It has been a difficult year for Barbara Taylor Bradford. The writer lost her husband of 56 years and on her first visit to the UK without him, she talks to Catherine Scott.
Newspaper reporter from Leeds meets Hollywood movie producer and it is love at first sight. She becomes best-selling novelist, they move to Manhattan and spend the next 57 glamorous years devoted to each other.
It could be the plot of one of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s romantic novels, but it is in fact the story of her life married to Robert Bradford, who died aged 92 this summer.
“Bob was the love of my life and was the most generous and thoughtful person I’ve ever met,” says the Leeds-born author who was by his bedside when he died following a stroke.
“He was in hospital for a week after the stroke and he had left very clear instructions in a living will about what he wanted and didn’t want and that made it easier for me.”
Although her husband, known commonly as Bob, left all his affairs in order, it has meant a huge period of re-adjustment for Taylor Bradford after losing not only her soul mate but her business partner. The couple were both only children and had no children of their own.
While Taylor Bradford wrote more than 34 novels that have sold 90 millions copies in 40 languages to date – Bob took care of her literary interests and business, something she is now having to get to grips with herself.
He also produced nine of her books as television mini-series or movies. After the publication of her worldwide best-seller A Woman of Substance in 1979, which like all her books was dedicated to her beloved husband, Bob supervised the 1985 television mini-series of the book which starred Jenny Seagrove and Deborah Kerr.
The series was watched in the UK by 13.8 million people, as well as broadcast around the world, and was nominated for two Emmys.
Taylor Bradford is currently in the UK promoting her latest novel, In the Lion’s Den, the second in her Falconer trilogy. It is her first visit to the UK without Bob in 57 years. She was supposed to be well on with the final book in the trilogy due out next year, but Bob’s sudden illness and death has made that impossible.
“As I was sat by his bedside knowing he was going to die, I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to do the research needed to bring out the final book in the Falconer series,” she says.
“But Bob always said that if anything happened to him then I must keep writing, as writing would be my solace and he was right. I was also under contract to HarperCollins to deliver a book and so while I was sitting in the hospital I thought what can I write about that I don’t need to research. And then it came to me.”
Taylor Bradford’s best-selling A Woman of Substance celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and so she decided to write a book about one of its characters, Blackie.
“In A Woman of Substance, Blackie is with Emma a lot, her best friend... but we don’t know what happens to him after he leaves Emma. So what did he do, did he have any scandals?”
She approached HarperCollins, the only UK publisher she has had during her illustrious career, who were thrilled at the prospect of a return to the hugely successful Emma Harte story in whatever form it may take.
Blackie and Emma is due to be on the bookshelves sometime next year and is bound to be another hit in her repertoire. And like many of her books, Yorkshire and Leeds in particular is never far from the plot.
Blackie was born in County Kerry where he was orphaned at the age of 13 – where the new book will start. He then travels to Leeds for a better life with his mother’s brother, where he becomes a navvy and meets Emma.
It is this commitment to her home city that sees Taylor Bradford presented with the Leeds Award, by the Lord Mayor, Eileen Turner, in London today.
“It was such an honour but there was just no way I could get up to Leeds, I am working flat out,” says the 86-year-old. “But I didn’t want to turn it down as that would have been an insult to my home city. So when they said the Lord Mayor would come to London to present it to me I was thrilled.
The Leeds Award is being presented by the city council “in recognition of her nationally and internationally acclaimed work as an author of 40 years”. Recipients of the Leeds Award will have their name inscribed on the ‘wall of fame’ located in the ante-chamber of the Civic Hall.
As well as promoting her books and receiving accolades, the Armley-born novelist is also overseeing the sale of some of the jewellery give to her by her husband over the years. She says: “(Bob) was debonair and always elegantly dressed. He also had a fabulous eye and appreciated beautiful objects and exceptional craftsmanship.
“During our wonderful marriage, he simply could not resist buying me fine jewellery. And I was given a lot as we were married for a long time. Every birthday, wedding anniversary, Christmas, new book publication, and even while on holiday, Bob would often surprise me with a fabulous piece.
“This summer, I was going through our collection and realised that I wanted to avoid such wonderful pieces of jewellery and watches sitting in the safe for months on end. It is also a huge responsibilty. I have my favourite pieces that I wear a lot, but there is just so much. They really deserve to be worn and enjoyed as much as we both have over the years. I hope they make the new owners as happy as they have made us.”
One of the most valuable pieces is a fancy-coloured radiant cut diamond ring weighing 11.30 carats. It has a pre-sale estimate of £35,000-£45,000.
“One of Bob’s favourite places to lie in the sun was Capri in Italy. He also liked it for another reason… the many fine jewellery shops,” explains Taylor Bradford. “His favourite was the lovely boutique called Alberto e Lina. According to Bob, they truly had the best collection of fine jewellery and watches. This is where he bought me the yellow diamond ring flanked by diamond baguettes.
“He had secretly been to purchase it without my knowing and, just before we went to lunch, he took hold of my hand, kissed it and slipped on the ring which he took out of his pocket. I was amazed and speechless when I saw it gleaming on my hand. Bob smiled that lovely smile of his and replied, ‘I’m glad you love it as much as I do’.”
Despite being busy with work, Taylor Bradford knows that Christmas is going to be a tough time for her. Christmas Eve would have been her 56th wedding anniversary. “I will be in Manhattan and I have been invited to friends who have all been amazing. It will be hard, I miss Bob every day but he wouldn’t have wanted me to be moping around.”
Although she says she still loves to return to the UK, America is her home and it is where she still stay.
“Bob is buried there, only half an hour from where I live and there’s a plot next to him and I will be buried next to him when my time comes.”