How I rein­vented my­self af­ter los­ing my soul­mate

They were in­sep­a­ra­ble for 57 years. Now, five months af­ter the death of her beloved hus­band, nov­el­ist Bar­bara Tay­lor Brad­ford, 86, shares the heart­break of los­ing your soul­mate . . .

Scottish Daily Mail - - Front Page - by BAR­BARA TAY­LOR BRAD­FORD

FOr more than 50 years, the York­shire-born, multi-mil­lion­aire au­thor Bar­bara tay­lor Brad­ford OBe reigned as a queen of New York, her film pro­ducer hus­band Bob by her side.

their prop­erty port­fo­lio in­cluded a 13room pent­house apart­ment on New York’s east 52nd Street and a hol­i­day house in Con­necti­cut (Bar­bara even heated the lake so the swans didn’t drink freez­ing wa­ter). When in Lon­don, they took an apart­ment at the Dorch­ester ho­tel.

I met them at the ho­tel 15 years ago. Warm and ef­fu­sive, Bar­bara chat­ted non­stop. Bob in­ter­jected wryly (if he got the chance). He called her ‘Bon­a­parte’; she called him ‘the Gen­eral’. But it was clear they were de­voted. today, when we meet, there is a new soft­ness to Bar­bara, now 86. She is dig­ni­fied, but raw.

It is al­most five months since Bob, her ‘golden hus­band’, died in hos­pi­tal at the age of 92, af­ter hav­ing a stroke at their Man­hat­tan home. He was rushed into hos­pi­tal and Bar­bara slept in a camp bed in his room. He died peace­fully a week later, hold­ing her hand.

‘I was mar­ried to Bob for 55 years and knew him for two more, so it’s re­ally like half of you has been cut off or

Hap­pi­ness of­ten sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open

AC­TOR JOHN BAR­RY­MORE

dis­ap­peared,’ Bar­bara tells me. ‘But I’ve come to terms with it. He died on July 2.

‘Of course, it was a shock and it was un­ex­pected. He had a stroke — he wasn’t ill. So you feel a bit dev­as­tated, but I’m very dis­ci­plined and I don’t like things un­done.

‘Bob had left ev­ery­thing in per­fect or­der, which was his na­ture. Both of us had very tidy minds, so I just got on with the le­gal pro­cesses, the pro­bate and in­sur­ance, and clos­ing his of­fice but not clos­ing his busi­nesses. And I got it all done mostly by dogged­ness, which is my mid­dle name,’ she chuck­les.

There’s no doubt that Bar­bara is A Woman Of Sub­stance — the ti­tle of her first block­buster, in 1979, the do­mes­tic saga of a ser­vant girl who be­comes a ty­coon.

Born in Arm­ley, Leeds, in 1933, the only child of a nurse and an engi­neer who lost his leg in World War I and was un­em­ployed dur­ing the De­pres­sion, Bar­bara was made an OBE in 2007 and her per­sonal for­tune is es­ti­mated at £200mil­lion.

But Bob, whom she met on a blind date in 1961, was her rock. It was love at first sight and she went on to ded­i­cate ev­ery book to him.

He was her busi­ness man­ager and, as a pro­ducer, made nine minis­eries and films based on her nov­els, with stars in­clud­ing Deb­o­rah Kerr, Sir An­thony Hop­kins, Jenny Sea­grove and Liz Hur­ley. Thanks to Bob, she be­came one of a hand­ful of nov­el­ists whose name goes above the ti­tle in screen adap­ta­tions.

Today, BTB, as she is known, looks won­der­ful in her Chanel coat and pearls, her can­dyfloss hair set off by dark glasses and red lip­stick. But you can tell that she’s in deep mourn­ing: her ap­petite has dis­ap­peared and she’s lost 25lb since her hus­band’s death. ‘Just English break­fast tea with le­mon,’ she in­structs the wait­ress. ‘No food.’

She tells me her shin bones had started pro­trud­ing — she wag­gles an ele­gant leg in a dark wedge shoe — so her doc­tor in­sisted that she eat more pro­tein. She now lives on omelettes.

She also un­der­went a hip oper­a­tion in Au­gust, only a month af­ter los­ing Bob. ‘I was de­ter­mined to come to Lon­don without a cane,’ she says.

THIS visit is to pro­mote the special 40th-an­niver­sary edi­tion of A Woman Of Sub­stance, as well as her 34th novel, In The Lion’s Den, the se­cond in her Vic­to­rian-era saga.

It’s her first trip to The Dorch­ester since Bob’s death. Was she dread­ing the me­mories?

‘We’ve been liv­ing here for 30 years, so I thought I’d be too emo­tional — but it’s been like com­ing home. We have the same suite, so I know where ev­ery­thing is. And, of course, they had all sorts of peo­ple wait­ing when I got here.’

It sounds like a scene from one of her nov­els, where the rags-to-riches hero­ine is greeted by loyal re­tain­ers at her stately home.

But, in real life, Bar­bara is much fun­nier and more down-to-earth. Yes, she loves art deco an­tiques and im­pres­sion­ist paint­ings, and Bob used to buy her spec­tac­u­lar jew­ellery and a Her­mes bag ev­ery year.

Yet she says she hates shop­ping. And ‘I would never ask for favours be­cause of who I am. I don’t be­lieve in that’. Although, she adds, her name did help af­ter Bob’s death. ‘Pro­bate, which can take a year, took three weeks.’ It turned out the fe­male clerk at the court was a Bar­bara Tay­lor Brad­ford fan.

Re­turn­ing home alone was hard. Con­do­lence let­ters poured in, re­call­ing acts of kind­ness even Bar­bara didn’t know about. Bob had sent food bas­kets to friends go­ing through hard times and paid one man’s phone bill for ten years.

He had known hard­ship, though. Bob was Jewish and born in Ber­lin. Af­ter his banker fa­ther’s death in the Thir­ties, Bob was smug­gled out of Nazi Ger­many, at 11, to live with a rel­a­tive in the South of France.

HIS mother es­caped to New York, but trag­i­cally died three weeks be­fore Bob ar­rived af­ter the war. ‘A sad story, but I made up for it,’ says Bar­bara. ‘I gave him a good life.’

In the States, Bob be­came a film pro­ducer and met Bar­bara on a rare visit to Lon­don. A friend of Bar­bara’s had told him to look her up. He called mu­tual friends and her next-door neigh­bour Dorothy and her hus­band Jack Davies, a well-known screen­writer, and they ar­ranged a lunch.

But Bar­bara, then a jour­nal­ist, was on dead­line for a piece and re­fused to at­tend. She was 28, had just split up with a boyfriend and had no de­sire to be tied down.

Even­tu­ally, she was per­suaded, but turned up ca­su­ally dressed. ‘Dorothy was a lit­tle sur­prised I hadn’t changed. “You’re go­ing to re­gret this,” she said.’

When Robert Brad­ford — ‘tall, dark, hand­some and ex­tremely charm­ing’ — walked in, Bar­bara was smit­ten. ‘I was too proud to go home, but I asked Dorothy if I could go to her bed­room and use some of her make-up. She nod­ded and gave me a know­ing look.’

Bob was six years older. But BTB — who had gone on dates with the late pho­tog­ra­pher Terry O’Neill (‘a nice man’) and turned down a spotty young Peter O’Toole — was off younger men. They couldn’t cope with her worka­holic ten­den­cies. But Bob could.

They never had chil­dren. ‘I had two mis­car­riages, then I said: “I’m not go­ing to worry about this any more. If it hap­pens, it hap­pens.” I tend to be a bit of a fa­tal­ist.’

It made the bond be­tween them stronger. ‘I’d take a bul­let for Bob be­cause I love him more than I love my­self,’ Bar­bara told this news­pa­per three years ago.

Bob, for his part, said sim­ply: ‘She’s ev­ery­thing.’

Bar­bara had no in­ten­tion of be­ing a tro­phy wife. They lived in New York for Bob’s ca­reer, but she wrote a news­pa­per col­umn and be­gan and aban­doned four sus­pense nov­els.

Then, one day, she read a quote by Gra­ham Greene that ‘char­ac­ter is plot’ and, sud­denly, ev­ery­thing fell into place. She sent an out­line of A Woman Of Sub­stance to an ed­i­tor, who com­mis­sioned it on the spot.

It was pub­lished when BTB was 46 and went on to sell 35mil­lion copies world­wide.

I can’t help notic­ing that she pub­lished A Woman Of Sub­stance

the year that Mar­garet Thatcher be­came Prime Min­is­ter.

‘Some­one once wrote that if Mar­garet Thatcher had not ex­isted, Bar­bara Tay­lor Brad­ford would have in­vented her,’ she laughs. ‘I was an ad­mirer of hers. I think she took Eng­land off the brink of dis­as­ter.’

Once, BTB was in­vited to Down­ing Street with Bob and she sneaked off to ad­mire a paint­ing of Churchill (her hero). Then she turned round and found Thatcher stand­ing along­side her.

‘I said to her: “When I was a lit­tle girl in Leeds, I never dreamed I’d be in­vited by the Prime Min­is­ter to 10 Down­ing Street and be stand­ing here look­ing at that por­trait.” And she said: “I know what you mean.” ’

Bar­bara tells me Bob made ev­ery­thing in her life eas­ier. He un­der­stood she needed to get up at 4.30am and write all day.

But he wore the trousers, she laughs. Theirs was a tra­di­tional mar­riage. De­spite hav­ing two house­keep­ers, she boiled his eggs ev­ery day (four min­utes ex­actly) and pol­ished the fur­ni­ture her­self. Even late in their mar­riage, the chem­istry was strong. ‘Bob still wanted sex. It was not quite the same. But he was very sex­u­ally in­volved with me, put it that way. And I with him.’

Sex scenes in her books have a re­fresh­ing em­pha­sis on fe­male plea­sure. ‘They are ex­plicit without be­ing vul­gar. I don’t talk about the size of any­thing,’ she says, ges­tic­u­lat­ing with her in­dex fin­ger, ‘but I do talk about what they’re think­ing.’ Men tell her she writes well about them sex­u­ally. ‘And I let them cry.’

Bob was away a lot film­ing. ‘A so-called fe­male friend said: “Don’t you worry when he’s on lo­ca­tion sur­rounded by women?” And I said: “No, he’s mak­ing a movie. He’s too damn busy. If he wanted to have an af­fair, he can leave the house and go down to The Sherry-Nether­land ho­tel and book a suite and get laid!” ’

‘I never asked him ques­tions about any­thing, and he never asked me,’ she con­tin­ues. ‘My at­ti­tude is: as long as I don’t know, it doesn’t mat­ter. To my knowl­edge, Bob Brad­ford never had an af­fair. But if he did, I hope he en­joyed it.’

‘Are you put­ting this in the pa­per?’ she hoots.

When a girl­friend com­plained of her non-ex­is­tent love life, she told her frankly: ‘Don’t as­sume it’s an af­fair. He’s a cer­tain age now, he sup­ports you and your chil­dren in great style. He’s prob­a­bly too tired to get an erec­tion.’

That’s the joy of BTB. She tells it like it is. Af­ter she’d had her hip oper­a­tion, she was told she needed physio ev­ery day. A blow for BTB, who has never ex­er­cised in her life. ‘I had the oper­a­tion at 8am — by 6pm, they had me up on a walker.’

She loved the Pol­ish physio, Pavel, who came to her home. ‘Boy, did he make me move.’

Her only worry was that she needed a chap­er­one if her house­keeper was out. Not for her, for him. ‘I told him: “Look, we live in funny times and I don’t want you to feel awk­ward. It should mat­ter to you be­cause it’s very easy for a woman to say she’s been at­tacked and she hasn’t.”’ Bar­bara talks ad­mir­ingly of the Me­Too move­ment. ‘It was won­der­ful that it hap­pened, but it’s gone a bit too far now. I think there’s an aw­ful lot of de­cent men out there who are afraid to be with women.’

Her sur­geon was amazed by her re­cov­ery. She’s barely had a day ill in her life. She doesn’t smoke and has only the oc­ca­sional glass of cham­pagne. She gets the Daily Mail de­liv­ered ev­ery day and loves watch­ing Bull, a TV drama about jury se­lec­tion on Mon­day nights.

She so­cialises less, though, af­ter one night­mare trip to a ‘mil­len­nial restau­rant’ in New York — ‘it was a ghastly restau­rant and I was sit­ting on a pole that just had a piece of cloth nailed on it’. She could feel Bob’s spirit ad­mon­ish­ing her. ‘I thought: “Oh, Bob, if only I’d lis­tened to you.” ’ She still chats to a pho­to­graph of him.

With no in­ten­tion of re­tir­ing (‘What would I do?’), she is now re­search­ing her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

Fif­teen years ago, her biog­ra­pher, Piers Dud­geon, pre­sented her with doc­u­ments sug­gest­ing her mother, Freda, was ac­tu­ally the il­le­git­i­mate daugh­ter of the 2nd Mar­quess of Ripon, for whom she’d worked as a ser­vant. BTB was in shock.

Her grand­mother, Edith, had died be­fore she was born. (Edith had never dis­closed who fa­thered her chil­dren — Freda also had a brother, Fred, and a sis­ter, Mary.)

It turned out that all the houses she lived in were owned by the Mar­quess of Ripon — though painfully, at one point, her grand­mother and Freda spent time in Ripon work­house.

At first, BTB was adamant her grand­mother’s past stay out of the book. But, even­tu­ally, she agreed to keep the pas­sages in. We’ll never know for cer­tain if it’s true, BTB tells me. But it’s fas­ci­nat­ing how she has spent a life­time writ­ing about aris­to­crats hav­ing af­fairs with ser­vants (in A Woman Of Sub­stance, Emma has an il­le­git­i­mate child by her mas­ter).

Look­ing back, she has al­ways been a fem­i­nist pi­o­neer. ‘I found it more in­ter­est­ing to write about women who went out and con­quered the world — athough I do un­der­stand it’s still a man’s planet in terms of pol­i­tics and con­trol.’ But things are chang­ing, I say. ‘I’m glad that some of these mon­sters have been fin­gered,’ she says, sternly. ‘Be­cause Bob was a movie pro­ducer, there were al­ways these jokes about cast­ing couches and ev­ery­body just laughed. But I’m glad some­body pointed the fin­ger at Har­vey We­in­stein.’

She talks en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about Catch And Kill, the book by Ro­nan Far­row, the son of Mia Far­row and Woody Allen who helped un­cover the We­in­stein abuse al­le­ga­tions.

Though the nov­el­ist in her can’t help ad­ding: ‘I’m pos­i­tive he’s Frank Si­na­tra’s son. Si­na­tra was Mia’s first hus­band, and I checked the dates and he was def­i­nitely still alive. He was in his 80s, so I don’t know if he could im­preg­nate her. It’s pos­si­ble that at one point they froze his sperm.’

YOu can’t be a nov­el­ist without two qual­i­ties, she ad­vises me: ‘An imag­i­na­tion and an abil­ity to tell a lot of lies.’

Though many of her own sto­ries have ba­sis in fact. The novel of which she is proud­est, The Women In His Life, is partly based on Bob’s child­hood as a Jewish boy caught up in the Holo­caust. ‘I cried the en­tire time I wrote it.’

She talks pas­sion­ately about the rise of anti-Semitism. ‘Bob was very sad lately, as he watched the news. He said to me when we were in Eng­land in Fe­bru­ary: “I can’t be­lieve the anti-Semitism here, and it’s worse in Paris and it’s back in Ber­lin. I never thought I would live to see the day when Nazism rose to the sur­face again.” ’

In the last days of Bob’s life, she couldn’t write. She was due to pen a third in­stal­ment in her House Of Fal­coner saga, but could not face the re­search. Yet, sit­ting by his bed, she had an idea for a pre­quel to A Woman Of Sub­stance.

Af­ter Bob died, she scrib­bled a syn­op­sis. She has de­cided to take read­ers back be­fore the start of her best­seller with the story of Blackie O’Neill (played by Liam Nee­son in the TV adap­ta­tion), Emma Harte’s clos­est friend.

The novel Blackie And Emma will open five years be­fore they fa­mously meet on the York­shire moors, with Blackie, aged 13, or­phaned in County Kerry.

Bob was by her side when she wrote A Woman Of Sub­stance. ‘I rather like the idea of vis­it­ing Blackie again and in­vent­ing a life we never saw. My ed­i­tor said to me: “It’s Bob’s fi­nal gift to you,” ’ she says, poignantly.

IN The Lion’s Den by Bar­bara Tay­lor Brad­ford is out now (harperColl­ins, £16.99)

To my knowl­edge, Bob never had an af­fair — but if he did I hope he en­joyed it! As long as I don’t know, it doesn’t mat­ter...

De­voted: Bar­bara and Bob at their home in New York in 2016 and (above) the young au­thor

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