NARRATOR RUSSEL BOULTER: The glamorous wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles in 1981 was a powerful symbol of love and marriage. Yet their subsequent divorce showed that in modern Britain it was individual choice, not convention that determined whether a marriage survived.

ROBERT FRIPP: I got lucky (kisses Toyah on the hand)

TOYAH: But what if you came to England and I was an absolute harridan?

ROBERT: Oh, I learned that later dear! (bursts out laughing) But no – I mean that you deal with.

TOYAH: That’s the answer to the question of why a marriage works: because you deal with things.

NARRATOR: This is the story of five couples who struggle to hold on to romance in a world where marriages are as easy to end as they are to start. All would be pushed to the limit. Welcome to marriage in the age of divorce.

Guitarist Robert Fripp saw many marriages succumb to infidelity and excess in the hedonistic world of rock music. He enjoyed great success internationally as a solo artist and with his group King Crimson. In 1984 his views on marriage were very clear.

ROBERT: I had a very fulfilling creative successful professional and musical life. And I was very happy as a bachelor. I had no intention of being married – actually rather the reverse. For me marriage wasn’t something I had to do. 

NARRATOR: In June 1985 Robert arranged to meet Toyah Willcox, herself enjoying phenomenal success as a singer and actor. Their musical worlds were very different. They’d only met once before. 

ROBERT: I asked Toyah if she would help me make a charity record for the charity of which I was then the president in West Virginia for their children’s school and she said yes. It was while working on that record together ... Oh! … (choking back tears) She stole my heart! Oh! Powerfully resonant events never go away

TOYAH: He was known in New York as the red hot lover. I mean (laughs) I think he won’t mind me saying but before he met me he had as many as seven women a day! Because they just made themselves available to him. And then he met me – this complete mess! This utter physical and mental mess who had had three boyfriends and he accepted who and what I was. 

It’s funny thinking about it now - I was really incredibly in love with him quite quickly. But it was a very different kind of love because we talked so deeply and we talked about spirituality as well which to me is incredibly important. The bond between us was inseparable. 

NARRATOR: The couple were married in Witchampton, Dorset on the 16th of May in 1986. 

TOYAH: Robert and I – we were shaking like leaves I mean we were both thinking “Oh no! This is it!” It was as hard for me to give up my freedom as it was for him. 

ROBERT: I was terrified! Terrified! That to make a commitment to this person that you know is your wife, that you adore, is wonderful, makes you laugh, is fabulous company, all the rest … 

Never the less to stand in front of this and say I will spend the rest of my life with this woman that I really don’t know very well. And I don’t even know her hit records! If I had known the extent of my wife’s celebrity probably I would’ve been frightened off! I would’ve been terrified. If I’d seen all her earlier press photos … oh! (laughs)

NARRATOR: The newlyweds were both recording stars but Robert’s work commitments in America meant he returned to New York every two weeks. The frequent separation put a huge strain on their marriage from the start. 

TOYAH: I didn’t find that easy at all. I mean firstly you’re madly in love with someone … The beginning of the relationship is always a hugely sexual relationship. And I found it very hard to be without him. 

ROBERT: I kept going away. And this was very very hard. To begin with my little lovie would take me to the airport, drop me off but then would be in tears as I left, closed the car door. So I would leave with my wife in tears, my wife would go home without me. 

NARRATOR: Robert played gigs across America and ran guitar craft classes in West Virginia. Far away from Toyah there were many opportunities for affairs. 

TOYAH: When Robert went away I do not believe for one minute he was faithful to me. He absolutely swears he was but no, I don’t believe he ever was faithful to me. 

ROBERT: For me – when I proposed to Toyah – if I’d had any doubts at all of fidelity … I would’ve not proposed. I think for my wife, who probably couldn’t see the commitment I made on the inside maybe ...“Oh, my husband is going off on the road” … 

She knows the stories of rock groups on the road, all the rest of it. For me it was never an issue, it was never a matter. If I’d had any doubt at all I would simply not have proposed. 

TOYAH: I could never have said to him "no, you can’t go away, no you can’t travel." He just wouldn’t tolerate that, he’s a completely free human being. So I was unhappy, I was incredibly insecure, it was not a happy honeymoon period. But I wanted to make it work. 

NARRATOR: Before the age of divorce marriages had been sustained by social convention, stigma and lower expectations. Now marriage was less an institution and more a relationship where issues that maintained long term love mattered most. With divorce was such easy option it was more difficult than ever for couples to get through the hard times. 

Many found they had to constantly work at their marriages to keep the magic alive. Robert Fripp toured the world as a highly respected guitarist while Toyah Willcox widened her career as a presenter on British television. When a husband and wife worked far apart for weeks at a time though, love might seem a distant memory. 

ROBERT: We were both very busy, I would call every day – very high telephone bills. And my rule would be: focusing on little T, be a happy happy husband so that I could give whatever is possible to my wife knowing that she’ll be missing me as I’m missing her. It was a quiet ongoing form of heartbreak. Now a good disciplined player can deal with it. And as a good disciplined player I did. 

When you walk on stage you’re present on stage. You’re nowhere else, your attention is there. But when you walk off stage – then I miss my wife. When you get on the bus – I miss my wife. When you off the bus into your lonely vacuum with a bed in it known as your hotel room – I miss my wife. On stage - a presence. That’s doable. 

TOYAH: He started to be away for three months at a time and that was just so difficult. I remember one time - he’d been away for three months, he was flying back, got to Heathrow and got a call to go back to Seattle. He went straight back, I didn’t even see him. That was hell. It was real hell. But when we were together it was fantastic. We really made the most of it! It was like honeymoon all the time! 

NARRATOR: Toyah and Robert have been married for 26 years. Their decision not have children enabled them to devote what little free time they had, to each other. 

ROBERT: In the early years I expected that my wife might in some way contribute to the quality of my life. In other words I had an anticipation that my wife would make my life better. Well, clearly she has and does. 

But as I got older I saw that that imposed a limitation, a constraint on the marriage so as my acceptance of what and who Toyah is, my little lovie, deepened, for me my prayer is may I be the husband that my wife needs.

TOYAH: He got the picture of what marriage meant to me. And marriage was a totalness. I wanted to be with him totally. I wanted be with him when he was working and be with him socially. He had to compromise. And I compromised hugely. 

Marriage - it’s a bond. It’s a spiritual bond where you grow together and you can grow apart but you grow together again. And it is always challenging but those challenges are hugely rewarding and enriching.

(Toyah are Robert are sitting in their drawing room with their rabbit WillyFred)

TOYAH: Toast? (Toyah raises a glass of champagne)

ROBERT: How about to WillyFred, the Prince of Rabbits? (Toyah laughs)

TOYAH & ROBERT: (they make a toast) WillyFred, the Prince Of Rabbits!

TOYAH: Cheers, bunny!

NARRATOR: The social changes that transformed life in Britain during the late 20th Century put an enormous strain on the old institution of marriage. Couples struggled as never before to hold on to romance. Those who succeeded found that marriage in the age of divorce can still bring a deep and lasting love.


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