CHRISTMAS is a bittersweet time of year for any widow, but for veteran author Barbara Taylor Bradford it is particularly poignant.
It was on Christmas Eve in 1963 that she tied the knot with beloved late husband Robert Bradford, who passed away in hospital in July 2019 at the age of 94.
Barbara, 88, says: “Nearly 56 years we were married. It would have been 56 years that Christmas. I knew him most of our lives.”
Barbara had to make the difficult decision to turn off the machines that were keeping her husband alive in accordance with his living will, which stated that he did not want to be kept alive on machinery for any longer than one week.
She says: “I had all the machinery removed in the morning of the seventh day and I sat with him until something like three in the morning, holding his hands until he died.
“Finally, he drew his last breath, and I am so glad that I was with him.”
It marked the end of a remarkable chapter for the blockbusting Woman Of Substance author, who has sold 90 million books worldwide.
Her husband’s final words to her had been, “I love you.” He had felt unwell during the day, and suffered a massive stroke overnight that meant Barbara was unable to wake him in the morning. But once in hospital, he was initially still able to acknowledge her presence.
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She says: “He wasn’t awake, but when I squeezed his hand, he squeezed it back, so he knew it was me.
“And that happened for three days in a row, but by Friday there was no reaction at all. I knew then that I was going to lose him.”
At this point doctors broke the news that Robert would never recover consciousness.
Barbara says: “Some might not have wanted to do it, to take away the machines, but that was what he wanted so I fulfilled his last wish.
“I leaned over and whispered into his ear, ‘I’m going to take you home, and you’re going to get better’, and tears started to come down his cheeks.”
Barbara takes comfort from the fact that Robert would have hated a prolonged period on a ventilator. She says: “He was a very brilliant man who was always on the move, and it would have been hard for him. I think he died the way he was meant to.
“Relatively speaking, he went in a flash, and he didn’t suffer, and that is a great comfort to me.”
Barbara reveals she was recently asked if she would ever marry again, and adds: “I said, ‘I’m already married’, and they replied, ‘My goodness, already?’ They were taken aback.
“And I told them I am married to Robert Bradford, and even though he’s dead I still love him, and he is still my husband.
“I happened to have an extraordinary marriage. It would be hard to match him.
“I am still in love with him, and I can feel him around me. He’s here in my head and he’s here in my heart.”
It is fitting that Robert helped to inspire Barbara’s latest book, A Man Of Honour, effectively a prequel to 1979’s best-selling A Woman Of Substance.
She says: “Bob always told me that if anything happened to him, I must keep writing, so I knew he would approve.”
Yorkshire-born Barbara was in her mid-twenties and working as a journalist when mutual friends introduced her to film producer Robert in London.
She says: “We just fell for each other heavily. We started talking and we never stopped.
“I always used to say to him that I’d take the bullet for you, and that’s how strongly I felt about him.
“In many ways he ran my life, so all I had to do was write books.” She adds: “Apart from falling in love, and the physical attraction, and the sex, all of which are important, I happened to get on very well with him.
“We were almost on the same page on everything. We had our arguments and our quarrels but nothing ever serious. I think the longer your relationship goes on, you either get bored or you love each other more, and we were the latter.”
The couple amassed a vast fortune, with an apartment in New York and a country retreat in Connecticut.
But there was one sadness — they never had children, and after two miscarriages, the second in her early forties, Barbara chose to accept her lot and move on.
'FELL FOR EACH OTHER'
She says: “When you have a miscarriage, it is really sorrowful but after the second one I thought, ‘I can’t let this ruin my life’.
“And Bob felt the same. He said that we had each other, and we had got good careers and we were incredibly lucky.”
The UK divorce rate is around 42 per cent, and Barbara believes she may know where they are going wrong.
She says: “I think maybe it’s expectations. My generation might have been a bit more patient.
“We’re all human beings and it’s hard to live with somebody all of the time. Being in love changes to loving or it doesn’t.”
In the early months after Robert’s death, Barbara was too devastated to do much beyond getting through the day.
She says: “I really couldn’t write, and I couldn’t work. But then there came a point when I thought, ‘I’ve got to try and pull myself together’, because I knew that he would want me to keep going.
“You know, Churchill had that famous phrase, KBO — keep buggering on — and that’s what I’ve done.”
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