Nothing is more painful than your children calling another woman 'Mum'
22:36 GMT, 16 May 2012
Until recently, I was a fan of the actress and model Liz Hurley, but that was before she met her current fiance, Australian cricketer Shane Warne, and acted in a manner so thoughtless — if not deliberately provocative — towards the former Mrs Warne, Simone Callahan, that I began to vehemently dislike her.
This week, Liz announced breezily that Warne’s three children called her Mummy Two. Her crass insensitivity to Simone’s feelings was breathtaking. I speak as someone with long and bitter experience of coping with an ex-husband’s new woman.
Eight years ago, a woman 20 years my junior moved in on my husband, Rod Liddle. It was a source of unspeakable anger and hurt, but what caused me unparalleled distress then — and if I’m honest, still rankles today — was the way this woman assumed a maternal role with my sons.
Too close for comfort: Liz Hurley with (from left) her son Damian,
and her fiance Shane Warne's children Brooke and Jackson
My split from Rod, former editor of Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, was a particularly rancorous one. We’d been together for 11 years and had two sons before we were married. Then, just four months after our wedding he left us for his 22-year-old receptionist, Alicia Monckton.
The memories of those painful first years after the split came flooding back when I saw photographs this week of Hurley attending a sports match in Melbourne, Australia, with her son Damian, ten, plus Shane and his daughter Summer, also ten.
What a happy picture of family togetherness they presented! And how incensed Simone must have felt when she saw Ms Hurley — wreathed in artful smiles for the cameras — looking so at ease with beaming little Summer. I felt such empathy with Simone, and know exactly the hurt she is feeling.
For Alicia, though barely more than a child herself, was also disconcertingly swift at assuming a maternal role with my boys.
'The brazen insensitivity of Ms Hurley is breathtaking. How could she not imagine that it would be unspeakably wounding for a mother to hear that her husband's girlfriend was blithely usurping her role'
Straightaway, she was at my husband’s side when it was his turn to spend a weekend with them. It was she who delivered the boys back to me in a new four-by-four he’d bought for her. She took them on days out while my husband and I worked. He paid for her to stay at home, something he never did for me.
She bought them clothes — inappropriate and hippy-ish — which I promptly parcelled up and dispatched back to their doorstep. Then, when Rod announced he was taking our sons, then five and six, on holiday to Disney World, Florida, with his new mistress, barely six months into their relationship, the despair I felt all but consumed me.
I could not bear the thought of their cosy menage. I could not endure the idea of them playing happy families together; especially as Rod had always been disdainfully dismissive whenever I’d mentioned taking the boys to the theme park, saying he “couldn’t think of anything worse”.
More than that, the fact my sons would be sharing a once-in-a-lifetime holiday with the woman who’d stolen their father away from me was utterly crushing. Faced with the news, I was beyond distressed. But then, an idea formed in my mind.
Galling: Shane's ex-wife Simone has had to endure watching her children bond with Liz on TV and in the press
It was two weeks before they were due to go to America — so I decided I would beat them to it by taking the boys to Disneyland, Paris. My pre-emptive strike worked: Rod and Alicia abandoned their Disney trip, we had a lovely time and I scored a small triumph for abandoned spouses.
So as a mother who has endured similar pangs of pain and fury, I know exactly how wretched Simone would have felt when Ms Hurley announced that Warne’s three children — he has another daughter Brooke, 14, and a 12-year-old son, Jackson — had started to call her ‘Mummy Two’.
Mrs Warne’s response was a model of restraint. Speaking to Australia’s Women’s Day magazine, she said she found it painful to see Ms Hurley with her three children by Warne, adding: ‘I can’t control what people say, but it’s just disrespectful as far as I’m concerned. She is not their mum. And the kids know exactly what the situation is.’
'I know from experience that a mother’s love for her children is not only all-consuming and unconditional, it is also fiercely protective and possessive'
My reaction, I’m afraid, would have been far less measured: the brazen insensitivity of Ms Hurley is breathtaking. How could she not imagine that it would be unspeakably wounding for a mother to hear that her husband’s girlfriend was blithely usurping her role And, to add insult to injury, was alerting the rest of the world to the fact
Let me ask Ms Hurley this: put yourself in Simone’s shoes. What if Steve Bing, the father of your son, were to take up with a beautiful Hollywood actress — perhaps one younger and more successful than you — and this woman announced she was getting on so swimmingly with little Damian that she had invited him to call her Mummy Would you like it I’m confident you would be absolutely appalled.
I know from experience that a mother’s love for her children is not only all-consuming and unconditional, it is also fiercely protective and possessive. My ex-husband is now married to Alicia and they have a seven-year-old daughter together. The hurt I felt at his betrayal has now receded.
But I confess I still cannot bear to imagine my boys, now aged 12 and 14, spending happy weekends en famille, with Alicia assuming my role.
I admit, though it may sound petty, that I corrected my sons sharply when they at first referred to her daughter as their sister.
‘She’s your half-sister,’ I told them. ‘I’m not her mother, Daddy’s girlfriend is.’
I was reminding them that she is nothing but a stepmother and I admit part of me relishes the fact that the word ‘wicked’ is still associated with the title.
Uncomfortable meeting: Simone admitted it was awkward when Shane bought Liz to their children's sports day
And there have been times when it has been almost too painful to endure the hurt of seeing my boys ensconced in a happy family circle with her. One occasion will always be seared in my memory. Rod, Alicia, their daughter and my two boys were holidaying together in Greece. They had been invited to stay at a luxurious villa belonging to John Humphrys, who co-presents the Today programme.
I was holidaying, far more modestly, with close family friends in their Greek apartment on a nearby island.
I kept missing the happy family unit I had lost — but far harder, still, was the scene I encountered when I met my boys.
After I’d been up since dawn, taken a ferry, then driven for four hours through mainland Greece, I arrived dishevelled, hot and exhausted at the expensive airport hotel where the Liddles were having lunch.
They were seated — Rod, Alicia, their daughter, my sons — round the table; kempt, glowing with health and smiling. It was a perfect tableau of family happiness and made me feel utterly wretched.
Then Rod compounded my sadness with a remark of crass insensitivity typical of him. He said: ‘Have you had anything to eat’ Before I could admit to being ravenous, he added the stinging rider, ‘because it’s very expensive here. You can’t afford it. Perhaps you should have lunch somewhere else.’ I had to choke back the tears.
Speaking from experience: Rachel knows how it feels to see your own children with a step mother
It is much harder to endure my boys’ absences with their dad and his current wife because they live much more glamorous lives than I do. As a single mother working as a freelance TV reporter — I was made redundant from my full-time post as a news reporter three years ago — life is a financial and physical struggle. Not only do I have to take in lodgers to help pay the rent on my home, I also have to travel — sometimes absurd distances — to work, leaving the boys when I ache to be with them.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling of possessiveness towards my children. Any mother who doesn’t feel this is missing a maternal gene. I know from other women who’ve lost their husbands to sparklier or younger things how threatening a glamorous stepmother can be, especially if they have more children with the ex-husband.
Liz doesn’t represent much of a threat on that score to the first Mrs Shane Warne. At 46 she is unlikely, frankly, to have any more children. IVF is a lot less effective than many would-be late mothers like to think.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Liz has been so keen to foster the idea that she is Mummy Two to Shane’s gorgeous brood — it allows her to think of herself as a bountiful yummy mummy when in fact, despite all her beauty and allure, she has to date produced only one child.
Either that or she is playing the part of victim turned abuser. Having been so cruelly treated by Damian’s father Steve Bing, who doubted his paternity, perhaps she is seeking to reclaim the role of siren, the woman who is simply irresistible to the father of another woman’s children.
Soon after my split, my sons learned quickly not to speak to me about the siren — or slapper as I used to call her — who I felt stole their father. They intuited how much it pained me to hear them chatting about some outing or treat.
Now I am more pragmatic: if Alicia, married to my wealthy ex, who writes lucrative columns in several newspapers, wishes to pay for expensive holidays, treats and outfits, I, who cannot afford to indulge them, am delighted.
And although I don’t feel that awful, corroding fury any more, I admit I’m very glad I no longer have to encounter the current Mrs Liddle on those invidious ‘hand-over’ meetings every divorced couple endures.
My sons are now old enough to travel unaccompanied, by Tube and then train, from our small rented home in London to their father’s palatial home in Kent. So I rarely see Alicia: for this small mercy I am grateful.
However, like many single mothers struggling with finances, I worry my sons will enjoy the comparative affluence of life with their father and wife Number Two. They have a swimming pool in the grounds of their country pile; we, meanwhile squash into our semi with two lodgers.
Heartbreaker: Rod Liddle left Rachel to begin a new relationship with younger Alicia Monckton, right
What if the boys chose to live with their dad I could not imagine living without them and a life in which Alicia was permanently in loco parentis would be unbearable and so unjust.
I’m sure Simone Callahan is in a much better financial situation than me, but even the wealthiest divorcees must harbour similar fears. What if the ex-husband’s life with the new woman holds more appeal than life with Mum, still reeling from the split
Shane and Liz’s glitzy world would be alluring to children. Simone must be dreading every moment her children spend with them in case they choose not to come home.
Unhappily for Simone, her husband’s relationship with Ms Hurley is being played out under the relentless glare of the Press and TV cameras. In a lesser way, so, too, was the break-up of my marriage as Rod traded on his celebrity and the newspapers pounced on news of his infidelities.
Simone, too, must live through her pain under public scrutiny. She was photographed with Liz — the first time they had met in 18 months — and Shane, chatting as they attended a school sports day last month.
Although the facade was a civil one, I know precisely how Simone was feeling. She was wondering why Liz had the brass neck to muscle in on her territory on a day that belonged to Jackson and his Mum and Dad.
She later admitted it was very ‘awkward’ when her ex arrived at the school with Liz in tow. I’d say it was more likely she was boiling with suppressed rage. Rage that Liz Hurley — with her endless legs, glossy hair and grand aura of self-entitlement — should be there at all, let alone assuming her self-appointed role as Mummy Two.