'My songbird has gone' Robin Gibb's wife Dwina speaks exclusively about the pain of losing her husband
22:11 GMT, 17 August 2012
In this exclusive interview, the first since the death of her husband Robin in May, Dwina Gibb speaks movingly to David Wigg about the love they shared – and the pain of losing him
Robin Gibb was lying in a coma at the London Clinic. At his bedside his devoted wife Dwina was trying to be upbeat so that he didn’t sense how serious his battle against cancer had become.
There, too, were his son Robin-John, known as R-J, and his older brother and fellow Bee Gee Barry, who had just flown in from his home in Miami. Having lost his two other brothers – Andy to a heart infection in 1986 and Maurice to complications from a twisted intestine nine years ago – Barry was distraught to see Robin now desperately clinging to life in intensive care.
Then, recalls Dwina, her eyes moistening at the memory, there was a remarkable moment.
Robin Gibb and Dwina with beloved pet dogs at their home in Thame, Oxfordshire
‘At one point, Barry decided to sing to him and we noticed that Robin started mouthing the songs, even though he was unconscious. When we played his recording of I Started A Joke his mouth started moving on cue at the parts where he should have been singing and tears started falling all over his cheeks. It was extraordinary and gave us hope.
‘Later I played some of the Titanic Requiem Robin had just finished writing, and on one of the songs called Distress, a very strong piece, the electrodes attached to him were going up and down.
The nurse said, “Wow!” Then he just opened his eyes. It was strange how that piece of music he and our son R-J had written together actually brought him out of the coma.
We ended up having a wonderful few weeks with him. Then of course pneumonia got him. But thankfully, we had that bit of extra time together.’
The pair met in a trendy King's Road restaurant in 1967 and continued a great relationship
I had known Robin for 45 years since we first met in Casserole, a trendy King’s Road restaurant in 1967.
He and his brothers, Barry and twin Maurice, were just starting out on their road to fame and had bounced through the door full of energy, eagerness and excitement. I recall him telling me how he’d first fallen in love with Dwina and how they had so much in common, both loving art.
Dwina was at Robin’s side through every stage of his two-and-a-half-year battle against cancer of the liver and colon, but neither of them had been able to face the possibility that he might not recover. Both determined, brave, positive people, the talk was always of the future.
Dwina speaks candidly now about the death of her husband
When the end came it was as if a part of her had been severed. Now, in her first interview since his death, Dwina is speaking candidly about the pain of losing her husband.
‘There’s just a terrible finality at the moment when the soul leaves and you realise there is no access any more,’ she says quietly. ‘I think I feel more drained now, because I had great strength all the way through. At the moment I’m just trying to come to terms with it.
I think it will actually take a long time. I feel like I’m taking baby steps into a wilderness. It’s almost like starting over again.’
Although she could never quite accept that the family were going to lose him, she says, ‘I believe in fate to some extent and I believe that we all have a time. This was his time.
The karma had finished and what he was doing here – it was time for him to move on to wherever he has gone and I have given my whole blessing to that. And what an amazing legacy he left behind to this world.’
We are in the timbered sitting room of the Gibbs’ magnificent 12th-century mansion in Oxfordshire.
The house, a former monastery set in 100 acres, is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and centuries later Henry VIII brought his young bride Anne Boleyn here.
In the past, whenever I have visited, Robin would always be standing at the doorway waiting to greet me, there would be a warm hug from Dwina, and then he would settle down in his favourite armchair flanked by his two beautiful Irish wolfhounds Ollie and Missy.
Today I had expected a sombre mood, but when I arrive there is much excitement going on. Dwina immediately takes me through to her husband’s music room where she has discovered a dark spot on the wall and workmen are now carefully exploring what is behind it.
They have found some unusual blue brickwork and there is every indication there may be a ‘priest-hole’, or even a secret tunnel. Dwina, wearing a deep blue jacket of crushed velvet and black trousers, with a silk scarf around her neck, sinks into one of the huge sofas. She would clearly love to be sharing this new discovery with Robin.
‘Towards the end, Robin asked if he could come home from hospital, but it wasn’t possible,’ she says. ‘“What am I doing here” he would ask.
The couple in happier times in 1994, when Robin was hospitalised he would always ask to just come home
He did come home once and would just sit in the garden with a cup of tea and the dogs by his side.
Whenever he came back from chemotherapy he went straight out into the garden under an umbrella. Even now I think to myself, “I must take Robin a cup of tea in the garden.”’ Her eyes fill with tears as she looks out to the garden as if he was still there.
‘Robin wanted to bring Ollie into the hospital, but of course that wasn’t allowed. I always made sure I was happy when I went to visit him, so he didn’t think anything was getting too serious.
He never gave the impression he wasn’t going to make a full recovery or that this was going to be the final curtain. We’d watch films together: Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black, which he loved, Jane Eyre, the Marx Brothers. It’s such a final parting and he was so brave to the end.
Of course, we had 32 years together. We went through all kinds of things. We had great times, the drama that goes with rock ’n’ roll, and very funny times too, because Robin was extremely humorous. All the Bee Gee brothers were. So it really was 32 years of drama and laughter. It’s been very enjoyable and adventurous.’
Bee Gees – Barry 12 and 9-year-old twin brothers Robin and Maurice Gibb
Dwina, a talented artist and writer from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, first met Robin in 1980 and they discovered their birthdays were on the same day.
She impressed him with her art and he commissioned her to do some drawings for him. She didn’t finish them, Robin later told me, as she thought if she did the relationship would end. ‘She was very superstitious, being from Ireland,’ he said.
They became friends and he mentioned he was looking for somewhere to live. One day she found what she thought would be the perfect house for him on Barnes Common, in south-west London. ‘Little did I realise that one day I would be moving into it with him,’ she tells me now.
They married five years after they’d met. It was Robin’s second marriage and instead of going for a big showbiz wedding, they decided on a registry office.
Robin and Dwina at home in 1986 in Ireland with their son Robin John
But in their haste they realised they’d forgotten to buy weddings rings. Dwina recalls, ‘I’d given Robin an Anglo-Saxon king’s ring, so he used that. He had given me a star ring with a diamond in the middle and I wore that.
'I’d also given him a traditional Irish ring and he wore those rings every day afterwards. But when he fell into the coma, his fingers swelled up so badly the doctors removed the rings.’ She wore them to his funeral.
Robin first became ill with an attack of stomach cramps in October 2010, and after an emergency operation doctors discovered he had an intestinal blockage and only had two hours to live without immediate surgery.
After more tests doctors found there were some cancer cells and wanted him to go back for scans, but Robin refused. Dwina recalls, ‘R-J and I sat up pleading with him to go.
But he was intent on going to Australia as part of a world tour that had been arranged. He didn’t want to stop and I said, “Please just have the scan.”
‘Despite all his wonderful ways, Robin could be very stubborn and he never liked bad news – he just didn’t want to know. He also wanted to see his sister Lesley, whom he had been close to when they were growing up.
So he saw her in Australia and then, because he didn’t want to let anyone down, he went on to do a show in New Zealand as they’d just experienced an earthquake. Maybe it was very important for him to do that show, but it was still important for him to have his scans.
‘I was, of course, very worried. And I couldn’t go on the tour with him because my mother Sadie ended up in hospital with a blockage in the colon – the same thing as Robin – so I had to go back to Ireland to look after her with my sister. Fortunately she was fine.
Then I met up with Robin again, and R-J and myself got a doctor friend, who is also a psychiatrist, to come in and really talk to Robin and persuade him to go for the scans.
‘Robin was a vegetarian and I gave him healthy foods and teas and alternative medicines, and consulted every possible book on ways to nourish him and try to build up his strength.
Robin Gibb with his wife Dwina Murphy-Gibb and his mother Barbara and father Hugh Gibb
And he was doing fairly well on them. But I don’t think the delay helped things, especially as it was discovered the cancer had gone on to a secondary stage.
‘No one could have had the courage that he had in the last couple of years,’ Dwina continues. ‘He carried on doing the things he had to do, almost as if there was an urgency to get things done. It was as if he knew there was only a certain amount of time, but he didn’t want to face the thought that perhaps time was running out.’
Indeed, strong-willed Robin was convinced he had beaten the cancer, as he told me himself in March, in what was to be his last interview shortly before he died.
We had sat in this same room drinking tea as he told me how his doctors were amazed with the way he had responded to treatment following some intense chemotherapy. It had been a conversation of hope and passionate belief.
Robin was determined to finish his Titanic Requiem, his classical work to commemorate this year’s 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. ‘He worked so hard, sometimes throughout the night, to achieve that,’ says Dwina.
The famous band in 1976 – they took the world by storm with their musical talents
One of the most stressful times for her was when she had to leave Robin in the hospital and attend the premiere of the requiem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in April without him. ‘He was in a coma and I didn’t know if I was ever going to hear his voice again.
When I arrived at the rehearsals the day before, I just broke down. All Robin had wanted was to see it. He’d been prepared to go in a wheelchair. Barry was going to take him and everything had been arranged, but Barry couldn’t go himself in the end because he was so emotionally upset after seeing his brother in intensive care.
‘I think for Barry it must be dreadful because he’s lost three of his brothers and he must feel terribly alone. Robin was an inspiration for Barry.
He had the ability to inspire anyone to create. Of course, Barry was very creative himself – all the brothers were. When they were together it was just magic.’ As with any pop group there were creative tensions occasionally, but it was always Robin, with his ready smile and willingness to play the court jester, who would restore harmony.
The family are an extremely close one and were all there to support Robin when he was hospitalised
‘Robin absolutely lived music,’ says Dwina. ‘It was not just a love – it was his life. He could have sudden inspiration at any time.
Even in the middle of the night while I was lying in bed I’d hear the keyboards going and this beautiful voice singing like an angel in the room next door, because he always had a keyboard set up next to the bedroom. He had such an unusual voice – like a choirboy. There was such an amazing vibrato in his voice.’
The day before the funeral in June, Robin’s body, lying suited in his coffin with his trademark round, blue glasses, was brought back to the house and placed in the beamed refectory attached to the old monastery’s chapel.
'What kind of amazing karma does someone have, to be able to actually stir the world like that I was very lucky to live with that for so long. Its touched me and affected me deeply'
Loyal Ollie crept into the room and settled down to guard his master’s coffin, keeping a vigil all night. Robin didn’t like the idea of a dark hearse, so Dwina decided the white coffin should be taken to the church in a glass carriage, drawn by two proud black horses and led by a Scottish piper.
Ollie and Missy joined the procession as well. R-J moved Dwina to tears as he paid tribute to his father. ‘My best friend. My daddy. I love you so much. You were a brilliant light and a true inspiration.’ Then he stepped down to kiss the coffin.
As her own personal tribute to Robin, Dwina read a love poem she had specially written entitled My Songbird Has Flown. Robin’s two children from his first marriage, Melissa and Spencer, were also there.
After the service, each mourner was asked to throw a red rose over the coffin. ‘He always bought me red roses for my birthday or our anniversary. Although I was never sure whether they were actually organised by a secretary, as he wasn’t really one to celebrate birthdays,’ she says.
‘I would have to remind him. Those things were very mundane to him. His mind was away on creating all the time.’
Dwina tells me she believes in reincarnation and that meditation has helped ease her grief. And she now sleeps with his teddy bear. ‘It’s a great comfort to me.
I gave it to him a long time ago and had his initials embroidered on its little blue shirt.’ All round the house are photographs, books and statues Robin and Dwina had collected on their travels together. ‘I have had a wonderful time,’ she continues, ‘a wonderful love.
'It was a sharing. There is something very important about the person who creates, especially someone who’s stirred millions of people. Someone like that has to be in touch with the divine.
What kind of amazing karma does someone have, to be able to actually stir the world like that I was very lucky to live with that for so long. It’s touched me and affected me deeply.
'I’m creative myself and have written novels and done a lot of art work but during the whole time I was with Robin I never did anything with them.
'That is something I would like to do now, to help me readjust to this situation and the future sadly without him.
‘I am eternally proud of my husband and all his achievements. And I am honoured to have shared my life with him.’
An album of Robin’s new songs will be released in the autumn.