By Hollie Bone
A woman obsessed with Care Bears ever since her third birthday now takes toys with her wherever she goes – after amassing a cuddly collection worth £4,000.
Jennifer Hawkins, 34, from Gloucester, fell in love with the 1980s cartoon bears when she received her first cuddly toy version on her third birthday and now owns more than 200.
The single administrator became truly addicted to her passion six years ago when she started splashing out on exclusive one-off finds, including a 25th anniversary Bedtime Bear for £140.
As well as Care Bear themed books, bed sheets, clothes, bags and even knickers, Jennifer now even has a tattoo of her favourite – Bedtime Bear – and takes a miniature version of him, called Beany, everywhere from the supermarket to the doctor’s surgery.
Jennifer, who has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, said her cuddly pals help her cope with everything from big life events to trivial dramas.
She said: “I got my first care bear for my third birthday, a bedtime bear, which is why I have a tattoo of that bear.
“I used to sit in front of the TV watching care bears for hours when I was little and I used to get the teddies as presents every birthday.
“Even up to going off to university I used to get the bears from friends and I took them with me when I left home for my studies. I could never let them go to a charity shop, that seemed cruel.
“I graduated in 2008 right into the credit crunch so I was short of money for a while and couldn’t invest in my collection the way I wanted to.
“But when I got into a steady job I started looking in shops and on eBay to try and complete some of the sets that I already had.
“I dread to think how much I have spent on them over the years, I’d estimate altogether they’re worth about £4,000.
“It’s an expensive hobby but I still haven’t bought as many as I would like to have.
“They are in every room of the house apart from the bathroom. I even bought several pairs of knickers.”
As a youngster, Jennifer struggled to make friends, and found comfort in treating the teddies as her pals, often playing and talking to them about her days at school.
She collected about 30 bears over the course of her childhood, but started her collection seriously six years ago.
Today she still speaks to her fluffy friends, but also now understands why it gives her such great relief after she was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 27.
And for Jennifer, the bears are worth more than just their market value as they also serve as a reminder of happy times in her childhood spent with her late granddad Phil, who died in 1998 aged 72.
She said: “They remind me of my childhood – I spent a lot of time at my grandparents and the bears came over a lot with me.
“I always had trouble making friends so it made me feel better to have the bears.
“My teddies were always my friends so I would talk to them and play teddy school with them where I would teach them what I had learned at real school and my granddad would get involved and play along.
“Now they take me back to those happy family memories.
“As I got older and I found out I have autism, that made things a bit clearer and explained why I feel different.
“I find great faith in still having a little bear with me – because of my autism I find bus journeys very stressful, there’s lots of noises and different smells and it can be very overwhelming.
“Giving Beany a little squeeze and talking to him gets me through it and takes my mind off my surroundings.
“You might talk to another person but I talk to them and it helps me.”
Over the years, toy lover Jennifer has even splashed out on birthday presents for her most treasured bears, including Beanie who celebrated his 21st this year.
Luckily, the frivolous thirty-something has learned to ignore other people’s judgemental attitudes and adds that some passers-by even compliment her teddies.
Jennifer said: “Beany celebrates his birthday at the same time as me and I even bought a Barbie toy car and spray painted it blue as a present for him.
“He comes pretty much everywhere with me.
“My mum, Jeanette doesn’t like me talking to him or giving him kisses in public but she is getting better at understanding.
“I think she sees it as embarrassing but I can’t help that they make me feel better.
“My sister is obsessed with her dogs and treats them like her children, the bears are like my children.
“Normally people give me a funny look or say something rude but I have had people say lovely things too, like tell me Beany is adorable or ask me who he is.
“When I tell them his name and why I bring him around with me, they think it’s nice that I have that relief there.
“The only way to break the stigma is to be who you are and not hide away from it.”