Broadcaster, networker and London’s top hostess, Carole Stone was 57 when she finally married. Here she reveals what marriage has taught her.
“See you this evening, darling,” says my husband, “and don’t forget the spaghetti carbonara will be ready at 8 o’clock.” Already, two disadvantages of being married – having to dash home early from evening events, and trying hard to avoid saying, ”Not too much for me, I’ve already eaten a business breakfast and lunch and now need no more than zero-fat yogurt.’’
I had an inkling of the sort of things that would concern me in marriage at the very moment my husband, the television journalist Richard [Lindley], unexpectedly proposed after 10 long years together. Of course, I was thrilled to hear those four little words: “Will you marry me?” After all, I’d spent years waiting for just this moment. But to my amazement I found myself hesitating before I answered. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with thoughts of what I might be losing as a married woman.
Would any man ever again invite me out to lunch? Would I lose my sense of identity? Would Richard now in some way change for the worse? Would I still be able to see all the friends who have meant so much to me? Did I really need to be married? Surely it was enough to have been asked?
I heard myself saying yes, but wondering if we could just be engaged for a year or two? No, was the reply. A few months later
I was a June bride in St-Martin- in-the-Fields in the heart of London, married for the first time at 57.
As a single woman I had a busy and successful career. At the BBC I began as a newsroom copy-taker but went on to become the producer of Radio 4’s flagship discussion programme Any Questions?, each week inviting a panel of the most interesting people in the country to answer questions from the public on the issues of the day in a different town or village.
I loved it, and as a single girl it was an advantage to have the freedom to work as long and as late as I wanted, weekends included. I had only myself to consider. But I was lonely – that was the downside. My contacts book grew, but I had no one special waiting for me to come home. I’d always looked upon women who were married or had a regular partner as a different species. They had arrived: I had not.
I had boyfriends from time to time but the relationships usually lasted only for a few months. There was no one with whom I ever went grocery shopping at weekends – I’ve always thought this was the mark of a serious relationship. Mostly it was the men who dropped me. I was always distraught. I wish I’d had the good sense then to realise that I was lamenting what I had wanted the relationship to be rather than what it actually was. That would have saved a lot of tears.
But living alone had more advantages. I was able exist on my calorie-controlled diet and stay slim; my fridge full of low-fat cottage cheese and diet drinks. Being unattached, I had the luxury of lots of time to organise a Christmas party each year – inviting family, friends and colleagues together with well-known people I met through my work. It grew and grew from 120 guests the first year to more than 1,000. Doing the invitations was rewarding but extremely hard work, mostly because I agonised endlessly over every single name, and how to include new people each year while still inviting old friends. I always think every encounter could be life-changing: I couldn’t bear to deny anyone that opportunity. And there was of course always the chance one of my guests would bring a single man for me.
I left the BBC as a producer to try to be a television performer – a sort of Oprah Winfrey – but it didn’t happen: maybe it was my small boobs and big nose – just think, if that had been the other way around how different things could have been! So to keep in touch I began holding regular simple salad lunches for eight twice a week at my small office in Covent Garden. Surprisingly I found my skills in bringing people together to discuss the issues of the day were in demand. The lunches led to commissions to organise events putting politicians, business leaders, journalists, academics and charity organisations in touch with one another.
And around this time I reinvented the original 17th and 18th-century Parisian salon where my guests could, in the same way as then, have interesting conversations – political, social and cultural. I held my salons weekly on the same day (Mondays), at the same time (6pm to 7.30pm), in the same place (my office). Just an hour-and-a-half, then I rang the bell. I served wine, plus water, and every now and then bowls of crisps, most of which I ate myself. Salons are a wonderful way to scoop up people you meet throughout the week but don’t have time to sit down with individually.
Often after the salon a group of us would go around the corner to a local bistro. Being single, that caused no problem, but it wasn’t so easy when I was married because my husband preferred us to go home – I found that a drawback of marriage. On the other hand I have to admit Richard was a reliable wine waiter at my salon.
Today I chair the advisory board of YouGov-Cambridge, a partnership between Cambridge University and YouGov bringing opinion polling and academic experts together to produce original research on global issues. I now travel a bit more, while Richard, 76, stays happily at home, feeding the cats and getting on with his writing and his two charity jobs . It’s a division of labour that suits us both in our marriage.
I love saying “husband” and I love being a wife, but sometimes I don’t admit I am married. I don’t quite know why. I’m not looking for another proposal but perhaps there’s a bit of me that still thinks I am the single Carole Stone, although my passport firmly says Mrs Carole Lindley.
So what sort of wife have I turned out to be? I know in my heart that simple things could make Richard even happier than I think he is: by my arriving home earlier in the evening and not rushing straight to my computer; saying “no” to more invitations to book launches; not going into the office at weekends; and spending more time with him sitting quietly reading together, for instance. But part of me believes I can now have it all: dash about and still come home to a happy husband at a reasonable hour.
And bedtime can be a problem: Richard reads to me in bed at night – anything from Tolstoy’s War and Peace to, more recently, Arthur Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea – and we take our tea to bed. That means we have to retire at the same time; no chance of my staying up for Newsnight and creeping into bed later. And Richard has an annoying habit of stopping reading mid-sentence to see if I’ve fallen asleep, which is almost as serious a fault as infidelity…
At 70, I hope I am growing wiser, trying to live my life as my darling mother lived hers. She always told me to live in the now; to make the most of whatever life threw at me. I wasted time when I was single wishing I was married and I’m determined not to waste time now that I am married wishing I was single. Single or married, you are lucky to be loved and just as lucky to have someone to love. That person can be a member of your family, a friend, a partner or your husband or wife.
Finding love and happiness with my husband doesn’t mean clinging to the way I used to live my single life, nor abandoning everything I learnt about looking after myself, just to fit in with my husband; it’s about bringing with me to my marriage the best of what I’ve learnt from my past experience.
The trick is to enjoy whichever state you’re in.
As told to Jane Kelly