marie, then 21, in Farnborough – but she only had room for them to sleep in the garage.

“It was freezing,” says Paul. “We insulated it and put laminate flooring down. The community got together to help buy us bunk beds.”

As they waited to hear if their parents had survived, the family maintained their privacy – they were snuck out of the back of the airport and two police officers were stationed at Marie’s house to stop media invasions and look out for the family’s welfare. When they enrolled at the local school, they did so under pseudonyms.

“It allowed us to absorb everything that was going on,” says Rob.

三级成人视频Their early-life adventures had orphaned them, but also prepared them. “In a weird way, visiting slums and orphanages, seeing children whose arms had been cut off deliberately to get more money from begging, helped us,” says Paul. “At least we had food and somewhere to live. We could cope.” 

Paul recently travelled to Nepal to open the Forkan's new kids campus  Credit: Gandys

Rob finished his A-levels and set off to travel the world himself. Paul struggled at school and dropped out before working in a DIY shop to earn enough to join Rob on his travels; their parents' itinerant spirit living on.

Years later, the brothers discovered a local entrepreneur had sent their sister a monthly stipend to help support them. After we meet, the brothers are having dinner with the secret beneficiary, whose interior design business turns over £60 million. 

In 2013, when the siblings wrote an autobiography, their “book title came from his nickname for us: ‘Tsunami kids’,” says Rob. Paul adds, “He said he had bought loads of nice cars, McLarens and Ferraris, but the best feeling he had was from seeing us [thrive].”

Rob, Paul and Matt started selling flip flops in 2012 from their London flat – they wanted to raise money to set up a school in Sri Lanka三级成人视频 and having tramped through Asia in sandals thought they would be the perfect product for backpackers. They were initially self-funded with the money Rob earnt working in online advertising after he returned to the UK in 2009 – and by “living on beans and toast,” adds Paul – but once John Lewis, ASOS and Liberty agreed to stock the shoes, they sought external backing. Since then, Rob and Paul have turned it into a clothing and lifestyle brand, opening their first store in Covent Garden in 2016 (they now have three more across the capital). Matt has since left – “he literally couldn’t be bothered,” jokes Rob – but still helps with design.  

三级成人视频The Gandys logo is inspired by their father’s favourite beer, Kingfisher, and its fashion sense comes from their mum. Their ethos, “Don’t just exist”, is a lesson both taught them: “I think about my parents every day,” says Paul. “To pull us out of school at a young age and take us around the world, not many parents would do that. It’s always there in the background.”

Every year, Rob and Paul do something new in memory of their parents - this year, they rode motorbikes in Nepal Credit: Gandys

All profits from Gandys go to their ‘kids campuses’ Sri Lanka, Malawi, Brazil and Nepal, which teach, house, and support deprived children. They opened the first in Sri Lanka for the 10-year anniversary of their parents’ deaths.

“When we were in the tsunami, trying to get to safety and find our parents, it was local kids who helped us,” says Rob. “We valued their help in our hour of need – it’s a case of returning the favour.”

三级成人视频The family joined locals for the national commemoration service in December 2014, where “the whole country came out to light lanterns and candles along the beaches,” says Paul. “People who had suffered were emotionally all there together.”

For today’s 15th anniversary, the brothers are having a rare quiet Christmas in London. Instead of going to Sri Lanka – where they have twice spent it and found “it brings back memories, and not good ones,” says Paul – they will go on a Boxing Day country walk in Hampshire, then skiing for New Year’s Eve with their girlfriends.

三级成人视频“Hopefully starting the year with fresh air and epic mountain views will refresh us for a big 2020,” says Rob.

Every year, the brothers do something adventurous to honour Kevin and Sandra. This year, they toured Nepal on motorbikes after opening their new campus, built on the grounds of a school that collapsed in the 2015 earthquake. Next, they plan to fly over Rio de Janeiro in gliders, after opening a pre-school in a favela, to help prevent local children from being sucked into gang life.

“It’s been a tough battle, constantly trying to progress, but we don’t look back,” says Rob. Paul adds,  “Our parents wouldn’t want us to look back – they were always about the future.”