Michele Veronica West - 1987 to 2012
I should start by saying that Michele is still very much alive and well, and what follows is only in the “past” tense because they are my memories and recollections of our time together.
I am also well aware that we still share friends and connections, and it is not my intention to cause any rift or upset, or attempt to change the status quo: it is just an honest account as to why things did not work out after 25 years together.
In many ways, Michele was a completely opposite character to my first wife. She was working in London when I met her in 1985 and did not drink, and was vivacious and amusing without being extravert. She was also extremely attractive with a great personality.
Michele was born in November 1948: her father George West was serving as an officer in the British Forces in 1946 at the time of the occupation of Palestine (now Israel). Her mother, Alice (Babs) was Jewish, originally from Vienna Austria, and was one of those who managed to escape from the concentration camps and make her way to Palestine – her own experiences would have made a great book. Babs worked in the same office as George, romance quickly followed, and he returned to the UK to marry her in approx 1947. They lived in Thames Village Chiswick. There was one younger brother, Peter, who was at the time we met, involved in the early stages of the computer software industry in the UK: he later became a US citizen and currently lives with his very attractive wife, Alice, in California with their family and his precious Mercedes (a “must have” status symbol for Peter!)
In 1985 Michele was working in London with her best friend and partner, Ana, and running a small printing and proof reading service for local businesses using their computer skills: I remember being impressed that the girls were in business, although I did also know that some of their clients were not the most reliable of payers, which led to cashflow problems. Some of their clients were “interesting” characters: I remember being introduced to one customer – Peter Jeffries, a Canadian – who was operating an investment fund called the “Growth Strategies Fund” which was administrated and run from a rented office in Grosvenor, and seemed to me to be a slightly “dodgy” enterprise.
At the time, my Insurance Brokerage – Noble Warren Investments Ltd – and Investment Management company – Jarretts Bond Management Ltd – were both doing well and operating out of 50 Maddox Street. I invited Michele over one evening ostensibly to discuss redecorating my offices, and the romance began.
Michele was living in rented accommodation which was actually one floor of a privately owned house in the London W1 area. There were issues with the “tenancy”. When I moved out of Sandall Road, I moved in with Michele and, after a short time, we decided to set up home together using the £5000 she would receive for vacating her rights of tenancy. The first property we bought was a 3 bedroom flat at Belvedere House, Kew Bridge Road for which I arranged the mortgage. Her parents were living close by in Thames Village, and I was impressed with the location of their property. I remember asking her parents to let me know as soon as any of the Thames Village properties with a river frontage came onto the market, and within a year, No. 56 Thames Village was available, and we moved in shortly afterwards.
We were married at St Georges Church Hanover Square in October 1987, which was 100 yards from my office in Maddox Street. The reception was at the Westbury Mayfair Hotel and my best man was Chris Efstratiou. The honeymoon started with the Eurostar to Paris where we joined the Orient Express to spend some romantic days together in Venice, visiting Harry’s Bar and St Mark’s Square and enjoying together the normal tourist trips – in a Gondola, and a visit to the famous glass making factory.
I am detailing this only to show how important it was for me to demonstrate to Michele how much I appreciated her trust in me and to give her a honeymoon that she would always remember. Unfortunately, she was not too well throughout the honeymoon, and to make matters worse, the trip back to the UK (Orient Express to Paris, and then Eurostar to Waterloo, London) coincided with the worst gales to hit the South East of England in living memory – October 19 1987.
We settled down to life together in Thames Village. Michele’s former business in London was closed, the main reason being that it was no longer viable, in that the rapid advance in computer programming meant that potential customers could now do the same job with their own office based computers.
Our attention turned to raising a family, which was terribly important for Michele, and she had my full support. We tried unsuccessfuly for some years and in the early 1990s we turned to IVF treatment, visiting some of London’s top specialists, but without success.
Our life together in Chiswick was a comfortable one – we were both members of the Riverside Club where there were all kinds of facilities including tennis, dance classes and a fully equipped gymnasium. Here we met and became great friends with Tony Haslam and his future wife Nona, who was formerly a solo dancer at the Royal Festival Ballet. Another great friendship started with Carlo Vagliasindi and his partner at the time, Bridget Hunt, both living in Richmond. Also Chris and Fiona Bevan and his brother Simon and wife Anne-Marie, and many other friends were made, who used the facilities at the Club, including my fellow tennis players – so social life was full and interesting!
Although Thames Village had more than its fair share of elederly residents, we were fortunate to have interesting and friendly neighbours immediately adjacent to us: in particular Nadine and Tony Darke-Partridge and Laurence and Jules York Moore.
Tony was a senior executive for Gillette, before it was taken over by Procter and Gamble and had his fair share of overseas postings, including some years in St Petersburg. Having a slightly unusual surname did result in some amusing postal delivery problems – perhaps the most amusing being a letter addressed to them both in Thames Village as Mr & Mrs Dank-Porridge! Both were very charming and generous and we visited each other on a regular basis.
Laurence is a qualified architect, and his wife Jules was closely involved with the BBC in a professional capacity as a makeup artist for many of the top shows. Both were charming and we socialised with them on many occasions, before they made the decision to move to Cornwall.
We also took regular holidays abroad – many to Crete. Our immediate family was complemented with white cats, that were raised from kittenhood. Michele was also an excellent cook and hostess, and all seemed to be going well, except for the bad news about having children.
In the late 1990s, disaster struck in the shape of a “double whammy” – the first being the forced closure of my insurance and investment businesses through changes in Financial Regulations, and the second being extremely high Bank interest rates, the combination of which eventually forced me into Bankruptcy. I have covered – or will be covering – the circumstances that led to this disaster in the Business section of this Blog. Luckily some years previously I had taken the precaution to transfer ownership of our Thames Village property into Michele’s name, thus avoiding a complete disaster.
I had to abandon the offices in the West End and set up my new “office” in the spare bedroom at home. To her credit, Michele was supportive, and even helped me in selling tourist phonecard products in London, the first job I could find following the disaster. I will always remember the extreme generosity of her godparents, Vroni and Gunter, originally also from Austria, who provided a much needed non repayable “loan” of some £9000, the only people to help us financially.
After a few years, I was back “in business”, creating a small telecoms company, and from 2001 or thereabouts, things steadily improved. However, it was apparent to me that Michele was not particularly happy: she had tried her hand at a few things, including making woollen jumpers for private sale. She had always been interested in professional Make-up, Nutrition, Natural Remedies and Homeopathy, so she took a few courses, and started to try to attract customers.
When younger, Michele had played piano, was a talented singer and also had studied Acting and Performance at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. As we had an excellent “adult and further education college” a few miles away in Twickenham called the Richmond upon Thames College – I think it was circa 2003 or 2004 – I persuaded her to enrol in the college with me, and we started with singing classes. The College was a social hub for all kinds of talented amateurs interested in arts music drama and theatre, and we met many people who went on to become good friends of ours. One connection was Deirdre O’Kelly, our singing teacher at the time: her father, talented actor and singer, Fergus O’Kelly, was very much involved with the Barnes Charity Players, now called the Barnes Community Players, who put on excellent amateur productions of plays and musicals. I found out that they were auditioning for one of their new productions and persuaded Michele to come with me to the audition. Although she was not successful at the time, and for that particular show, the “seed” was sown, and she went on to perform regularly in the shows that followed.
I mention this because I wanted Michele to have another “outlet” and so I pushed her out of her “comfort zone” so that some of her talents could be fulfilled and she would have more of an interesting life with more purpose. As it turned out, by being there, I also benefitted by becoming part of the same group, and we took part together in a number of shows and musical events for the next ten years.
So What Went Wrong?
In my opinion, there were three main reasons for my decision to break up our marriage.
No Children The first reason was our inability to have children together, which caused Michele much sadness: there is no doubt in my mind that she would have made an excellent mother and having children would have changed both our lives and our priorities: it would also have given Michele her desired main “role in life” as a mother. I am sure that if we had had children, we would not have divorced.
Disagreement over Finance When her mother died, Michele inherited a fair amount of capital: the amount happened to be approximately the same as the mortgage outstanding on our home. Over the years, it had been necessary for me to refinance – by way of increasing the mortgage – in order to support and grow the new telecom businesses. These various businesses were at the time doing reasonably well, but the monthly mortgage repayments were a significant part of our outgoings: the obvious thing from my perspective – and financial experience – was to repay the mortgage with the inherited capital, and I did not understand why this was a problem for Michele.
Trust and Support It had become increasingly obvious to me that Michele was relying on the opinion of “friends” rather than myself in many matters affecting our life together. For me, there was too little honesty or trust left in our relationship.
I also had my own problems in coming to terms with living out the rest of my life in the UK.
Although I had a comfortable lifestyle and many interests – both sporting and musical and amateur theatre – I yearned for a more sunny climate: my businesses could be run from anywhere with reliable internet available. So in approx 2010/2011 I decided to spend some months out of the UK: Crete was somewhere which we both knew well, and I started by renting a property there to “test the water” and to make sure that it was what I was looking for. Michele joined me on several occasions, but I knew her “heart was not in it” and that she wanted very much to remain in London with her friends and familiar lifestyle.
In 2012 I told Michele that as far as I was concerned, the marriage could not continue, and our divorce was finalised in November 2014. Michele received the majority of the proceeds of the sale of 56 Thames Village – a not inconsiderable amount.