Tony Williams, 75, from Hampshire, put up a heart-breaking poster in his front window asking for friends after the sudden death of his wife of 35 years, Jo, who died from cancer during lockdown.

The retired physicist said he felt ‘cursed’ by loneliness and often went days without talking to anyone.

He would wait for his home phone to ring but it never did.

But the phone started to ring off the hook after Metro.co.uk shared his story with the world.

The 75-year-old was flooded with messages of support from across the UK and Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary and even from as far as the US, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.

Surrounded by cards sent from well-wishers from near and far, Tony said he had been overwhelmed with emotion after the public’s extraordinary response to his plea for friends.

He said: ‘The love and compassion people have shown has actually brought tears to my eyes.

‘People have sent me the most delightful emails.

‘They’ve sent me pictures of their kids, their pets, told me about their aspirations and telling me they are thinking of me.’

He continued: ‘I got an email from a local teacher asking if children in her class could write me letters.

‘One lady phoned up and said if I get on a plane sometime she would pick me up and show me her area of Florida.

‘Another lady who lives relatively nearby has invited me round for a G&T which I’ll be keen to do.’

Tony said he would take some time getting back to everyone as the flood of messages had crashed his email.

He said: ‘It’s just been gorgeous.

‘When I started responding they were coming in thick and fast. I would say about four or five a minute.’

According to Age UK, more than two million people over the age of 75 in England live alone.

At least one million elderly people say they go longer than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

Tony took out two advertisements in local newspapers asking for company but his plea for help fell on deaf ears.

He begged: ‘I’m not looking for someone to listen to me cry – I just want a normal person who I can chat to. I can talk to anybody about anything.’