Still a woman of substance as she nears 80

As her 28th novel is published, saga queen Barbara Taylor Bradford talks to Hannah Stephenson about the love of her life, her two miscarriages, and her work ethic

Still a woman of substance as she nears 80

I write about women who have something to do and to say, and who go out and conquer the world.

SHE is nearly 80 and soon to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary, but Barbara Taylor Bradford, bestselling author and multi-millionairess, is in no mood for slowing down.

I ask the former journalist, who left school at 15 and was a typist at the Yorkshire Evening Post before becoming a reporter, what she would do if she didn’t write, and if her husband, movie producer Robert Bradford, didn’t look after her business interests.

“What would we do?” she asks. “We don’t have children, so we don’t have grandchildren. We have a lovely god-daughter, but she’s Spanish, lives in Spain, and is married. We only see her two or three times a year. People who retire die. Work keeps me busy.”

The no-nonsense author, who was in her 40s when she wrote her first book, A Woman Of Substance, but has since written 26 novels with sales of 89m copies in 90-plus countries, was awarded an OBE in 2007. She attributes much of her success to her husband.

Bob markets the Taylor Bradford brand, and produced a string of TV movies adapted from her books. The couple are not planning massive celebrations for their golden anniversary. When the guest list exceeded 350, they shelved the idea, but their partnership seems something to celebrate every day.

“We still love each other, we are very close and we are each other’s best friend,” Taylor Bradford says simply. “He makes me laugh every day.”

They are always nice to each other. “What’s the point of being married if you’re going to be nasty? I think you must like your husband, as well as love him. I also think you have to have a lot of respect for each other. Yes, he aggravates me and I aggravate him and we have a few bickers, but he says, ‘no, we never bicker’. Maybe he doesn’t know what bickering is,” she says.

Taylor Bradford doesn’t dwell on regrets at never having had children. She has written of the sadness of two miscarriages and not falling pregnant again, and said it probably made her marriage stronger.

She wrote: “The awful thing is that miscarriage just happens and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. It’s such a shock and disappointment, but no one can change what is happening to you. I still recall that sense of loss, but I realised then that I just couldn’t live my life filled with regrets, dwelling over babies who had never been born. At times, I’ve said to Bob, ‘Are you sorry we didn’t have a child?’ and he’s said, ‘Sometimes I wish we had, but you don’t miss somebody you’ve never known’.”

Taylor Bradford’s life has been rich. Her hard-working ethos has ensured that. She rises at 5.30am to write in her luxurious Manhattan apartment. Her sagas frequently focus on feisty, talented working women with ambition — rather like herself — in stories peppered with glamour, lust, wealth and betrayal. “I write about women who have something to do and something to say, and go out and conquer the world. I call them women warriors,” she says.

Her 28th novel, Secrets From The Past, centres on a female war photographer who, while writing her late father’s biography, finds photographs that turn her life upside down. Taylor Bradford thought of the idea while staying in a hotel in France in the summer of 2011, where she and her husband watched TV as the war broke out in Libya.

In the story, the heroine looks after an ex-lover, who has come out of Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. Taylor Bradford says her researching worries her husband — and this latest novel is no exception. “I frightened my husband. I’d researched PTSD and how it manifests itself and read a lot about war veterans and correspondents, and I said to Bob, ‘The only thing I need to do now is get myself accredited as a war correspondent and go to a front line’. He said, ‘Over my dead body’.”

Born in Leeds, Taylor Bradford grew up in the suburb of Upper Armley. Her mother, Freda, was a nurse and a housekeeper, while her father, Winston, who had lost a leg in an accident, was largely unemployed.

“I felt that if you weren’t working all the time, God was going to strike you down. I grew up as an only child with a quiet, reticent mother, but she instilled in me a lot of my ambition,” Taylor Bradford says. At 20, she became fashion editor at Woman’s Own magazine, and later a columnist for the London Evening News.

She met Bob on a blind date, through a mutual friend, when she was 28. He impressed her because he was wearing a tie. They were married on Christmas Eve, 1963, whereupon she moved to America to be with him.

But she had no intention of becoming a lady of leisure — and her work ethic has made her one of the world’s richest authors. No sooner has she finished a book, than she’s on to the next — her deadline for the next novel is July. She’s lived in the US for nearly 50 years, but returns to England so often that she never misses it.

“Since September this is my fifth trip. I’ve been in Yorkshire doing a TV documentary series called Secrets Of The Workhouse, which is coming up in May on ITV,” she says. In it, she joins celebrities, including Felicity Kendal, Keira Chaplin (the grand-daughter of Charlie Chaplin) and actor Brian Cox, in discovering more about their relatives who spent time in the Victorian workhouses.

There’s no signs of slowing down, of slippers by the fire, aching bones, or succumbing to the fact that she’s almost an octogenarian.

And with that, she’s whisked away happily for another TV appearance, during an overfilled schedule, to ensure the Barbara Taylor Bradford brand continues.

*Secrets From The Past, by Barbara Taylor Bradford, is published by HarperCollins, €14.99.

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