My wife was the love of my life but I lost her because I cheated. If you do something like that, you never forgive yourself, and nothing can be that good again.
By Michael Crawford
At 22 years old I was working with Harry H. Corbett in a play called Travelling Light, when I met the love of my life.
I felt just like Robert Taylor when he stood on Waterloo Bridge in the film of that name and saw Vivien Leigh emerging from the fog --except that I was in a basement club called The Pickwick and she was emerging from a haze of Peter Stuyvesant cigarette smoke.
The Pickwick, in Great Newport Street, London, used to boast good pop music, and she was employed to play records. I could see her only from the waist up because she was always sitting in what looked like a converted confession box.
She had dark, shoulder-length hair and a pale, delicate beauty. She'd take a lazy drag of her cigarette, which would then be whisked away as her head was thrown back and she blew the smoke slowly downwards. It was heaven!
She hardly ever looked outside the box, but I wouldn't have had the courage to meet her eye anyway.
Every time Harry and I went there, I made sure my back was to the wall so that I could watch her. I never had the nerve to go over and speak to her, but she knew I was interested - night after night, I sent over a request for her to play Donovan's Catch The Wind.
I nagged at Harry about how I fancied her and how I'd like to ask her out but didn't know how. I wondered if I should send her a bottle of Asti Spumante! I drove him crazy for weeks.
"For Christ's sake," he finally exploded, "I'll go and sort it out for you before you drive me completely around the blooming bend."
He walked over to her booth and I could see him talking animatedly to the girl. She smiled at him, and peeked over his shoulder to take a look at me.
I used that moment to duck. "Look" Harry was saying to her, "there's a guy over there with his head under the table, who's driving me mad about taking you out - and he hasn't got the bottle to come and ask you himself, so I've been sent over. For Christ's sake, go out with him before he drives me round the bend."
She still seemed a little reluctant but eventually she joined us and, thanks to Harry, I met my future wife, Gabrielle Mary Lewis.
"If you have a night off," I said, hoping to impress, "maybe you'd like to come and see our show."
Then maybe not, I thought. I was playing a potty door-to-door soap salesman - hardly Richard Burton as Henry IV. Anyway, she agreed to come and have dinner with me one night after the play.
Gabrielle and I had an immediate rapport. She was an actress in a repertory company in Bromley working as a disc jockey at night to pay the rent on her flat.
Besotted, I sent her flowers when she appeared in one of her rep productions - a dozen roses with a card that read: Good luck, shy star."
We saw each other all the time. We were madly in love and our energy was endless. Gabrielle and I could communicate across a room, exchange just a look or a glance and know what the other was thinking. When we made love, I never wanted it to end. I remember holding her tightly. "I hope we're doing this when we're 60," I said.
Two years after I first glimpsed her across that crowded nightclub, Gabrielle agreed to become my wife. I was working solidly, and the time was right. We were married in Paris by the British consul.
I've never been able to throw out the old corduroy suit I wore that day; I even had mildew removed from it twice during one extremely damp winter.
Perhaps I should stuff it like a trophy - like Roy Rogers stuffed his dead horse Trigger, putting it on display in his home. I guess I am sentimental about that suit.
We didn't have time for a proper honeymoon, but we did manage to buy a little flat in Clapham and we had just enough time to move in before I started rehearsals on the black comedy called The Anniversary at the Duke of York's Theatre in London.
The run of The Anniversary marked a very special time for Gabrielle and me. She was pregnant, and we were delighted. We had a nursing home picked out in Wigmore Street, Central London, and I practiced driving the route from Clapham in our little Austin 1100.
Both of us read all the baby books and had 'Dr. Spocked' ourselves to death. However, everything I read only convinced me further that, when the time came, I had to get Gabrielle to the nursing home in double-quick time.
Unfortunately, things don't always work out as planned. I was woken by my lovely pregnant wife, desperately trying to explain to me that she knew the baby was coming. "Right! Now, for God's sake, don't panic! Whatever you do, don't panic!" I screamed. Inexplicably, I then leaped on to the bed. "Are you absolutely sure you're having it?" I watched her expression run the gamut from wonder to bemusement to sheer terror as she watched her maniac husband hovering over her, bouncing up and down like some crazed jack-in-the-box. By the time she finally managed to get me to pull myself together and get us both down to the car, I had completely forgotten the route and we ended up at the wrong hospital.
Eventually, our daughter Emma was born two days later at 3:15 p.m. at the right hospital. Sadly, I was in rehearsals for a television play and missed her arrival.
Gabrielle became pregnant again a year or so later, and this time we planned that I would be present at the birth
The doctor didn't know me very well, and agreed in a rash moment to allow me into the delivery room.
When the baby finally appeared, I was shouting at the top of my voice: "It's a boy, it's a boy!"
The doctor glared at me. "It's a girl, Mr. Crawford." "Well, what the hell is that?" I screeched. It was, of course, the umbilical cord.
He asked me to leave the room shortly afterwards.
Looking back, I had experienced one of the most beautiful things that this life has allowed me.
I tell embroidered tales of the delivery room doctors having more trouble with me than they did with Gabrielle. But I shall be forever grateful to have been there and, more often than not, my recollections of that day, when our daughter Lucy was born, tend to make my eyes mist uncontrollably.
Shortly after Lucy's birth, we packed up and moved to America where I made a series of films including Hello Dolly, a film version of the stage play.
But by 1970 we wanted to come home, and came back to London. Things had gone well financially and we decided to set up a plan to include trust funds for the children. A friend, John Barry, gave us the name of his personal banker, who had apparently done well for his clients. "We'll only risk a bit here and there," this fast talking man had said. "But rest assured, Mr. Crawford, we absolutely guarantee we'll make you 12 per cent." He also told me to enjoy some of the money I'd made. "Enjoy it!" he said. So I bought a second-hand Rolls-Royce, which cost a cool ��20,000.
Several months later, we joined John Barry and his wife for dinner, along with his 'new' financial adviser.
He had been investigating our finances and made a brief announcement to say that the old adviser had lost all our funds in a series of questionable investments.
Our money was lost - a quarter of a million pounds, Gabrielle and I just sat there in a state of shock and listened.
I felt numb and embarrassingly stupid, unable to take in what was being said. I just kept reciting: "We have nothing? Nothing at all?"
Gabrielle and I left the restaurant and walked outside to the Rolls-Royce, the last opulent souvenir of all the money.
All the way home we sang: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again." We were young. We thought we'd be fine. I simply had to hustle a bit more and keep working. But it didn't take long to find out that there wasn't really any work. Eighteen months went by. I was used to working constantly, but there was nothing.
I was tetchy, withdrawn and uncommunicative, and I made it a miserable time for Gabrielle as well. The constant stress of never knowing how to pay the next bill only compounded our problems.
But Gabrielle has her own brand of plucky determination and she opened a little shop in Chelsea, selling chic cushions.
It was a great success, and she somehow managed to provide us with an income. I got to drive the van and stuffed the foam into the cushions.
It was at the stage where I thought floor cushions were to become my life's work that I was offered the lead in a new play, No Sex Please, We're British.
It was a great hit and meant going back to the theatre. This led to me being offered the role of the White Rabbit in the musical film of Alice In Wonderland.
My continuing absence from home had begun to take its toll on our marriage. I began to get a lot of recognition, particularly from the opposite sex, I'd never had this attention before - now, suddenly, I had choices. My ridiculous male ego was enormously flattered.
How does a man's mind work so that he believes an infidelity won't interfere with the love that stands at the center of his life? Of all the mistakes one can make, this one ranks right up there with the worst.
But then, I'm afraid, I compounded all the hurt: I told Gabrielle what I'd done. As a Roman Catholic, you think of confession in terms of doing penance and receiving absolution. You think you can be forgiven, and stop feeling so bad about it.
But Gabrielle never trusted me completely again. I'm sure I would have been exactly the same if it had been the other way around.
We each began to pursue our own lonely path, pulling at one another in ways we never imagined. I thought I needed to do as much work as possible; she wanted me at home more. And always in the background was the memory of my infidelity. Arguments gave way to long periods of resentful silence.
I didn't help matters by continually escaping to the refuge of the theatre, where I could shut out the problems at home.
Gabrielle began to spend more time with her family, and with friends unconnected to the theatre. I took a brief holiday, hoping that the separation would clear the air. But little changed after my return, and Gabrielle took the children to her parents. We began a 'trial separation', and all the unpleasant business of having one's life placed in the hands of the legal profession.
I moved out of our Wimbledon home in November 1972. But we had gone our separate roads months before we ever parted, and it was fairly clear in Gabrielle's mind that the marriage was over, although, at the time, I adamantly refused to admit it to myself. Lucy and Emma were only six and seven years old; babies.
I was broke and I moved into a council flat behind Olympia station. I had no money for furniture and it was a far cry from our lovely family home.
Eventually, Gabrielle found a new home for herself and the girls. I bought it for her as part of the settlement agreement.
There is nothing I could write to convey the misery and sense of dislocation we all felt. I gave up the council flat and, with a little help from my friend Shirley Conran, bought a run down cottage near Woburn.
I worked very hard to make it the cosy family place it is today.
But in those early years, with the divorce came the consequences of not seeing the children as much as I would have wished and, like it or not, I became the quintessential weekend father.
I took up self-sufficiency and insisted that all the food eaten was produced by me alone. Sunday luncheons were something of a sore point; the girls never knew what they were going to eat.
One particular Sunday, they were treated to a huge unidentifiable blob of dark green vegetable. There was a lot of kicking going on under the table. "Daddy, what is this?' asked ten-year-old Emma.
"It's nettles," I told them enthusiastically, adding, "and they're full of iron!" I think they were too stunned to say much. Avoiding their looks of pained approach, I managed to get them to eat half the nettles.
Gabrielle's lawyer was on the phone first thing Monday morning. My protests fell on deaf ears. All the children's menus must be cleared in advance.
As time passed, a new friendship developed for Gabrielle which gave her the strength to face the realities of our own relationship.
I think that when you have destroyed a love like we had, one danger is that you will never forgive yourself. Another is that nothing that comes after will ever live up to it. In many ways, it won't. But the way I look at it is: how lucky I was to know that love. Every time I see Emma and Lucy, I'm reminded of it.
Since my break-up with Gabrielle, of course, I've loved again, but I haven't reached the point of feeling confident enough to re-marry.
Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied With String by Michael Crawford.
Excerpt Typed by: Lilian Barbuti - Thanks Lilian!