Yes, This Is Our Life!
Woman's Own
4 October 1988
Woman's Own: Michael Aspel article Woman's Own: Michael Aspel article Woman's Own: Michael Aspel article

"I desperately wanted my own children - Michael was very understanding"

Woman's Own: Michael Aspel article
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Leslie Crowther

Jimmy Tarbuck

Terry Wogan

Yes, This Is Our Life!

Special interview by Jo Weedon

As Michael Aspel prepares to take over Eamonn Andrews' famous red book, his wife Lizzie is also planning a few changes...

Millions of women would swap places with her in a flash. She's married to one of the nicest guys in show business, has two smashing children, no money worries and she mixes with the rich and famous. There's no doubt about it, Mrs Michael Aspel could sit back and enjoy the ride. But is she totally content with her lot? Well, not exactly.

For while Michael's professional triumphs have made him a broadcasting superstar, Lizzie, 41, put her career as an actress on hold for a few years to be with eight-year-old Patrick and Daniel, aged four.

Now, being a wife and mother 24 hours a day simply isn't enough, she sighs. She's got itchy feet that are dying to get back to the stage. Yet although Michael insists her talent eclipses anything he's capable of, Lizzie is finding it hard to step into action again. Doors open... then bang right back in her face.

As actress Lizzie Power, she saw her name up in lights in the West End. She could pick and choose her roles.

Now there's been no more to get her teeth into than the occasional television appearance or the odd promotional video.

Not surprising then, that over lunch she admits there's often a hint of envy that it's Michael who's always dashing off while she's left home to hold the fort wondering how they'd cope if the boot was on the other foot and she was rushing off every night.

"It's about time I did something just for myself. I've got more to offer than staying home. I need self-gratification. I'm not just mum," she says, laughing.

When she married Michael 10 years ago, Lizzie planned to be a working mum. The trouble was having children was almost as hard as taking a trip to the moon for her. And when she finally got the family she'd fought so hard for, her head told her to keep on taking the parts on offer, while her heart told her to stay at home and enjoy the children for a while.

"I've been torn between work and family and family has always won," she says.

Michael already had four children from two previous marriages, but Lizzie says: "I desperately wanted my own and Michael was very understanding, insisting he wouldn't dream of asking me not to have children."

Yet having a family was to mean years of heartache for them both. After a miscarriage, the next baby only lived three days. Then came Patrick, and their joy turned to despair when they were told he has cerebral palsy and would be handicapped.

Another miscarriage followed before healthy little Daniel arrived leaving poor Lizzie exhausted both physically and mentally. "All those pregnancies just about wore me out," she admits.

And yet it crossed her mind that another baby might not be beyond the realms of possibility.

"When I was feeling strong again I suddenly thought to myself, 'It's a doddle. We could have another. I know we could... just like that,'" she says, snapping her fingers.

Then she reminded herself how, the minute Daniel was born and she knew he was perfect, she'd whispered: "Thank God! I've done it. I don't have to get pregnant again!"

Lizzie explains: "I'd had years of frustration, getting pregnant and mucking it up every time. It was horrible. I felt I wasn't a proper woman and told myself I was hopeless, just hopeless."

Those unsuccessful pregnancies took their toll on Michael, too. He felt so helpless. "Michael was kind but he didn't know how to ease my pain. He suggested we get a dog!" she laughs.

"I'm sure in his heart he didn't believe I'd keep going through it all, again and again. But he was reckoning without my determination. I wasn't going to let it beat me. I wanted a baby," she smiles softly, adding: "Silly, isn't it?"

Their marriage hasn't been totally perfect, she admits. "Every marriage has its soggy bits. Children can put terrible pressures on you but the most important factor in a relationship is that you like each other – and Michael and I do."

They seem good for each other in many ways and it's since he met Lizzie that Michael's career has taken an upswing. Programmes like Child's Play (now, sadly, finally off our screens), Aspel & Company and a variety of radio shows have meant Michael is now said to be the highest paid star in broadcasting. So it came as no real surprise to us all when he landed the job of hosting television's legendary This Is Your Life which starts again this month.

Though Terry Wogan, Jimmy Tarbuck and Leslie Crowther were rumoured to be about to take over after Eamonn Andrews died last year, Michael was always the hot favourite to inherit the show.

"We both had slight reservations because it was Eamonn's show. He did it so well. He was like a child, always so excited when he sprung a surprise," says Lizzie.

If the Aspels had their doubts, the Andrews family had every confidence and Eamonn's widow Grainne sent a letter of congratulation to Michael, saying how much Eamonn would have approved.

"Michael and Eamonn were very fond of each other. In fact there was a letter from Michael, to Eamonn, on our hall table, waiting to be posted, the day that Eamonn died."

Michael was one of Eamonn's "victims" several years ago and not surprisingly the diffident Mr Aspel found the whole thing rather embarrassing. "I don't think he really enjoyed being the centre of attention. He's far too self-effacing," says Lizzie.

Despite the triumphs, Michael, now 55, remains insecure.

"Michael will denigrate his own talent and that sometimes annoys me," she says. "He's a great worrier. He worries about everybody and how he's going to keep us all when he gets old. I just tell him, you simply take out insurances."

"He doesn't sleep well and so he worries about that. He'll go to bed worrying that he's not going to sleep. Then when he doesn't he worries because he feels terrible but I just tell him 'Well you look all right' in the hope he'll forget about it."

"He worries about the kids. His eldest son, Greg, has been fighting cancer for a couple of years so that's been a dreadful worry."

"He worries about me and nags me incessantly about giving up smoking because it's bad for my health. He worries about work. He's calmed down a lot, though. When we first met he lived on his nerves."

He might not get 10 out of 10 for being Mr Cool, Calm and Collected – off screen that is – but he certainly gets full marks for being a super dad and husband.

"He's such fun with the children. He's got more patience than I have with them," says his wife.

The man isn't without a streak of romance, either. "Occasionally he'll buy me presents for no apparent reason. And he likes to spring surprises on me. This year he announced he was taking me to Cairo on Concorde for a couple of days for my birthday."

It certainly beats a bunch of flowers, but that's the sort of thing he can afford to do these days. Yet Michael whose This Is Your Life contract alone has been said to be worth £400,000 hasn't always been in the money.

The turn-around came when he joined Capital Radio. "It released him from the stultifying restrictions as they were then, of the BBC," says Lizzie. "It was simply frightful. Everything was scripted. He couldn't make a joke which is ridiculous because, my God, the man is funny! He could have been a stand-up comedian."

"He has such a marvellous sense of humour. I'd look forward to his shows, even if I weren't married to him. And I like his looks, despite the fact that he's filled out a bit over the years!"

Does she like his famous baggy eyes and white hair? "Ooh, yes!" she giggles. "I can remember the moment I first saw him. We were in a play together in Eastbourne. He was late for the first rehearsal but when he walked in I thought, 'Oh! What a lovely-looking bloke,'" she recalls with a smile.

"I'd seen him on the telly reading the news, doing Miss World competition and on Crackerjack but I hadn't realised quite how attractive he was."

"He was very shy and humble about being in the play and was wishing he hadn't agreed to do it because he was terribly frightened."

"We only had a couple of weeks to rehearse, which was ludicrous. Michael had done a bit of acting before, but I knew if we didn't stay late every night at rehearsals, to put in some extra work, we were never going to pull it off."

"I'd bully him to go through the lines with me and when we opened he was marvellous. Full houses!"

Neither was looking for romance when they met. Michael had been married twice and had decided he wasn't any good at it and Lizzie, who'd lived with a couple of boyfriends, had come to the conclusion she'd never find a suitable husband.

Yet within a couple of years they'd moved in together and Michael proposed. "Well, actually he didn't exactly ask me to marry him, he told me to phone my mother and tell her we were getting married," Lizzie recalls with a laugh.

The fact that he'd been married twice didn't worry her. She's never been jealous of his ex-wives or his four other children and most of the time she's happy to stay out of the limelight, while her husband plays host to some of the world's most glamorous celebrities.

"I only go along with Michael if there's someone I'd really love to meet," she says.

Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret Thatcher were three she couldn't resist rubbing shoulders with. The Prime Minister was sweet, she says. "She sat around in the hospitality lounge chatting to me about my children."

"Clint? Well I was a bit disappointed. He's obviously excruciatingly shy."

"When he'd finished the show I thought nobody is going to introduce me to this man, so I'm jolly well going to go over and talk to him because I've loved his films for years. So I walked over and told him that The Outlaw Josie Wales was one of the best films I'd ever seen."

"He was very nice and we talked about films but he seemed a bit lost and kept looking around for his group of people."

And Elizabeth Taylor? "Michael was so excited about having her on his show."

"I don't know what she was like before she went to the Betty Ford Clinic but she must have had a dreadful time and it's a bloody tragedy how much she's changed. She used to be so full of fire. In the old days she would have told Michael to mind his own God-damned business at some questions he asked!"

"Now she's so controlled and there's such a carefulness about her. When she speaks she hardly moves her body."

Lizzie, the eternal optimist, no longer broods over her son Patrick's future.

"I knew he was damaged but as he got older and his little legs were stiff I realised how it would affect him. When it finally came home to roost exactly what was going to be wrong with him I felt responsible. But you gradually come to terms with it."

"It was a bit late in life for Michael to start having handicapped children, yet he seemed to cope better. He's always been deeply involved with Patrick."

"He's an intelligent, bright boy and Michael is already convinced he's going to be a writer."

And Dan? Well, he's pretty nimble on his feet. So nimble Lizzie enrolled him in dancing classes, much to his father's chagrin.

"He thinks dancing is a bit cissy. But the boy's got talent and I think he should use it. If he isn't a dancer, I'm sure he'll end up a footballer."

For the time being, though, Lizzie is more concerned about her career. Yet despite her claim that she's desperate to get back to work again you can't help wondering if maybe she's been a little half-hearted about her intentions. She sighs, and nods.

"Michael really does need me, you know. When someone is very famous it helps if their partner knows the business. I do enjoy being needed and I don't want to hurt anybody at home, but I really feel I've done so much for that lot I want to do my own bit."

However long it takes, her turn will come again one day, of that she's sure. She's not asking for stardom, just a nice part in a provincial theatre. "Maybe I'll end up a good old character bag," she giggles, tickled pink at the prospect.

Even if she never sees her name in lights again, in her heart Lizzie knows she'd make those professional sacrifices all over again.

"I often ask myself if I have any regrets and the answer is 'No'" she says. "I really wouldn't change a thing."