So often, when a marriage falls apart in the public eye, all the attention is focused on the woman in the equation, especially when infidelity plays its part. The wronged wife. The new love. The battle between two, often furious, females.
But what’s it like to be the man in the middle of such a storm?
It is something I’ve been thinking about recently, as actress Alice Evans, 53, the estranged wife of Hornblower star Ioan Gruffudd, 48, vents her anger, despair and heartache through social media towards her famous husband, who is now in a relationship with actress Bianca Wallace, 30.
It’s a situation that has certainly struck a raw nerve with me, enduring as I have decades of very public acrimony with not one but two warring ex-wives. And while I feel genuinely sorry for both women involved in the Ioan saga, I also wonder how he is feeling.
My journey through a field of landmines to reach my current state of happiness with my fourth wife, Jelena (pictured together), was nothing less than surviving a war zone
Does he suffer guilt and self-recrimination for his role in all this pain, as I did? No doubt there is some significant hurt to see the woman he used to love now so unhappy.
After all, you once shared the limelight together and spoke about your love and professional respect for each other in glossy magazines, as I once did with both of my ex-wives — and meant it, wholeheartedly.
Yet for all the past love, perhaps Ioan can’t help but feel, as I did, that his ex is struggling to let go of the past. Despite assumptions, men do feel as many complex emotions as women when a marriage ends.
I saw both my marriages as being in a terminal decline when I stumbled across and fell in love with my wives’ replacements during long absences from home, as Ioan seems to have done with Bianca while filming in Australia.
But I must admit that during the first flush of new romance, my dominant feelings were excitement and euphoria, which largely washed away the distress of a broken marriage.
To this day, my exes and I exist on fragile ceasefires — something perhaps exacerbated by the fact that, as with Ioan, the women each time were younger than my wives, which may have heightened their rage and hurt.
A marriage that fails in the public eye is not a pretty sight. My journey through a field of landmines to reach my current state of happiness with my fourth wife, Jelena, was nothing less than surviving a war zone.
My first short marriage ended with little more than a whimper in the mid-1970s, with a daughter, Nicola, now 47. A long-term live-in relationship soon followed that lasted six years. When those partnerships failed, there was no drama, no stress. And no bad blood.
My second wife, Debby, was an altogether different story. She was an air stewardess I met on a flight during the summer of 1984, three years after I joined ITN as an ambitious reporter.
(Soon after, I became ITN’s award-winning correspondent in the Middle East — an upward trajectory that led to me being headhunted by CNN.)
By the time the seat-belt signs went off on that British Airways shuttle flight to Manchester, Debby had already told the cabin crew she had met the man she was going to marry.
And we did get married in 1985 and had a daughter, Brooke, now 32. But over time the marriage became a cracked vessel because we had been steadily drifting apart.
It seemed to me that Debby found it hard to be left alone for the long periods I was away on assignments, and in the end I felt we were communicating on entirely different wavelengths. Then I met Tess Stimson, wife No 3.
Her 25th birthday celebration in 1991 was in full swing at a London restaurant when she stepped towards me, saying: ‘May I have a birthday kiss?’
I was intent on placing a polite peck on the cheek. But, instead, Tess planted a massive smacker on the lips, which bowled me over in an instant.
I met Tess Stimson, wife No 3. Her 25th birthday was in full swing when she stepped towards me, saying: ‘May I have a birthday kiss?’ She planted a smacker on the lips, which bowled me over in an instant. Pictured: Tess Stimson and Brent on their wedding day
In less than a week, impetuously, we started to plan a future together, even though I was still with Debby, albeit with the marriage on its last legs.
However, once Mrs Sadler the second got wind of my new romance, she went on the warpath, accosting us in the lobby of the London hotel where Tess and I were lying low. It was an unfaithful man’s worst nightmare.
‘You’re never going to leave me,’ Debby roared, her face flushed with anger. Then she told Tess: ‘You’ll never have him. He’s mine. If he leaves me, he’ll have nothing.’
Next, she began to brand me a ‘love rat’ in the newspapers. Tess hit back by dismissing her as ‘an irrelevance, just one more bill on our list,’ a quote she spent hours thinking about to make it sound as spiteful as possible.
A magazine cover story about Tess and me, with the headline Foreign Affairs — The Woman Who Scooped Brent Sadler, provoked another round of verbal hostilities from Debby.
She labelled Tess as having a ‘bad reputation for stealing husbands’ — which was untrue — and ‘a laugh like a hyena’, which stung my third wife-to-be.
Obviously, they detested each other. With hindsight, it would have been better for all of us if I’d tried to dampen down the fire. But I did the opposite: feeling the need to strike back, I encouraged Tess to do her worst.
That was a mistake which stoked further resentment and acrimony, and I soon regretted.
It wasn’t helped by unsolicited paparazzi shots of Tess and me walking hand in hand, looking as if we were without a care in the world.
When Ioan and Bianca recently stepped out together for a show of unity in Los Angeles, my own memories came flooding back.
I fully understand why they did such a thing. Ioan wanted to make a public statement of commitment to Bianca. But against the background of his torrid marital breakdown, such displays only risk fanning the flames of acrimony into a dangerous inferno.
If I hoped for a fresh start by marrying Tess in 1993 (a wedding covered by Hello! magazine), it didn’t happen, even as two more children came along, Henry and Matthew, now 27 and 24.
My second wife, Debby, was an altogether different story. She was an air stewardess I met on a flight during the summer of 1984, three years after I joined ITN as an ambitious reporter. Pictured: Debby and Brent at their daughter’s christening
Our marriage lasted barely six years — an all-too-typical lifespan for my doomed relationships.
You may be cynical about what I’m about to say here but, despite everything — all the bitterness, break-ups and very public embarrassments — I still hadn’t given up on finding true love.
I was something of an incurable romantic. I wonder if Ioan feels the same way.
Searching for a fairy-tale happy ending isn’t a motive often attributed to men who are publicly lambasted for infidelity, but I know that can be just the case.
Happily, for me, I found my fairy tale, though Tess was the price to pay for it. Jelena Anicic was a treasure trove of knowledge about life in the former Yugoslavia when I first met her in Belgrade in 1997, by which time I’d been married to Tess for four years.
Twenty-two years younger than me, she was multilingual, a medical doctor and a young gun in political opposition to Serbia’s nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Falling deeply in love yet again while already married may have sounded like another feeble excuse for what was rather selfish, unacceptable and irrational behaviour.
Nevertheless, we promised each other a future without knowing how to achieve it.
What damage would we cause by blowing up another marriage? I would find out soon enough.
Hell certainly hath no fury like a Tess scorned. She dubbed me ‘an insecure, attention-seeking emotional child’ in print and said I was nothing more than a man who ‘cheated and lied and who put himself before the needs of his children’.
I saw both my marriages as being in a terminal decline when I stumbled across and fell in love with my wives’ replacements during long absences from home, as Ioan seems to have done with Bianca (pictured with Gruffudd) while filming in Australia
What a year: Bianca looked happy and content in the plethora of images as she summed up her 2021
Many people agreed with her at the time. And it’s easy to understand why.
That said, I saw things differently. Genuinely, I had always wanted marriage, family and stability. But being sent to boarding school aged 12, after my father died from heart disease when I was just nine, left me emotionally scarred, and being an ambitious war correspondent made a sustainable family life almost impossible.
There also seems to be something of a widespread assumption that a husband who leaves his wife and children for another woman either feels nothing or is simply elated that he has moved on to greener pastures.
I firmly believe this is a myth, reducing male emotions to the cliché of an oat-sowing lothario.
Looking good: It comes Ioan’s ex Alice accused Bianca of editing a bikini snap last week, which she shared on New Year’s Eve to reflect on 2021
Eek: Taking to Twitter after Bianca posted the snap, Alice penned: ‘It’s ok Bianca. We believe you. Your “instas” are gorgeous. Which filter is it by the way? I NEED it!’
Few leave a marriage without feeling remorseful about the good times you once shared — and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
However, it can be difficult to communicate those lost feelings with an abandoned ex-wife, especially when she can see that there’s another woman who has replaced her.
The pain I caused was even enough to make those two previously sworn enemies, Tess and Debby, unite — and of course, they couldn’t resist traducing me in public.
I was ‘callous’ and ‘in common with many TV personalities,’ Tess said, ‘required a massive support system, needing to be the centre of the domestic universe.’
That might have rung true in the Gruffudd household too, and I make no excuse for admitting that was how I must have behaved at times.
Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Evans attend the opening ceremony of the 58th Monte Carlo TV Festival on June 15, 2018 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco
But perhaps the most significant thing I’ve learned from all this public turmoil is the importance of protecting your children. When a broken marriage is in freefall, the damage caused to them can be incalculable.
While leaving the family was all my own doing, a wave of sorrow hit me every time I saw a sign for the H&M clothing store, the boys’ first-name initials.
But relations around the children got better and, to her credit, Tess let us into their lives.
Jelena also invested 20 years in building a relationship with Henry and Matthew.
Shielding Ioan and Alice’s two daughters from any emotional anguish is, I hope, priority No 1.
Jelena and I played happy families with Tess for the boys’ sake, our Crown Jewels, and the effort paid off, even though at times it was like walking on eggshells.
Yet I was not so successful with Debby, and I blame her sniping for destroying any hope of having a relationship with Brooke, whom I have not seen since she was the age of two.
So, looking back, do I believe that you should never air your dirty linen, like Alice Evans and, indeed, Tess and Debby have done?
Would we have got through the heartache any better if we had kept our powder dry? I believe we would have.
Now, I prefer to look back on my broken marriages for what they were when they began. When there was no bitterness, no war of words.
I remain thankful that both Debby and Tess supported me in my unforgiving career and gave birth to three of my children.
They are all now thriving in their own right, and while Debby has never remarried, Tess did and has a new husband and college-age daughter.
It’s only now, with time, that I can look back and see my own mistakes in how I handled the break-ups and their aftermath.
Perhaps that’s why my marriage to Jelena has reached 19 years and lasted longer than the first three put together.
And if there’s one saving grace from all the feuding, it’s the way the boys have turned out. Henry and Matthew, both teachers in the U.S., seem to have simply taken the best from the warring adults around them.
While I did my utmost to spend time with them when they were growing up, my guilt about not being with them as much as I wanted refused to fade until late last year, when Henry saw me playing happily with Jelena’s two young nephews.
He thought back to when he was their age and, as an adult, could appreciate all the time and effort I’d put into keeping him and his brother as close as possible.
Henry knew what the youngsters could expect from having me in their lives and said: ‘I am jealous of the childhood they are about to have.’
Words I will treasure for ever.