‘I believe that wherever Bruce is, he’s happy and I’ve got another angel to guide me’
As she returns to modelling, Lady Wilnelia Forsyth talks to Gabrielle Fagan about dealing with the death of her husband and how dancing with her mum helps keep her fit
It’s been over a year since showbiz legend Sir Bruce Forsyth died at the age of 89 in August 2017, and his wife, Lady Wilnelia, has once again returned to working as a model. The pair met when they were both invited to be judges at the 1980 Miss World contest — Lady Wilnelia, a former actress from Puerto Rico, had won the title herself in 1975 — and married in 1983.
They had a son, JJ, now 30, while the entertainer also had five daughters from his previous two marriages. The family, Lady Wilnelia says, are “very close”.
Despite the heartache of the past 15 months, she is as glamorous, effortlessly elegant, sophisticated as ever and feeling positive. She still “talks to Bruce in her head”, which she says helps her get through the days.
Charming and down-to-earth, the 61-yearold opens up about her feelings of loss, what’s helped her cope with her grief, and why she still feels grateful for life’s blessings.
How are you coping with life after losing Bruce?
“It’s a journey, a process, and sometimes I feel great, but sadness comes and goes. The other day, we were celebrating my son JJ’s birthday when my two-year-old step-grand-daughter asked, ‘Winny, where’s grandpa? When’s he coming home? Is he playing golf ?’ It’s those moments you don’t expect, and suddenly they completely destroy you. If I feel like crying, I do, and then I dry my tears and go on.”
What’s comforted you during such a difficult period?
“I believe that wherever he is, Bruce is happy, looking out for me, and I feel I have a star in the sky now — another angel who can guide me in many, many ways. Bruce told me he wanted me to go on living, be happy, and enjoy my life. Right from the beginning of our marriage, this was something we would talk about.
“He knew there was a big gap in our ages, and that I took a big step when I decided to marry him and come to this country, because I was leaving behind my family, my friends, even the weather.
“It was a lot for a young girl, but I was very much in love, and for whatever reason I knew somehow, if I was lucky, I would be married to Bruce for ever. I’ve been very, very lucky to have had so many years with him. Many people don’t have that experience in their life, and I’m very conscious about that.”
What are the difficult moments?
“Nowadays, sometimes when I have to make my own decisions. To tell the truth, sometimes I do talk in my head with Bruce, thinking, ‘Well, what would he have said?’, or, ‘What he would like me to do?’ It may sound silly, but it helps me.
“There are some moments you feel, ‘I can’t cope’, and you’re the only one going through this, but then I receive so many letters and realise people are in worse positions. So many are very kind and come up to me to say hello and ask how I’m getting on, which is amazing.
“I’m so lucky I have family and friends around me that I can talk to. The girls (Bruce’s daughters) have been amazing and my son JJ’s fantastic — we’re very close. It can be a little bit painful for the girls sometimes to come to the house because of the memories, but we spent Thanksgiving together and also welcomed a new grandson, which was brilliant. Christmas will be hard, but I’m going with JJ to Puerto Rico to be with my parents. Bruce and I used to be there for the new year and I’ll stay for that, so there’ll be tears and laughter, but that’s fine.”
What’s inspired you to return to modelling?
“For me, keeping busy is the best medicine right now. Modelling for the JD Williams Christmas collection has been great, because it’s made me focus on something completely different. They have such fashionable, glamorous clothes for women of my age who still feel young and energetic and want to look good.
“I love tailored trousers and pencil skirts at about knee-length for the day, teamed with cashmere or silk, and in the evening, clothes which are fitted, but I don’t like to show too much cleavage. I’m lucky I’ve kept very much the same size over the years. I’m now wearing bright colours again, which is natural for me, coming from Latin America, but last year the only colours I could see in my closet were black. That was the mood I felt. It’s strange how your emotions effect you.
“I’m so fortunate there’s so much in my life. I’m building my own fashion and homeware brand, I have my charity in Puerto Rico (she has a foundation that helps underprivileged children) and, of course, my family.”
Do you watch Strictly Come Dancing?
“When Bruce was here, I used to watch it every week and — not criticising — tell him afterwards what I thought. It’s not easy to see it sometimes nowadays and I don’t see it as regularly, but the series has been fantastic. Tess and Claudia are doing really well. I’m very much in touch with Tess.”
How do you stay fit?
“In Latin America, the last thing we talk about is age, in the way people seem to constantly here. I feel great and try to stay healthy. I exercise at home every morning with stretching or a workout. I’m inspired by Bruce, who was so disciplined with his daily fitness routine. He was such an amazing teacher for me in so many ways. He had such focus and I try to remember many of the things he used to do.
“Pilates is good for me after a back operation years ago. I love walking and golf, and I make myself go the gym twice a week.
“Life’s too beautiful to be on silly diets. If I have an occasional treat, like a doughnut, I’ ll eat it slowly and enjoy it. I love a roast lunch once a week, but then I’ ll fast and maybe not eat until lunch the following day.”
How else do you look after your wellbeing?
“Dancing with my mother, Delia, who’s staying with me at the moment, is wonderful. We do Latin dances, because they make you move every muscle, and music and movement are brilliant for lifting the spirits.
“I’m a positive person. I read positive books and I’m learning to meditate and practise mindfulness to help me relax. I have a very active mind, so I find it hard to sleep. I have to use all sorts of things to help me, like counting backwards until I nod off.”
Would you like to find love again?
“That’s something that I don’t even think about. Let’s say I’m not looking for anyone or anything right now. I’m focusing on my family, my work and my health. My plate’s quite full. If the time comes, then I hope I’ll be lucky again. You never know what’s around the corner.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Do things today and don’t live for tomorrow. Mind you, I’m a bit impatient and always want to get things done quickly, so that suits me. “An aunt also advised me, ‘When you choose a partner, pick someone who’s going to be there for you and somebody that you admire’. “I did that, and I realise a lot of people have regrets if they chose the wrong partner in life, or didn’t manage to say goodbye to the person they loved. “I’m lucky that I’ve had an amazing marriage with Bruce, who made me laugh and I had fun with, and I was able to say goodbye.” Lady Wilnelia Forsyth models the JD Williams Christmas collection. To shop the look and for further inspiration, visit jdwilliams.co.uk
STAYING POSITIVE: Lady Wilnelia modelling for JD Williams (also below left) and (below), with late husband Bruce and son JJ