Revenge of the wronged wives:
When Rachel Royce's husband ran off with a younger
woman she struck back in the most visible way, detailing his failings
in a series of articles. Rod Liddle was then forced to write about his
life as a love rat. Laura Tennant explains why increasing numbers of
women are seeking to get even with "slappers" and
"philanderers" by humiliating them in public
18 July 2004
'Rod is great company, funny, clever, wacky and exciting. I just
wish he wasn't also a liar." Last week's most publicised wronged
wife, Rachel Royce, is talking about Rod Liddle, the kind of man who
gives men a bad name. The story so far, for those whose attention has
been elsewhere, is as follows: shaggy-haired, heavy-drinking Liddle,
44, marries Royce, 42, the mother of his two small children, in a
romantic Malaysian wedding ceremony (cost: £20,000) after 11 years of
cohabitation. Claiming work commitments, he then cuts his honeymoon a
week short, but Royce discovers he's gone back to London to resume his
affair with a 22-year-old called Alicia Monckton (whom he is convinced
looks like Keira Knightley).
Who cares? Rod Liddle is only a former editor of the Today
programme who has been on telly a few times and written the odd sharp
paragraph. Middle-aged men run off with young women all the time, and
their wives get mad then try to get even. But we seldom hear all the
delicious details, laid out with such vindictive care. Gossiping about
the neighbours is a basic human instinct; it's how we understand and
define who we are. And it becomes a lot easier when the wronged wife
chooses to play her media-friendly hubby at his own game and take
revenge in the most public way possible.
Rather than stew about the activities of her media-courting
ex-lover, Rachel Royce accepted £5,000 from the Daily Mail for a
piece on her betrayal. It's a compelling read, recording Liddle's
earlier infidelities, his lies, and the consummate display of
tactlessness with which he moved his new girlfriend into the village
where his wife still lives. Her "divorce diary" has now
become a column. Yesterday Liddle complained at length about being the
subject of an old-fashioned media feeding-frenzy. He did so in print.
The pair have entered the realm of public love wars usually dominated
by true stars such as the French actress Isabelle Adjani, who recently
used her massive celebrity at home to tell her fiancé, the musician
Jean-Michel Jarre, that his infidelity had been discovered and their
engagement was off. He read it - as did the rest of France - on the
cover of Paris Match. Great entertainment, but is it great therapy?
According to Christine Gallagher, author of The Woman's Book of
Revenge, "Revenge is a healthy natural impulse - a lost art that
needs to be mastered by every modern woman. It's far healthier than
wolfing down an entire chocolate cake and far more affordable than
blabbing to a therapist. Devising a creative act of revenge can be the
first step on the road to recovery."
Yet it's a dish best eaten cold, which is perhaps why Royce's
"day of revenge" - which culminated in having 10 sacks of
manure delivered to the workplace shared by Liddle and Monckton, The
Spectator magazine, left her feeling "deflated and upset".
Her literary revenge, by contrast, will be preserved in the
electronic cuttings library for eternity, to be accessed by eager
hacks whenever Liddle's name comes up.
Women, for whom expressing emotion is a virtue, don't see the point
in dignified silence. For millennia, men have been trading in their
wives for younger models and rewriting the history of the previous
marriage. Yasmin Alabhai-Brown's book No Place Like Home describes how
her husband, a lecturer, ran off with one of his students, destroying
what she had believed to be an "incredibly happy" marriage.
"I wrote it about five years after we separated and I've never,
ever regretted it," she says. "When someone leaves, fables
start to spring up about how unfulfilled they'd been, and how nothing
good had ever happened, because that justifies the infidelity. To me
that is such a violation, and it was important for me to be able to
reclaim my own history and record for my son the good things about the
Women's superior emotional intelligence means that when we want to
carry out a character assassination, total annihilation is assured.
Kathryn Flett's Heart-Shaped Bullet chronicled her husband's emotional
socio- pathology; Margaret Cook's book about Robin revealed that he
was both sex-obsessed and impotent; Mia Farrow's book on Woody Allen
accused him of abusing his own children. "You know, he has never
said sorry to me in a meaningful way," Norman Mailer's ex-wife
Adele explained when her devastating memoirs were published. 'He's
very sadistic like that, and I'm only human. I want him to say sorry.
He has prospered while I've just wasted away."
Most acts of "spiterature" are a "terrible
idea", argues Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association
for Counselling and Psychotherapy. "Royce's piece is not going to
change her emotional state, and it may damage her children. After a
break-up, the most therapeutic thing you can do is express anger, but
to the person concerned, not the general public."
But for women, talking obsessively about an ex is a hallmark of
those Chardonnay-fuelled debriefings with sympathetic girlfriends.
Publishing those feelings is only a more efficient way of spreading
the message. "The trouble is that it calls one's own judgement
into question," points out a friend. "If he was such a
bastard, what on earth was I doing with him?"
Denise Knowles of the marriage counselling service Relate agrees.
"The problem with airing private things in a public arena is that
you are expressing feelings that you have at that moment in time, but
which will very likely change. And of course if you change your mind
after six months and decide you want your ex back, you'll have to
convince everyone that he's not quite such a bastard after all."
Lady Alice Douglas, daughter of the Marquess of Queensberry,
attracted great media interest nine years ago when she married Simon
Melia while he was in prison for armed robbery. He was a heroin addict
who told her she was fat and a bad wife then sold a precious piece of
family jewellery. Then he ran off with the Polish au pair. She wrote
about it all last year, in painful detail, saying she could never
forgive him. The couple are now back together, but she doesn't regret
telling her story.
"Writing it helped me identify issues in the marriage, and why
it had gone wrong," she says. "I think if you can express
something you can bounce back. The only thing I regret is that I wrote
about his controlling, dominant, aggressive side, but I didn't say
that he also has an utterly charming, sunny side and is a fantastic
father. Sometimes when it's brought up I think, I don't want people to
read that again."
If fighting for your man seems not to be worth the candle, there is
some consolation: fabulous, fit and newly single 40-year-olds get to
have sex with hard-bodied manual labourers and still keep the moral
high ground. And the best revenge of all? You know the struggles your
rival will face once the novelty has worn off. As Rachel Royce put it:
"The Slapper? She's welcome to him, really."
BEWARE A WOMAN SCORNED
The French film star enjoyed two years with the musician
Jean-Michel Jarre before she discovered his infidelity. She used the
cover of Paris Match magazine to announce to the world (and her
boyfriend) that the wedding due this August was off.
Plonk one on him
Lady Sarah Graham-Moon was offended by the "discourtesy"
of her husband, Sir Peter, moving in with his girlfriend before their
divorce was finalised. So she raided his wine cellar and left bottles
of vintage plonk on doorsteps around their Berkshire village.
"Doing a Bobbit" entered the language - and men's
nightmares - when Mrs Bobbit cut off the penis of her cheating husband
John Wayne in 1993 and flung it from a moving car. In court, she
blamed "temporary insanity" and was found not guilty.
Knickers to that man
Valerie Thorne was horrified when she found her husband collected
kinky knickers. So she hung them from a tree in the front garden of
their house in Nelson, Lancashire, with a sign saying: "Goodbye
Wolfram and your Dirty Knicker Collection".
When Robin Cook, then foreign secretary, cheated on his wife
Margaret in 1997, she decided silence might be golden but talking was
worth a fortune. It took her a newspaper column and two books even to
begin to catalogue his faults.
Hit him where it hurts
Imagine a husband's delight when his rich wife offered a trip to
meet her in Mexico. Imagine his horror when he "temporarily"
covered the cost only to find she was not there. The unidentified
woman eventually asked him, "So was it worth cheating on
Despite being a philanderer herself, Queen Isabella wasn't keen on
her husband Edward II's catamites. So she and Roger Mortimer bumped
off Edward's boyfriend, imprisoned her husband and arranged for his
death - by the insertion of a red-hot poker into his anus.
Thai the scoundrel down
Mary Coop was expecting a proposal when her partner took her to
Thailand. Instead, she discovered him being intimate on the beach with
a waitress. His passport and house keys ended up in the sea, leaving
him stranded while she flew home.
Taking Ivana Trump's motto, "Don't get mad, get
everything", as her mantra, Olivia Goldsmith turned her divorce
into a blockbuster novel and film: The First Wives Club,
starring Goldie Hawn. The author died a millionaire, but never
The shellfish bitch
Before ex-hubby can move his new bride into the former family home,
the wronged wife pushes prawns inside the curtain linings. The
newlyweds cannot trace the smell, and are forced to move. The removal
men bring the curtains too. Or so runs the urban myth.