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Leeming's life and loves

Jan Leeming perches politely on the edge of her seat, crosses her legs and takes a deep breath.

Jan Leeming perches politely on the edge of her seat, crosses her legs and takes a deep breath. She's nipped out of pantomime rehearsals for Dick Whittington - in which she plays Fairy Bowbells - but it's clear she'd much rather be on stage mixing with the cast, than talking to the press.

But if she's nervous at the prospect of discussing the most intimate aspects of her personal life, laid bare in her new autobiography, Addicted to Love, it's understandable. Unlike her panto character, Jan's life has been anything but a fairytale.

Five marriages, a back street abortion, adultery, court battles and tragic accidents; it's enough to fill the pages of several autobiographies. Sometimes the heartache she's endured has been met with sympathy, at other times with ruthless and largely inaccurate judgment.

The book, she says in the opening pages, is about putting the record straight.

Jan rose to public prominence in the 1980s as one of the most well known faces on British television. As a trailblazer in the media world, she was one of the first female newsreaders, instantly recognisable to audiences for her style and impeccable pronunciation.

But off air her search for love, affection and security took her down the aisle repeatedly, rarely to any degree of happiness.

Now 62, and single again, she insists her marriages haven't brought her large financial settlements.

"Only heartache," she says. "I have been financially independent from the age of seventeen-and-a-half. Not one of the men I married had any money, so that was not my motivation. I haven't needed a man financially, but I do need to love and to be loved."

She met her first husband at 17. John Staple organised the BBC's Studio Amateur Dramatic Group and at 15 years her senior he represented a way of "fleeing the nest."

"I suppose I was ripe for the picking," says Jan.

Since the age of seven when her mother left home - taking her younger sister, Gillian with her - Jan was raised by her father, a man who while strict, she adored. She was however, sexually naive and by 19 she was pregnant with John's baby, unmarried, and pleading with a psychiatrist to let her have an abortion.

"At the time there was no right to abortion. A cold, clinical psychiatrist gave me the choice between unwanted motherhood or a back street job," she recalls. "Coming from a broken home, being naive and with absolutely no maternal instincts, I felt as though I'd been sentenced to life and the key thrown away."

A few days later John found a doctor who had been struck off the medical register. After anaesthetising her with whisky he performed the abortion. Shortly afterwards John and Jan were married.

"I felt so badly about my `sin', I knew I had to pay for it," she explains. "In my cock-eyed logic I thought if I agreed to marry John somehow I could cleanse myself.

"I cried throughout most of the ceremony. People were used to brides crying with loving emotion, but I was crying with sheer terror."

Seven months later Jan moved out of their rented accommodation with some toiletries and the clothes she stood up in. She found solace in a close friend, Owen Leeming, a drama producer at the BBC.

"Owen was an intellectual, academic, kind and loving man," she says. "What he saw in me, I'll never know."

Owen had always intended to return to his native New Zealand and after a short period living together in London they set off there together. As they were unable to marry - Jan's divorce from John was not yet through - she changed her name by deed poll to Leeming.

Jan's Audrey Hepburn looks secured her some modelling work while Owen took a job with the New Zealand Broadcasting Commission.

For a time they were happy, but then Jan began a passionate affair with her hairdresser, Bob Witting.

"I got myself into a total mess with the two men," she admits. "On my side there was great love but a lack of passion for Owen, I didn't know what to do. Neither man was right for me and I knew I was making all of us unhappy.

"I think I must have taken the old adage to heart that `he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day'. I only had £35 in savings, so returning to England was out of the question."

Instead Jan's money got her as far as Australia. There she worked as an actress for three years before meeting Hayo Niebor, a dark, handsome man with "Latin matinee idol good looks."

While her acting career in the theatre continued to flourish, her short relationship with Hayo with whom she became engaged, suffered as the result of the amount of time they were forced to spend apart. Then, after a row, he decided to surprise her by driving overnight from Sydney to Melbourne, a distance of 500 miles.

"Nobody will ever know exactly what happened, but I was told he was in collision with a truck," she says sadly. "The car caught fire and though he was thrown clear, he died from a ruptured spleen."

In grief and with no work on the horizon, Jan accepted the money her mother sent her to get her home.

It was some time before she found regular work in England - despite her success in Australia - but finally she got the role of Tom Tom, a sort of junior Tomorrow's World. The national profile brought bigger opportunities, but with secure, steady work in mind, she took a job at HTV in Bristol.

There, while house-hunting, she found a strong, mutual attraction in Jeremy Gilchrist. An estate agent in Clifton, there was only one drawback - he was married with two children.

"Because of my Catholic upbringing, and having a strict father, I would say I am a fundamentally moral and honest person," she says. "But as anyone who has ever been in love will testify, reason and logic desert you when Cupid shoots his arrow."

The pair bought a house together and made plans to marry and have children of their own once Jeremy's divorce had come through. But six months after they were wed, Jeremy announced he needed space to sort himself out. He moved into a flat on his own. Soon afterwards Jan discovered he'd been having an affair.

Jan divorced him for adultery and threw herself into work enjoying success on programmes such as Pebble Mill and The Food Programme. She put her misfortunes behind her, bought her own home and enjoyed a busy and fulfilling social life.

All that was missing was to share it with someone. "I have to admit that I want to love and be loved in return," she says simply. "I don't feel like my life is complete without a partner." With a move to BBC Radio 2 as a continuity announcer, Jan found romance again in the form of a colleague, Patrick Lunt. They worked together on nightshift for more than a year and what began as friendship grew to love. Jan had been planning to return to Australia, but then he proposed and she - and her biological clock - decided to stay.

In May 1981 her son, Jonathan, was born. Now 22, she describes him as the "only constant man in my life".

With her marriage to Patrick however, it was a different story.

"Perhaps he was finding it difficult to cope with my apparent success," she ponders. "Most men don't like being in the shadow of a woman and my career was certainly on a rising path." While she was growing apart from Patrick, she met Eric whom she still describes as the love of her life. He was married, loved his children and his wife. He also loved Jan.

Eventually the uncomfortable threesome became two and Eric and Jan made a go of it, marrying after seven years together.

"There was no problem with the love Eric and I felt for each other, but outside influences were having a bearing on us," she explains. "Eric's children, Mark and Caron, came to stay every second weekend and these visits were difficult. When all of us were together, the tension in the house was palpable."

Jan thought if Eric and her were to have a child together, it would do much to bridge the two sides of the family. When she did get pregnant she suffered a miscarriage, something Jan felt was "atonement for the sin I had committed all those years ago."

After 12 years together Eric announced that while he still loved Jan, he was no longer "in love" with her. He too turned out to be having an affair.

"If you love someone you will forgive them anything," she says quietly. "Don't ask me why I loved him so much but I did. I said - and meant it - that it didn't matter, that I forgave him and we would get through it if he wished."

Eric didn't wish to work it out and Jan, with the knowledge that her fourth marriage had failed, slipped into a deep depression. Yet another divorce loomed. But in Chris Russell, a divorcee who had been single for 17 years when they met, Jan thought she had found her lasting commitment.

"I knew John and Jeremy had an eye for the women, so did Patrick, and Eric was quite open about his past and yet I was drawn to these men like a moth to a flame. Chris was different, I thought. Our relationship had been built on a solid foundation, not on some rampant sexuality. I truly believed this time I had made the right decision and we would grow old together." At the age of 59, with an emotionally stormy life behind her, Jan wasn't "ecstatically happy" but she was content with Chris. Yet, returning to their cottage one day, she found an envelope propped up by the telephone. It was notification that her husband did not wish to continue living under the same roof as her and asked that she contact him only through his solicitor. "Having been down the same path so often, shouldn't I have been stronger?" She pauses before adding: "Separation and the heartbreak that goes with it never gets easier, whatever your age. In fact, I think it gets harder."

Jan gives a determined and hopeful smile as she's called back into rehearsals. Addicted to love she may be, but the resilience she is so sure has left her appears stronger than ever.

"For some unaccountable reason, I am more optimistic than I've ever been in my life. I am sure I will love again in the future.

"I've had terrible downs but I've had fantastic ups in my life. I don't believe you can have one without the other."

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