The husband I love left me for the man upstairs…that's God, just in case you're wondering
22:12 GMT, 14 November 2012
Last week I went to see Skyfall with my very best friend. Exactly 50 years earlier I had seen Dr No with him, so you could say we have ‘Bonded’ for half a century.
Who is this person In 1962, he was my brand new boyfriend. Then he became my husband. Later still he became my ex-husband. But through all the changing scenes of our lives, we have remained best mates.
I know that if I was in trouble or needed help, Neville would be the first person to rush round and offer assistance. I like to think I would do the same for him. When we meet, we chatter endlessly and if we had 50 more years left on the planet, we would never run out of things to say to each other.
Liz and her ex-husband, Neville, today: Liz found out what a hold belief can have over someone
So if we get on so well, you may ask, why is he an ex and not my spouse The short answer is that at some time during our relationship, Neville had an experience of love and bliss that was so dramatic, so life-changing, that nothing, not even his wife and family, could come close.
And no, it’s not what you are thinking. It wasn’t another woman who broke us. It was a man. The man upstairs — yes, Neville found God. I never would have seen it coming — but now, with us both still the best of friends, I’m so glad it did.
Our story together began when we were both 18 and in our first year at Newcastle University. I had been unceremoniously dumped by a glamorous but rotten older man — all of 22 — and was feeling particularly fragile when a fresh-faced, fair-haired unknown young man called round one evening to my bedsitter, on the off-chance I might be in.
I was sitting by the gas-fire, chain smoking Gitanes cigarettes and nursing my broken heart. Neville explained himself by saying he had seen me around and was longing to meet me.
As we got talking, it became clear that there was an instant and astonishing rapport between us. There was not a trace of awkwardness from the very first moment of meeting.
After this he walked back the four miles to his own place ‘on air’. /11/14/article-2233089-160386EC000005DC-631_634x887.jpg” width=”634″ height=”887″ alt=”Liz and Neville as a young couple in 1962: They both dreamed about becoming Fleet Street journalists” class=”blkBorder” />
Liz and Neville as a young couple in 1962: They both dreamed about becoming Fleet Street journalists
Neville and I had so much in common. We were the same age, had taken identical O-levels and A-levels and were both the first people in our families to go to university. Financially, we also both had plenty of nothing, apart from our student grants.
Although we came from very ordinary backgrounds we were highly ambitious and both dreamed of becoming Fleet Street journalists. We had no idea how we would manage it, but the feeling was that together we could do anything.
We married at 21, and moved to a dingy bedsit in Newcastle with 30 to our name. We didn’t care, we were so much in love.
And gradually our hopes and dreams began to be realised. We worked in the North East for local newspapers, bought a rundown house, and in 1968 and 1969, our sons Tom and Will were born.
Both boys were not only very much wanted, but their arrival was meticulously planned down to the last month. Neville was then offered a job in Fleet Street. We moved to London, and soon I, too, had landed my dream job as a journalist.
Neville, I have to say, was wonderfully supportive of my career, which was quite unusual for husbands in the early Seventies, especially as I soon became a big earner. Living in Richmond, we moved to bigger and better houses as our salaries increased and we were able to send both boys to public schools.
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We ended up living in a beautiful Queen Anne house by the river, now worth around 3.5 million. And we had a glamorous Morgan sports car. We got on so well, enjoyed each other’s company so much, that the boys rather missed out, as when they were children, we would always prefer to talk to each other rather than to them.
It seemed we had the perfect yuppie life. People probably envied us. We had certainly come a long way from our humdrum origins. But although everything may have seemed smooth on the surface, after about a dozen years of marriage, huge cracks had started to show.
It began with me. I was reading feminist books and starting to question the choices I had made. It now seemed to me I had married and embarked on a family too early, without giving myself a chance to ‘find myself’, to experience living on my own, or enjoy adult life as a single girl.
I had gone straight from being a student to being a married woman and not long after, to being a mother. I started to bridle at domesticity and yearn for freedom. But I was still very fond of Neville and did not want to break up the family.
Neville had an unexpected blissful experience in Westminster Abbey
Meanwhile, Neville was changing, too. He would leave me — and our relationship — far behind. One day, in 1981, when he was a medical correspondent on a major newspaper, Neville went somewhat reluctantly to a meditation session in Westminster Abbey on the invitation of a doctor contact.
His reluctance stemmed from his rabid atheism and profound dislike of anything churchy or religious. Plus, he was extremely sceptical about meditation, then seen as cranky and cultish. Neville had a hard-headed, rational and scientific kind of mind.
But to his utter surprise, he had a blissful, transcendental experience in the Abbey, in the middle of his working day.
From then on everything changed for all of us. Neville began to be interested in meditation, and as a good investigative journalist, he wanted to get to the bottom of it all.
Not long after, he came across the Brahma Kumaris, an Indian-style modern spiritual movement run by women, which is based on Hinduism. Other followers included the late Robin Gibb. Whenever Neville sat in meditation with this group, he again had a transcendental experience.
He was keen for me and the boys to experience this same bliss. Unfortunately we never did — but we soon enacted startling innovations at home.
We became vegetarian and also celibate in our marriage, going into separate bedrooms. Neville still had a big career in Fleet Street, but meditation was beginning to dominate his life and change him from being a hard-drinking, adrenaline-fuelled reporter into somebody capable of entering a state of peace and calm several times a day.
'There is nothing so powerful and unstoppable as a religious conversation, as I was to discover'
His new austere life saw him rise at 4am to meditate, precluded alcohol, dinner parties, cinema, theatre and all the things we had enjoyed together. Eventually, he found God (or God found him) and I, as a mere mortal, even with the charms Neville had once loved, could not compete. There is nothing so powerful and unstoppable as a religious conversion, as I was to discover.
The best way I can describe it is to say it’s like falling passionately, overwhelmingly and obsessively in love. Either that, or like having the most wonderful drug high, without the downsides. People are surprised at Tom Cruise’s attachment to Scientology, which has apparently ruined two marriages. But I’m not; I know what a hold such a belief can take. You can let the wives go, but you cannot let go of your beliefs.
So we began leading completely separate, celibate lives, although we were still technically a couple. We even lived in separate parts of the same house, Neville as the ‘mad husband in the basement’, and me and the boys on the upper floors.
But as Neville became more focused on the spiritual life, it became clear we would have to part and wish each other well on our individual journeys. Again, an event out of the blue cleared the way.
I was sitting at home one Saturday afternoon — Neville was at work — when the phone rang. It was a woman, unknown to me, who wanted to buy our house. It was not even on the market and although beautiful, still needed an enormous amount of work. It had been derelict when we bought it.
Neville was not keen to sell. He had spent three years tussling with the council to get planning permission for some major alterations to this Grade II listed building.
Next morning, however, after his meditation class, he said he had changed his mind. Our younger son Will was about to go to university and Tom had already left home, so there was nothing, really, to keep us together.
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His newly-found God smiled on us. The planning permission came through and as a result the house doubled in value overnight, enabling us to afford to get divorced. The woman bought our house and after 22 years of marriage, we went our separate ways. We moved into our own flats in Central London, which we helped each other choose.
On the day the decree absolute came through, we celebrated by going out to a vegetarian restaurant and Neville said he enjoyed the occasion far more than our wedding!
There was no acrimony, and no argument over who got what. We just split the so-called assets down the middle. Nobody else was involved, unless you count God as co-respondent, and that made the whole thing cleaner and less fraught than it might have been.
Since then, we have been in almost daily contact, discussing every aspect of our now very different lives. Neville’s mother said once: ‘You would never know they were even divorced.’
In 1994, Neville decided to give his life up entirely to God — he has been living at the Brahma Kumaris’ retreat just outside Oxford since, where they host gatherings for those in need of spiritual support.
At 68, he looks far younger and is much happier and healthier than most men of his age. He puts this down to his daily meditation, and the monkish life seems to suit him. And he travels the world as an ambassador for his movement.
We still get together to take our grandchildren out on a treat, to a wildlife park, panto or seaside. These days out are highly enjoyable for us all, although the grandchildren do ask, ‘Why are you divorced’
Why indeed Ever since the first day we met, we have never stopped laughing and joking together, or sending each other up — gently, we hope. Tom and Will, now in their 40s, have a good relationship with him and he is close to their wives. The grandchildren love him.
He has even taken a wry interest in my apparently doomed search for a new life partner.
So is there any chance we might get back together in the evening of our lives and be a big happy family once again No, none whatever.
We have fun looking back and looking forward, talking over our plans for the future, but as individuals, never as a couple. Who would have thought we’d have ended up here