BetteBack September 27, 1996: The Real First Wives Club

The Real First Wives Club
Daily Mail (London)
September 27, 1996

FWC_The Movie

WITH one in three marriages ending in divorce, it comes as no surprise that the biggest hit in Hollywood this autumn is The First Wives Club, starring Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keeton as three wives who are abandoned for younger women.

FEMAIL tracked down a real-life First Wives Club in the form of three sisters. Julie Murphy, Veronica Hyland and Ann-Marie Woodall are Roman Catholics who grew up in Manchester. They were all married at a early age and each of their husbands left them for a younger model. Here, the sisters talk about their experiences and the status of being a `first wife’.

Veronica Hyland, 43, was married to Tom, a school headmaster, for 20 years.

He left her in 1990 for a 33-year-old mother of two whose children attended his school. Veronica, a sales consultant, now lives near her sister Julie in North Wales. She says:

AS A MARRIED woman, I seemed to have it all. A brilliant career, a farmhouse in the country, three wonderful children and a loving husband. The house had roses around the door, the kids rode ponies and life was good. Hard work, but good.

We both came from big, working-class Roman Catholic families and were determined to get more out of life than the three kids and council house scenario. By the time I was 21, we did have three children – but we had moved far away from the council estate where we were brought up to a cottage in the country.

We both worked our socks off and eventually it paid off. We moved to a farmhouse with seven acres, Tom became headmaster of the village school and I got a well-paid sales job. Looking back, life was idyllic.

Then, in 1989, when Tom and I had been together for almost 20 years, things started to go wrong. The kids were teenagers and at that difficult stage and I’d just started my own consultancy business. I became very depressed. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I sold my share in the business in the June and, for the first time in my life, I didn’t work.

`She’ came on the scene in October. She was the mother of two of the children at Tom’s school. She had just separated from her husband and Tom said she needed looking after.

I’ll never forget the first time I met her. All the parents were painting scenery for Tom’s school pantomime when this woman walked in and just stared at me. It was really strange; the hairs on the back of my neck literally stood up.

Then the lies began. Tom started saying that the school hall was a bit cold and maybe I shouldn’t paint scenery that night. People in the village would ask me if our phone was out of order because they’d seen Tom in a phone box, or that they’d seen him and said hello but that he had blanked them.

When I voiced my suspicions, Tom would say I was imagining it, and because I was so depressed at the time, I thought maybe I was.

In December, Tom announced he needed some space and was going to move out. He insisted there was no one else and that he’d be back when he’d sorted himself out.

Then one day I took his post to the house where he was living and found her clothes all over the living room floor. `I’m just looking after them for a friend,’ said Tom. It was laughable. She was obviously upstairs.

I went straight to the solicitors and started divorce proceedings.

It was such an old cliche. He was 40 and in the throes of a mid-life crisis, he’d found a younger woman who fancied him and he was lapping it up.

In a way, I could understand it, but what I couldn’t forgive was the lies. He denied he was having an affair right up to the day he married her in June 1990. He still saw himself as the good, Catholic man.

The children were devastated. I told them that it was me he’d left, not them, and that he’d always be there for them, but it was very hard for them.

I became very angry yet I was determined to get over it. Life goes on, I told myself.

Then I received a letter from the Bishop telling me that annulment proceedings were underway. Apparently, the school governors were trying to get rid of Tom – affairs were not tolerated in a Catholic school – and he thought he could keep his job by proving our marriage had never been. That crucified me.

Needless to say, he didn’t get what he wanted. Eventually Tom lost his job and moved to a new area. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since.

The divorce came through in May and I spent the rest of the year jetting off to all the places I’d always wanted to see. I had a ball.

With the help of my sisters and family, slowly I started to rebuild my life. I’ve just moved to Wales to a lovely cottage in the mountains to be near my sister Julie, who has been a tremendous support through all the traumas.

Both my sisters have been a phenomenal support to me – I don’t know how I would have coped without them. I would find myself racing down the motorway to see Anne, who would be standing waiting for me with a hug, and Julie was always there at the end of the phone.

When I felt that I had failed completely, they would build me back up and tell me they loved me. Each of them would post me little cards telling me that I could do it, that they were behind me. When you wake up feeling that your world has come to an end, a message like that is an incredible boost.

And since we have all lost our husbands to younger women, we know how to support each other. You can’t put a price on that.

ANN-MARIE WOODALL, 45, was married to Roger for 13 years. He left her when his 28-year-old girlfriend became pregnant. Anne-Marie now runs self-development workshops around the country. She lives with her 19-year-old son in Surrey.

AT 13, I wanted to be a nun; I thought that’s what good Catholic girls did.

But I lost my way a bit because I was pregnant and married at 17, and a single mother at 18.

But I was determined not to sit and become a stereotype. I trained to be a croupier, went to London and became a Playboy Bunny Girl. I left Maxine, my daughter, at home and would work 10 days straight through and then go back to see her.

But I made the most of those 10 days and lived an exotic life in Seventies’ London. I had furs, diamonds and a string of rich lovers.

Then I met Roger, a penniless dice dealer, and fell in love. Everyone thought I was mad. I could have had my pick of rich men and I chose a man who had to buy a suit for our first date! But he was so gentle and kind, and six months after meeting we were married. When our son Roger arrived we were blissfully happy.

But then we lost both our jobs and things changed. We didn’t have any skills as such, so we followed my sister Julie into the pub business. It was very hard for a while. We went from earning [pounds sterling]1,000 a week to earning peanuts and working all hours. But we made a success of it and ended up with a huge pub on the river with 26 staff.

For 10 years we worked hard but unfortunately we didn’t make time for each other. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t happy. I had my lovely children, a Porsche 911, went on exotic holidays twice a year – why did I feel so miserable?

We’d been married for 13 years in 1989 and that’s when we agreed to a trial separation. I did a Shirley Valentine and went on a Caribbean cruise.

Roger was 12 at the time and the guilt was terrible. But he was always happiest with his father. Maxine, my daughter, was 18 and told me to go. She could see how unhappy I was.

I felt I was dying inside. I went off to try to work out what was wrong but didn’t come up with any answers. I was constantly wondering whether I’d done the right thing. Roger was everything to me – my husband, business partner, mentor and best friend. I would sit on golden sands desperately hoping that he would suddenly jog up that beach and come and get me. But he didn’t.

After three months of travelling and thinking, I flew home. I couldn’t wait to see Roger. He phoned me immediately. He’d got some news for me he said: his 28-year-old girlfriend was pregnant.

We had agreed we could see other people, but I never imagined that he would. He was always such an honourable, faithful man – he’d never strayed.

I was devastated.

I felt I’d lost him for ever.

Nothing could prepare me for the first time I saw them together. It was at a parents’ evening at my son’s school. There was this young woman in a purple maternity dress with Roger by her side. He turned suddenly and I saw that he had their new baby strapped to his chest. The pain was so bad that I couldn’t breath.

But I had to pull myself together and decided to do a course at university. And it was through that course that I read the book that changed everything – Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. It was my wake-up call to life.

I’m very happy now. I love my life – it’s exciting and fulfilling – but my one regret is that it didn’t work out with my husband Roger.

Looking back, I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my sisters. We’ve made a pact to meet each other every six weeks at one of our homes. We sit and talk and just listen to each other.

There are so many first wives out there and if you’re open and honest with each other you can plug into an incredible network of support.

Society wants to label divorcees as failures, but that is simply not true. Some of the divorcees I know are the strongest women that you will ever have the pleasure to meet.

JULIE MURPHY, 39, was married to Eddie for nine years and has two children.

In 1987, while they were running a bar in Portugal, he left her for a 17-year-old girl. Julie is now a carer for a elderly gentleman in North Wales, where she lives with her son Jem, 18.

EDDIE was good-looking, charming and completely swept me off my feet. I was staying with my sister Ann in Surrey when I walked into the local pub and fell in love.

He was the landlord, 12 years my senior, and the most dynamic man I’d ever met. Within a year I’d married him. Two years later I’d had two children and was running a pub side by side with him on the South Bank in London. We were a great team.

The brewery was so impressed they gave us our own training house in Hammersmith, where we trained other managers. It was there that Eddie started being unfaithful.

It was a terrible time. I felt so hurt and lonely but I still loved him.

I loved him right up until the day he walked out.

I buried my head in the sand and our marriage went steadily downhill.

Eddie stopped hiding his affairs. It gave him a kick to see me upset – it reassured him that I still loved him.

Because I was so lonely, I started an affair with James, a rugby physiotherapist. He was sweet and a perfect gentleman. I told Eddie what I was doing and he didn’t say a thing. He thought I was lying.

It must have bothered him though, because when he came back from a holiday in Portugal, he told me we were going to start a new life there. We were going to buy a bar and we were going to be faithful and true. Silly me – I should have realised he already had a girlfriend over there.

We were there for four months before I realised what he was up to. I found him by the swimming pool with his arms around a young girl who was topless. He was 43 and having a relationship with a 17-year-old!

He didn’t come home that night and the next day to packed his bags and left. I told him that if he went after all that we’d been through, it was over. I’d had enough and I meant it with all my heart.

All I ever wanted was for him to love me and the kids, but he didn’t know how to love. He didn’t love me and he certainly didn’t love the children. He walked out, didn’t look back and hasn’t never spoken to either of the children since that day.

I stayed on in Portugal. I wouldn’t go home because it was like admitting failure. I had to make ends meet so I started selling real estate. I found I had a real talent for it.

Eddie wouldn’t renew the licence for the bar when it was due and his young girlfriend left him after that. She was young and careless and didn’t give a damn who she hurt. Eventually I heard Eddie had left Portugal and I haven’t seen him since.

After four years I had to come back home because my daughter Kate was about to take her GCSEs. I moved to Wales to be near one of my other sisters and for the first time I feel I know who I am.

I was only young when I married Eddie and he moulded me into what he wanted me to be – the cheery publican’s wife. I’m starting to think about me for a change. I’ve got a comfortable flat which I share with my son Jem and I’m going out with a lovely man who lives nearby.

My sisters have been a magnificent support thoughout my life dramas. It was difficult when Eddie left me in Portugal because physically they were thousands of miles away, but they would ring me daily and give me advice.

Veronica would tell me to come home; Anne would tell me to stay. But it didn’t really matter what they said: it was just knowing that they were there that mattered.

When I stayed at Anne’s, Veronica was there too because Tom had just left her. We formed our own little coven. We didn’t sit around and get maudlin; we sat and laughed and thought how much better off we were.

When you are left for a younger women, you have to learn to respect yourself and get out there again. I was lucky because I had two amazing sisters with similar experiences.

Share A little Divinity

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