Elisabeth Luard recalls her experience of her cheating husband

Sticking by a straying husband doesn’t make you a doormat: Dominic West’s wife has been pitied for THAT photocall. But in a searingly personal account, author ELISABETH LUARD recalls her own painful experience

  • Receipt for a double room in Cannes hotel found in Nicholas Luard’s pocket
  • Over the 40-year marriage there would be many such ‘discoveries’ says Luard
  • The food writer said she never thought ‘I could change my husband, never even tried’

The first discovery washed over me like a bucketful of cold water. The dry cleaners had found something in my husband’s suit pocket: a receipt for a double room in a Cannes hotel for two nights.

That evening, after I’d settled our newborn son into his cot, I waved the piece of paper under Nicholas’s nose and asked: ‘What the hell is this?’

It was 1964 and I’d known he was attending the Cannes Film Festival with Jack Profumo’s [disgraced former War Secretary] mistress Christine Keeler — they had gone to publicise a film they were planning to make about the scandal. I hadn’t banked on them sharing a room, however.

The late Nicholas Luard and his bride Elizabeth Luard nee Elizabeth Longmore pictured at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London on their wedding day in 1963

At first Nicholas resorted to fibs: ‘Nothing to do with me,’ he said. ‘Sweetheart! Must be a mistake.’ Eventually he settled on the excuse that it was necessary to share a room to save on expenses.

‘Nothing happened, sweetheart. I promise.’

The movie itself also never happened in the end, but you’ll no doubt know the publicity shot taken at Nicholas’s request: Miss Keeler straddling a heart-shaped chair, seemingly naked. She was not a woman you wanted your husband to share a bedroom with, twice.

All these years on, it makes for a droll anecdote but at the time it came as a sharp shock.

Whether from innocence or ignorance, it hadn’t occurred to me that marriage meant anything less than it said it did, forsaking all others until death did us part.

At 21, with a new baby to care for, I didn’t even consider leaving him. It was far easier to choose to believe his version of events.

Yet over the course of our 40-year marriage there would be many such ‘discoveries’. Sixteen years after he drank himself off the planet, I still don’t know half of what Nicholas got up to.

A writer, nightclub owner and well-known philanderer, Nicholas Luard was just as talented, charismatic and persuasive — and for a time, almost as famous — as all the other well-known lovers of women and ‘bon viveurs’ who have littered history.

Now there is another brave and injured wife joining our ranks — the beautiful Catherine FitzGerald, wife of actor Dominic West, 51, and mother to their four children (he also has a 22-year-old daughter from a previous relationship).

This month, photos emerged of the enigmatic West cosying up to his 31-year-old co-star, Lily James. Whatever did, or didn’t, happen between the pair, Catherine, 49, was said to be ‘heartbroken, shocked and devastated’ but the day after his return posed for pictures by his side, playing the archetypal adoring wife.

I see Catherine — beauty, mother of four, with a ten-year marriage to protect — has since taken a ‘work trip’ back to her family seat (a castle in Ireland) to consider (presumably) what comes next. It was something I, too, did many times, before choosing to forgive and forget.

Many have questioned why an independent woman with her own career (Catherine is a landscape designer) would put on such a show of loyalty after being publicly humiliated in this way. But I understand it only too well.

The fact is, like Catherine, I married a man who was clearly attractive to women. So it was throughout his life: sharing a bedroom with Keeler was the least of it. Women see men like Nicholas — a writer, talented, flawed, misunderstood — as a challenge, a problem in need of comfort. And Nicholas had an appetite for comfort.

It could be that Catherine is already an expert in the art of turning the other cheek, as in an interview in 2016 West indicated some enthusiasm for marriages that permit husbands to stray in middle age. ‘I think women should be more indulgent of affairs. I really do,’ he said.

‘It’s daft to kick someone out over a fling, isn’t it?’ he opined. ‘Everyone should turn a blind eye to men’s behaviour between the ages of 40 and 50. Let it all blow over.’

As Catherine has no doubt discovered, there is usually plenty of advice on offer to the spouse of an errant husband, not all of it impartial.

‘Husbands always stray, particularly ones with a reputation like Nicholas’s,’ opined my friend Edie, a sophisticated New Yorker, author of an early feminist tract and, it later turned out, one of Nicholas’s ‘comforters’. Another said: ‘If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question,’ which was probably the most useful advice of all.

I became a master of the ‘blind eye’ and, over time, it became entirely possible to dismiss his fleeting affairs with other women by consoling myself with the fact that I, the wife, partner and mother-of-the-kids, was the one he came home to.

There were also plenty who told me (and probably Catherine, too) to forgive and forget.

Even with hindsight, I don’t regret sticking by Nicholas. Which is not to say such rocky marriages are easy — the reverse. Memories of the bad times have a way of coming back to haunt you when a story that is all too familiar hits the headlines. Even after all these years.

Writers, actors and gamblers share an ability to persuade those who love them that right is wrong and wrong is right. I’d be as rich as American billionaire George Soros if I’d had a dollar for every time I chucked saucepans but ended up believing ‘it meant nothing’ and ‘it’s all over’, followed by ‘I’ll never do it again’.

Perhaps I stayed in a ‘bad’ marriage because it worked for me. I never thought I could change my husband — never even tried. Was this the key to our partnership enduring right to the end?

A long marriage is not all about sex, though sex is certainly part of it, at least at the start — or why would any of us rush to promise eternal fidelity? If you’re in it for the long term, marriage, with or without children, has to be underpinned by friendship. And that is a choice, not an obligation. It means respect, tolerance and the ability to admire.

Catherine first met and fell in love with West, the star of long-running, multi-episode TV series The Affair and known mostly for playing flawed heroes, at Trinity College Dublin, where they were both students.

They drifted apart after university and Catherine went on to marry the 7th Earl of Durham. After her divorce in 2002, Catherine and West rekindled their romance and had children before marrying in 2010. In between, West had developed rather a reputation with the ladies.

As for me, I met Nicholas in the middle of his early fame. He had taken over responsibility for the satirical magazine Private Eye from its first proprietor Andrew Osmond, who ran out of money and patience.

At the time, I was earning my weekly wage typing up copy for the mag, selling it on the streets, issuing invoices and making the tea. Seeing the way the wind blew, the magazine’s first editor, Christopher Booker, walked me round the block and warned me against involvement with the new proprietor. I paid no attention.

For a young woman in 1960s London, there was freedom in the air. With Mary Quant, the Pill and the Rolling Stones came the ability to take romantic decisions into our own hands. And speaking for myself — father killed in the war, mother married again, no one to tell me how to behave — I had no desire to attract the ‘right’ husband.

Nicholas was different from the young men I was supposed to marry in my year as a deb, the ones with a career in merchant banking or Lloyd’s, or maybe even a duke.

He had taken a First at Cambridge, taught Anglo-Saxon poetry at a U.S. university and had boxed for the Army during his time in national service. But above all he was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. Warnings were futile.

My grandmother, rich and well connected, encouraged her granddaughter’s romantic attachment and spilled the beans to her friend, press baron Lord Beaverbrook. My mother, a respectable diplomat’s wife far away with her young family in Mexico, read the story and was not pleased. But she bit the bullet and stumped up a respectable dowry — as was expected, I learned 30 years later, by my soon-to-be in-laws.

Our subsequent marriage in 1963 was given a thorough airing in the Press as ‘Red-haired heiress marries Soho’s king of satire’. The friends he kept — including playboy Dominick Elwes (responsible for the Keeler debacle and, some 20 years later, famous for presumed involvement in the disappearance of Lord Lucan) — were hardly the best influence.

Catherine was said to be ‘heartbroken, shocked and devastated’ after her husband Dominic was pictured cosying up to Lily James but the day after his return posed for pictures by his side, playing the archetypal adoring wife (the couple pictured after the scandal)

And so it wasn’t long before the rumours began to filter back to me. Looking back, I might have taken advice from friends and family and abandoned my own marriage right at the start.

But with my firstborn in my arms, I wasn’t really looking at what my husband was getting up to. And I paid even less attention when another three babies followed in double-quick time.

Nicholas owned a nightclub — London’s first and only satirical theatre club — with his friend and Cambridge contemporary Peter Cook, so when we were still in London he could be expected to be out late with no need to explain why.

We had been married for just four years when I moved the first three of our four children — the youngest was not yet born — to southern Spain. As a diplomatic stepdaughter, I had grown up speaking Spanish on the Latin American circuit. Andalucia felt like home, a place where the children could grow up as I did, where I could afford a young and pretty blonde nanny to help (a mistake, no need to explain).

Nicholas remained mostly in London, taking care of a publishing company he had founded. And I was happy on my own, learning how to care for my family without worrying about what time Nicholas came home. Or even what he was up to when he wasn’t with us.

An early career as a natural history artist kept me doubly busy. But sometimes someone chose to shatter my cosy illusion, revealing what Nicholas had been up to in London without me. Most of the time, I suspect I never found out.

But when the absences became longer, the nanny moved back to London and I found an incriminating letter, the penny dropped.

It didn’t help that when the publishing company failed, our home was signed over to the bank. That was it. I decided it was all over; the children and I would go it alone. We moved into a rentcontrolled flat in London.

The separation lasted six months. I even took a lover and made sure Nicholas knew it. I imagine he didn’t like it but I never asked. One day he sat on the steps of our flat with a bottle of champagne (undrunk) and a bunch of wilting flowers.

It worked. I’m still not quite sure why. Charm, persuasiveness, an ability to quote poetry by heart. That is what I mean when I talk about the importance of the ability to admire: there was so much more to him than philandering.

There was his part in changing the political landscape of his time, the establishment of Scotland’s first wildland trust; a few good books; the first London Marathon, organised against all odds with his friend, the runner Chris Brasher.

Not bad for a life cut short at 66 by his dependence on drink, something that had always plagued him — a hazard, he’d say, of being a writer. And there’s the sadness of it. There were things to do, places to go together, far more to admire. What will Catherine find to admire in Dominic now? He is certainly good-looking, though not classically handsome. And I can’t be the only one who noticed a suspicion of a paunch in the photo with Lily James which started the whole thing off. Or that suspicion of a self-satisfied smile as his wife looks up at him adoringly?

These two things don’t bode well. The paunch says a man in a midlife crisis showing off with a much younger woman. And adoration is not an emotion Catherine is likely to be feeling as it all sinks in.

That the children are supportive of their mother, as reported by a family friend, is what nature intended. With their father presumably away for much of their childhood making movies, working elsewhere, whatever, four siblings born close together (as were mine) make up a family with the parent who is always there.

This is changing as more and more young fathers take up parental responsibilities from choice, allowing mothers to return to a career, interrupted but only briefly, which may be paid as well or even better than theirs.

For my beloved granddaughters (three in London, two in New York), I hope this will be as normal as the right to choose when and with whom to have children.

They are the post-MeToo generation and they may be more relaxed about sex than their parents or grandparents, but infidelity still seems to be the deal-breaker.

I can’t guarantee my style of marriage would work for anyone else. What’s sauce for gander is not always good for the goose.

So to Catherine, or any woman faced with this dilemma, I would say, take him back if that’s what’s on offer and it suits you — and if it doesn’t, get the hell out, make it work for your family however you can. But above all, no regrets

Source: Read Full Article