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Monday, April 19, 2021

BEVERLEY TURNER and friend Marina Fogle assess their own lives and offer some brutally frank advice 

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Some years ago, I was on a beach in Barbados. The waves lapped against my feet, my three beautiful children played in the powder-white sand, while my successful, handsome husband paddle-boarded across the bay.

Our male friend released his eyes from the twinkling horizon for a moment and mused: ‘Our kids are young enough to be under our control, our parents are still well, we have our health and are financially settled. This, Bev, is as good as it gets.’

My instinctive reply was: ‘Noooooo! It can’t be!’

I wasn’t happy. I saw flaws. I saw room for improvement. I thought the best was yet to come.

Like it is for many women, I imagine, the question ‘Is this as good as it gets?’ can bring on feelings of panic and dissatisfaction. I know it certainly did with me.

For some of us, life at any given point really can be blessed — we’re just too stressed or distracted to appreciate it, and only really understand that when it’s too late. For others, the question can become a howl of despair at a life full of compromise, dissatisfaction or misery.

Marina Fogle, Ben Fogle's wife, has been a trusted confidante for 15 years but with whom I now speak every day, and whose life has taken a very different course to mine. Pictured: Beverley Turner (left) and Marina Fogle (right)

Marina Fogle, Ben Fogle’s wife, has been a trusted confidante for 15 years but with whom I now speak every day, and whose life has taken a very different course to mine. Pictured: Beverley Turner (left) and Marina Fogle (right)

That’s why it’s a question many people are afraid to face. What if you decide that you aren’t truly satisfied with your lot? What if the grass does look greener elsewhere, either romantically or professionally? What happens then?

What significant life changes are any of us brave enough to take? And what small alterations can we all make to ensure that life is as good as it gets every day?

On the face of it, sitting on that beach in Barbados, my life was just about perfect — yet I had a nagging doubt that I didn’t have what it took to be married to someone who, for good and bad, was always ultra-focused on their next challenge, whether that was running a marathon or pursuing political ambitions.

Like many wives of successful men (and no one can say my then-husband, James Cracknell, the champion rower and double gold Olympic medallist, is not successful), I was tired of that life and exhausted by never having any head space to work out what I wanted to do besides a whole lot of mothering.

Despite James trying to support me in his own way, I was a snappy, unhappy mummy, a grumpy wife and an unsatisfactory friend.

Several years, a traumatic accident (which nearly killed James and took away the man I knew), marriage guidance, a huge amount of soul-searching, some gut-wrenchingly sad conversations and one divorce later, I was a single mother-of-three, scared but also relieved.

Being with someone who survives a brain injury is to carry a little grief every day. And, just as with any bereavement, once you find a place of acceptance, you can be a much better version of yourself again.

Only now, stuck in lockdown in damp February, with a totally different life and a new partner, can I look back at that day in Barbados and ponder that maybe my friend was right. Maybe my life with James back then was as good as it was ever going to get.

Like many wives of successful men I was tired of that life and exhausted by never having any head space to work out what I wanted to do besides a whole lot of mothering. Pictured: James Cracknell (second left) is met by wife Beverley (left) and son Croyde, 5 and Ben Fogle is met by wife Marina (right) at Heathrow after their return from racing in Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole race

Like many wives of successful men I was tired of that life and exhausted by never having any head space to work out what I wanted to do besides a whole lot of mothering. Pictured: James Cracknell (second left) is met by wife Beverley (left) and son Croyde, 5 and Ben Fogle is met by wife Marina (right) at Heathrow after their return from racing in Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole race

But I also know there are other ‘goods’ and other ways to be happy — and sometimes it takes time and experience to see things that way.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is how much we take for granted the simple joy of relaxed companionship: the impromptu mask-free coffee with a friend, or the huge Sunday lunch with extended family and vast dishes of roast potatoes and shared spoons.

Lockdowns have reminded us of the importance of friendship; of absorbing the energy of others whose laughter lifts our spirits on the days when it’s hard to smile.

There are benefits to all this enforced family time, but goodness how I miss a raucous night out with female friends that doesn’t rely on decent wi-fi to keep the conversation going.

For some, unlikely alliances have been formed with previously unknown neighbours — and, in my case, a rekindling of my friendship with Marina Fogle, a trusted confidante for 15 years, but with whom I now speak every day, and whose life has taken a very different course to mine.

Marina and I met at the farewell party for our (then) partners Ben Fogle and James Cracknell prior to them rowing across the Atlantic and becoming stars of a BBC series depicting their adventure.

It was Christmas 2005 and they would be gone for 50 days. Marina was the adoring girlfriend, completely besotted with her swash-buckling beau. I was the eye-rolling mother of a two-year-old son, clinging to her TV presenting career and furious at her then husband’s inability to discuss this potentially lethal project before committing to it.

Marina and I met at the farewell party for our (then) partners Ben Fogle and James Cracknell prior to them rowing across the Atlantic. Pictured: James Cracknell, Beverley Turner and Marina Fogle at a book launch in 2012

Marina and I met at the farewell party for our (then) partners Ben Fogle and James Cracknell prior to them rowing across the Atlantic. Pictured: James Cracknell, Beverley Turner and Marina Fogle at a book launch in 2012

If Marina was the cliched wife-to-be waving Ben off with a tear-stained handkerchief, I was the harridan with a toddler on her hip yelling: ‘What about me?!’

On reflection, this was merely a cover for the fact that I just did not want James to die. But when you’re lying awake at night with a two-year-old son asleep in the next room, wondering if your husband has capsized beneath 25-metre waves in the dead of night, it’s easier to be angry than afraid.

Fast forward 15 years. Two more children and a divorce (me), a wedding and two children (Marina) later, and while our friendship has waxed and waned, we have an enduring relationship built on a solid foundation of mutual respect, admiration and large doses of nail-biting tension.

Alongside a love of good food and booze, we also share an occasionally inappropriate sense of humour which sustained us when James and Ben continued to dice with death over Antarctic ice sheets and blistering deserts.

Jokes about sponsored body bags, the best little black dresses for funerals and whether I would murder James before hypothermia got to him, allowed us to survive genuinely stressful weeks at a time.

Marina would respond with patience and tact when I lamented ‘I married a rower, not bloody Sir Ranulph Fiennes’, and we kept each other company with home-cooked meals or empathic emails when we were left home alone.

As the pair took on increasingly treacherous pursuits, I’d reconciled myself to the risks, in no small part thanks to Marina’s logical and pragmatic counsel: that this was simply their job.

Her no-nonsense Austrian attitude and my Mancunian roots mean that we share a surprisingly similar ‘can-do’ attitude, steeped in non-sentimental common sense. But our lives took such different turns that today we act as a mirror to the other, reflecting how easily we could have been walking in the other’s shoes.

If Marina was the cliched wife-to-be waving Ben off with a tear-stained handkerchief, I was the harridan with a toddler on her hip yelling: ‘What about me?!’

If Marina was the cliched wife-to-be waving Ben off with a tear-stained handkerchief, I was the harridan with a toddler on her hip yelling: ‘What about me?!’

It could so easily have been Ben, rather than James, who sustained a near-fatal brain injury during any number of endurance events.

It could have been Marina, rather than me, who got a phone call to say that her cycling husband had been swiped from behind by a truck’s wing mirror and was in an induced coma in a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.

It could have been Marina who was initially told that the prognosis for her husband’s recovery was unknown and would eventually morph into six weeks of hospitalisation followed by many years supporting the man she loved back to good mental and physical strength.

You would not wish those endless hospital visits on your worst enemy, but I know that Marina would have handled the unique challenge of brain injury — waiting for your partner to ‘be themselves again’ — with strength and optimism.

It could have been Marina, rather than me, who managed a further eight years of a difficult marriage before finally divorcing.

And this week, it could so easily have been Marina, instead of me, congratulating her ex-husband on his engagement (while also looking on somewhat bemused that anyone would want a second marriage so soon after two difficult years extricating yourself from your first).

If fate had taken a different turn, Marina would be contemplating the demands of a ‘blended family’ while putting the needs of the children first.

But this ‘Sliding Doors’ perspective also allows me to witness how life might have panned out if a massive truck had driven a further six inches to the right and not struck my husband on July 20, 2010. Would I have been happy still married to a man who is away eight months of every year like Ben? Would I have been content to keep the domestic ship afloat?

Would I have been happy still married to a man who is away eight months of every year like Ben? Pictured: ames Cracknell and Beverley Turner at the GQ Men of the Year Awards in 2016

Would I have been happy still married to a man who is away eight months of every year like Ben? Pictured: ames Cracknell and Beverley Turner at the GQ Men of the Year Awards in 2016

Would I have been lonely and resentful instead of feeling adored and supported, as I do with my current partner? I can speculate, but I honestly do not know. Was that life as good as it gets?

It was these sort of ruminations which finally led Marina and me to embark on our first professional work together after 15 years being largely cast as appendages to our more famous men-folk.

Sat around her kitchen table between lockdowns, we conceived the notion of a podcast in which we ask, with total honesty and openness, at what point any of us can expect to be truly happy, coming from our two different sides of the ‘Sliding Doors’.

The beauty of podcasts is that they allow for almost complete editorial control. So by choosing one topic that we feel strongly about per episode, and discussing it against this philosophical backdrop, we draw on our own challenges, losses and insight.

It’s a hybrid of anecdote and memoir — with a dash of self-help and a few laughs.

We cover topics such as how to answer that question ‘What do you do?’ when the answer is ‘just’ a mum; and apologising. Only when you truly mean it (my view), or as a useful tool for pouring oil on troubled waters (Marina’s). Social media, the ageing process and growing old disgracefully — we tackle it all.

One point on which we are resolute is that being with your other half, outside of the house, and ideally among nature, is always restorative.

After a lockdown day in the house with my three children, my partner and I will often put on our coats and walk in the dark — even if it is just five times around the block — to talk about our worries with a tin of gin and tonic.

The events of 2020 have focused many minds on the fleetingness of this gift we call life. Never has the clock ticking towards our inevitable demise been louder than over the past ten months. Conversations about how to make the most of our time on planet Earth feel timely, necessary and important.

Vaccines are talked about as though they’re the elixir of eternal life rather than an excellent way to avoid one horrible virus (while remembering that heart disease may creep up from behind).

Due to the restrictions on human contact, financial pressures, mental health worries and concerns about our home-schooled children, very few people feel that life in February 2021 is as good as it gets.

But, for me, as the dust settles on my recently finalised divorce and I wave James off to his second marriage in which I know he will be happy and well-cared for, I feel my life now is settled and, yes, imbued with true contentment.

Freedom from sad and difficult emotions; rich friendships; purposeful and rewarding projects and — above all — a healthy family are, it turns out, the foundations of true happiness.

I’m a much more patient mummy now (although home-schooling has tested those parameters again), a kinder friend and a much nicer person to be in love with.

All I need now is that Caribbean beach and the sunshine that we are all missing, because I suspect that, this time around, my answer to that same question would be quite different.

As Good As It Gets with Bev Turner and Marina Fogle is available to listen to on Acast.

This post was first published on DailyMail.

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