'I finally found Mr Right after 30 years of Mr (oh-so) Wrong' Romantic novelist Susan Lewis's love life wasn't as successful as her books
15:44 GMT, 26 July 2012
When the tall, slightly greying stranger walked into the restaurant it felt as if he’d stepped straight out of my dreams.
Dashing and sophisticated, James was perfect, and from the moment we introduced ourselves at a dinner hosted by mutual friends, the chemistry between us was fizzing.
If I’d been less scarred by my many mistakes of my past, I might have trusted right away that he was ‘the one’. But while he’d spent the last three decades being married, bringing up children and getting divorced, I’d been lurching from one romantic catastrophe to another — hoping, believing, praying that someone was out there for me somewhere.
Susan Lewis found love with partner James Garrett, pictured at their home in Bagstone near Bristol
All through my 20s, 30s and 40s, I tried everything to find true love — blind dates, singles bars and even cosmic ordering (when you think of your heart’s desire, mentally order it with the universe and hope it comes back fulfilled) — but nothing worked.
Aged 50, I was left wondering what the heck was wrong with me and why something that had happened so naturally for most of my friends seemed so difficult for me.
I’d had great jobs — working in TV until my mid-30s then becoming a writer. You’d think I’d have had ample opportunity to meet Mr Right. I’d also travelled extensively and, although I’m no Elle Macpherson, I held my own against the back end of a No 46 bus.
I did meet men but had an unerring knack of attracting the wrong type. There was the journalist who was into sado-masochistic sex, and the married man who promised me the world but wouldn’t leave his wife.
There was the highly strung director too scary to be around for long (think devil worship); the small-fry lawyer with a huge opinion of himself; and the smooth-talking, jet-setting executive with a horrid little beard and OCD who would even tidy my father’s house.
Susan travelled alone when researching her novels and enjoyed the single life (posed by model)
What was I thinking At times, I questioned whether I was safe to be let out on my own.
Sadly, alone was how I travelled to research my novels (I’ve now written 30 bestsellers, which amazes even me!). And alone was how I set off in search of a new life on the French Riviera at the age of 34.
I was single, enjoying some success as a writer and keen for adventure. And wow, did I get it! Mainly because I met the American man who tops my list of unsuitable suitors.
To my ever-lasting shame and embarrassment, I became involved with one of the FBI’s Most Wanted. I’ll call him Paul (it seems kinder than the other epithets that leap to mind). I heard about him through my French neighbours who, I soon discovered, were being paid to keep him one step ahead of the law.
They would drive or fly him to various exotic hideouts, always beneath Interpol’s radars because the authorities would have shipped him straight off to the States.
They told me about his smuggling antics. However, they painted a picture of him as a debonair man who led life in the fast lane but who had a wonderfully sensitive streak. And a smuggler sounds so romantic when you think of it in an old Cornish sort of way, rather than a seedy drug-trafficker sort of way.
Before I knew it, he was sending a chauffeur-driven car to transport me to a five-star hotel in Cannes for champagne cocktails and an evening of ballet.
There was an undeniable physical attraction between us, and a truly memorable time followed — albeit one fraught with clandestine rendezvous and frantic phone calls when he feared the police were closing in. I’d had women as rivals before, but now I was shooting it out with the world’s most powerful law-enforcement workers.
The question of ‘It’s them or me’ had never been so thrilling because I was certain I’d always get the answer I wanted to hear. He was hardly going to choose a 20-year stretch over me, was he Then, a few months into our relationship, he gave himself up.
He’d learned that his brother, who was in custody, would be sentenced to 25 years if Paul didn’t surrender. If he did, it would be cut to 12 years. So Paul flew back to the States and got 12 years, too.
Before I knew it, he was sending a
chauffeur-driven car to transport me to a five-star hotel in Cannes for
champagne cocktails and an evening of ballet
While I should have run in the other direction I — wait for this — moved myself and my dogs to Los Angeles so I could visit him.
There was no limit to how wrong I could get this love thing.
Now, of course, I’m horrified by my staggering naivete and appalling lack of judgment in falling for such a man, let alone following him across the globe. The only excuse I can give is that I was still reeling from my father’s death a couple of years earlier, and allowed myself to get swept away by the drama of it all.
In the end, I only visited the prison once, and the relationship fizzled out. Paul’s ex-wife threatened to stop taking their children to see him if I continued to go. She had plans to win him back.
But I soon found that I loved living in LA. And the shame of why I’d come was eased when a new neighbour moved in after three months. It was George Clooney.
My darling dog Casanova tried to play Cupid by breaking into his garden (no, I didn’t make the hole myself, how could you even think it) and trying to get it on with his Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
Sadly, George wasn’t at home so didn’t turn up on my doorstep to complain then fall in love with me.
Sadly, George wasn't at home so didn't turn up on my doorstep to complain then fall in love with me
So the years rolled on with the hope of a wonderful relationship blooming in my dreams — and withering in the face of reality. The only sex life I had was in the fiction I wrote, and though my friendships and career were a great source of fun and celebration, I never had that one special person who was there just for me. So at the age of 45, I got a therapist.
I’d already worked out that most of my problems stemmed from losing my mother at the age of nine to breast cancer, followed by a calamitous spell at a boarding school, from which I was expelled for doing everything I could to get back home to my father.
But the therapist showed me how important it was to revisit the problems of the past to move on from them. So off we plunged into my tormented psyche until we crashed and burned at the bottom.
It was a very painful few weeks but the result was a climb back into a world where I felt calmer and not tempted to hurtle off on another voyage of self-destruction. Sadly, though, therapy wasn’t the magic wand for meeting Mr Right.
In my late 40s, I left LA and spent 18 months in Wiltshire before returning to the south of France, where I had a couple of woeful dabbles in internet dating. There was a recently divorced man with all his hair and teeth but not a whisker of charm; and a sea captain who announced over lunch on our first date that he had only one testicle.
It became clear I had to stop tormenting myself with dreams of a fairytale ending, because it obviously wasn’t going to happen.
The time had come to start accepting that
I was going to grow old alone. It made me feel desperately sad but I
didn’t seem to have much choice
The time had come to start accepting that I was going to grow old alone. It made me feel desperately sad but I didn’t seem to have much choice.
Then, amazingly, three months after my 50th birthday, along came James, a freelance producer and a former ITV commissioning editor.
And we were at dinner in Bristol hitting it off like there could actually be a tomorrow. A week later, he drove down to Devon, where I was researching my book Missing. We had lunch, then took off to the coast to explore beaches I’d visited with my parents as a child. We had so much to talk about that he didn’t leave until late evening, and told me later he sang at the top of his voice all the way home.
A fortnight afterwards, I returned to France and he flew to see me. So began the regular trips between his home in Bristol and Nice.
Though I was in a much healthier state of mind, over the first few months of our relationship there were times when I tried to push him away before he could give up of his own accord. I kept waiting for fate to throw off its happy-ever-after cloak and shout ‘Gotcha!’ like some horrible pantomime villain.
But James never gave up. Here, finally, was a man who wanted to be with me, valued our time together, and did everything in his power to enrich it — from candlelit dinners to cards with exquisitely romantic messages and gifts of the most beautiful lingerie I’ve ever owned.
He made me laugh and feel glad to be alive. He even read all my books!
Several months into our relationship he brought his sons, then aged ten and 13, to France to meet me and we had a riotous time.
It might have taken until I was 50 to
find the right man, and I’ve smooched more than my share of pond life
along the way, but kissing James has been more than worth the wait
I’ve never had any children of my own (probably for the best considering what an unsuitable mother I’d have made during my fertile years), but in my 30s I certainly wanted them. It’s too late now and, actually, I don’t mind a bit.
James’s boys have become a very important part of my life and I hope, like their father, they always will be.
Almost six years have gone by since James and I met. Two years ago, I moved back to England to be close to him, though we aren’t living together. Our homes are 12 miles apart. We spend every weekend together and a night or two in the week. I think having separate dwellings keeps our relationship fresh.
However, James recently steered me into my favourite jewellers and told me to order the ring of my dreams. So I’m to be a blushing bride at the age of 57, when we get married next year at a chateau in the south of France.
It might have taken until I was 50 to find the right man, and I’ve smooched more than my share of pond life along the way, but kissing James has been more than worth the wait.
No Child of Mine by Susan Lewis (www.susanlewis.com) is published by Century, priced 12.99.