60 is forgiving yourself for all the mistakes you made along the way… but feeling grateful for the times you got it right.
We met. We fell in love. He lived in New York. I lived in London.
So here’s what happened…….
Charlie once told me that until he met me, he was the kind of guy who wouldn’t get involved with women who lived more than a short subway ride from his Greenwich Village apartment. So, it was quite a shocker when he announced to his family and friends that, despite her imperfect unbleached teeth, he was dating a Brit who lived 3,500 miles away!
For my part, after years of taking long-haul flights between London and Sydney without batting an eyelid, I suddenly developed a terrible fear of turbulence, which wasn’t ideal having fallen in love with a man who lived in New York. Put it this way, the odds weren’t exactly stacked in our favour.
I have gripped the hands and, in one mortifying case, a muscular thigh, of more complete strangers than I care to think about over the years as I winged my way across the Atlantic, heart racing, palms sweaty. I admit it, quite a few gallons of Chardonnay have been consumed in the name of “medicinal” purposes and I’ve developed an extraordinary ability to make the whole trip without using the loo… just in case there are bumps! Camels have nothing on me!
Charlie and I were both working for the American TV show “Inside Edition” when we met. He was a producer in the New York office and I was their London/European producer. In the early days of our romance we spent many hours on the phone and in some ways got to know each other better than people who date in person!
I had two children and Charlie had one son from our previous marriages but fortunately we were on the same page as far as their wellbeing was concerned. Their needs came first. So, we agreed that none of them should be uprooted from their respective lives/countries and mother/father.
We made the decision to spend as much time together as a couple and as a blended family as possible ,and once the kids headed off to Uni/College then we could be together full time. Until then the only thing that would come between us was the Atlantic Ocean.
Hearing about our set-up friends smiled and said, “Oh how romantic and exciting!” What they really meant was “you poor sucker. This is never going to work. You’re kidding yourself!” There were certainly times when I asked myself, “are you out of your mind thinking this can possibly work?” And I know Charlie did too. But in my heart, I believed that if anyone could do it, we could. That’s not to say it wasn’t an emotional roller coaster. The romantic reunions and heart wrenching separations were brutal and exhausting.
It reached the point where Charlie was back and forth so frequently that when he got to Immigration at Heathrow they no longer asked “what is the purpose of your visit?” Instead they’d say, “You again!” I became frighteningly familiar with the Virgin Atlantic cabin crew as I boarded my flight at JFK for my homeward bound cry fest!
What really sealed the deal for me was witnessing what an amazing dad Charlie was to his son, and how kind he was to my kids. In fact, when we got married on a winters night in 2002 at The Dorchester Hotel in London, it was as much for our kids as for us. We wanted them to feel secure within the unit we had created even though we were still living in different countries! Yep, date night was complicated! But, eventually the kids reached that much talked about age where Charlie and I could finally live under the same roof!
“This is it,” I’d joke to our friends. “We’ll be divorced within six months!” Thankfully, we’ve been happily together now for over twenty years and during that time our relationship has shifted from the passionate euphoric highs and crashing anxiety ridden lows of reunions and farewells, to a much deeper more mellow love which is frankly a relief! At this point in our lives, I don’t think we could handle that kind of drama!
It wasn’t an easy path we chose but then again I didn’t really choose it. I knew that Charlie was the big love of my life. And so, despite the odds being stacked against us, I had no choice other than to play it out. I am so thankful that we did. We have watched our kids grow up together, seen two of our three get married and welcomed our grandson into the world.
My kids adore New York and spending time with Charlie’s son and they’ve made wonderful friends there. We have had more laughs in our little Greenwich Village apartment over the years than anywhere else in the world. There is something quite magical about it.
In normal circumstances we live in the London suburbs and head to New York as often as possible to visit Charlie’s family. But, with the world locked down, who knows when we will be able to get back which is very suspenseful.
Usually at this time of year, Charlie’s sister, Mary, would be working at Wimbledon as a broadcaster and there would be a great reunion and many laughs. This year we are having to make do with the re runs on TV! But hey, at least Charlie and I are trapped on the same side of the Atlantic for once!
My life in England is very different to my life in New York. In London my life is full of responsibility. I am a mum, a grandma and a daughter caring for her mum who now lives with us since my dad passed away. Throw our accident prone Labrador into the mix and there is a lot of juggling involved. I am also a championship worrier so will often be tossing and turning in bed trying to solve the most recent family crisis while Charlie snores oblivious alongside me. You are more likely to find me in lounge wear, running shoes or jeans and wellies depending on the time of year, and I am usually make up free.
As soon as I arrive in Manhattan I feel exhilarated, almost euphoric as suddenly I feel young and carefree again. I don’t worry as much because I know there is nothing I can do about problems at home and, enveloped in the city’s energy, it truly feels like anything is possible. We have wonderful friends and family there and I love having the opportunity to dress up for a glamorous dinner in a Manhattan restaurant or to visit great friends on their spectacular Penthouse roof terrace.
Pottering around the West Village grocery shopping you never know who you are going to run in to. Sarah Jessica Parker lives around the corner and I often see her in the local food stores. She has the most beautiful blue eyes and is really friendly!
Until he passed away I often ran into actor Philip Seymour Hoffman picking up his kids from school and Uma Thurman obviously loves our local cafe as much as I do as we are often sat outside.
Walking home from dinner one night we noticed Blythe Danner and Gywneth Paltrow struggling to get their front door key to work, while “Christopher” from the Sopranos marched past on the opposite side of the road.
This is the thing…. in the village nobody hides behind security gates. Many of these A listers live in brownstones and have front doors that open directly onto the street. The wonderful part is nobody bothers them. In fact our neighbours are very protective of their celebrities, shooing tourists away if they dare to stop and gawk!
On one of our trips Charlie and I had been watching the TV show “Mad Men” which we loved. The following morning as I was sweating it out at my gym, make up free, hair scragged back it suddenly dawned on me that I was shoulder to shoulder with two of the show’s major stars, one of whom was George Clooney’s first wife! Even in the gym she looked great!
But don’t get me wrong. By the time we’re due to return to the chaos of family life I am ready for it. My feet are usually sore from walking for miles in the city wearing heels and I can’t wait to pull on my joggers and kick back with my kids.
I am so grateful that Charlie came into my life. For any of you who have read my Blog about losing my dad, you will be aware of my grief. Charlie was by my side every step of the way. He never faltered. Not once.
For all the cynics who thought our romance would end in disaster, I am so grateful that they were wrong! And for anyone conducting or contemplating a long distance relationship I would say, follow your heart, trust your gut. Love comes in all shapes and sizes and sometimes it’s impractical and inconvenient but from my experience, love always finds a way.
Celebrity Long Distance Love
Even Royals can’t choose who they fall in love with! During his first TV appearance following his engagement to Meghan Markle, Prince Harry explained,
"I think we were able to really have so much time just to connect and we never went longer than two weeks without seeing each other, even though we were obviously doing a long-distance relationship.”
Long Distance Love In Lockdown?
With the world in lockdown, the concept of a long-distance relationship can seem twice as intimidating - but that doesn't mean it's impossible and we are living proof. 9/11 was our “lockdown”. We were still living apart at this stage and I couldn’t see how or when we would possibly see each other again following this horrifying situation but somehow we figured it out.
“Friends” star Courteney Cox has been dating Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid since 2013. Speaking on the Ellen show recently, she admitted that isolating away from her boyfriend had been difficult. "I have not seen him for so long," she said. ‘I miss his physical touch. This is hard." Nonetheless, the TV icon and her Irish beau have practiced long-distance before, with Johnny living in England and Courteney based in the US.
Take heart. Statistics show that couples who live apart but together, have as much chance of success as couples who live together. You’ve found love so hang on to it however unconventional it might seem.