(fashion) When photos of James Cracknell emerged last week of him kissing his new, blonde – and younger – girlfriend just weeks after his divorce from his wife of 17 years, critics were quick to claim he was displaying all the classic signs of a midlife crisis.
But today, in a searingly honest interview, the double Olympic gold medalist and star of the forthcoming series of Strictly Come Dancing insists the truth is much more complex.
The 47-year-old reveals how a devastating brain injury, which left him in a coma for five days, changed his personality and left him and his wife Beverley Turner struggling to cope.
Their marriage, he insists, had been broken for some time before the couple announced their split in March this year. Their divorce was finalised in July.
'I would have left me a long time before we split,' the father of three admits. 'I don't think I would have stuck it with me as long as she did.
'Bev had it really hard. She had one husband for the first eight years we were married and a very, very different one for the rest.
James Cracknell has opened up on his split from wife Beverley Turner in a searingly honest interview
Cracknell insists that his marriage had been broken for some time before the couple announced their split in March this year
'Maybe I didn't take it them [the marital problems] seriously enough, and there were improvements that I should have made. I thought that riding out the storm would be OK.
'The reality is that when I started to think, 'OK, I really need to do something here,' Bev had already put so much effort in that she was understandably done.
'It's difficult when you've got three children. It's difficult to find the time to talk and if you don't open up and show how you're really feeling – which is what I was doing – then it's hard to live in that situation.'
Responsibility for the split, he says, was down to them both: 'If I am totally honest and were to ask if either of us were the best versions of ourselves, I would say no.
'I think I was a better version of me in the last year of our marriage and Bev was the best version of herself in the two years before, which wasn't ideal.
'We put in the effort, nobody more than her, but unfortunately they didn't coincide. That was bad planning on my part.'
The couple's nightmare began in 2010 when James was struck from behind by a lorry while cycling in Arizona while making a documentary for the Discovery Channel.
He fractured his skull, causing a brain injury and epilepsy which both remain with him. His personality was also dramatically altered, affecting his temperament, memory and concentration.
Responsibility for the split, he says, was down to them both: 'If I am totally honest and were to ask if either of us were the best versions of ourselves, I would say no'
The rower, who won gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games in Sydney and Athens, says 80 per cent of those who suffer a brain injury get divorced but adds that he and Beverley 'were determined not to be a statistic'.
That was until James's decision in 2018 to become a mature student and enrol for an MPhil in Human Evolution at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. He also decided to try out for the Boat Race, and in April, became the oldest winner in its history when he took his place in the Cambridge crew.
There is no argument from James that Beverley – the mother of his three children, Croyde, 15, Kiki, ten, and eight-year-old Trixie – had the patience of a saint.
Even after he announced that he would be leaving his family for periods to study, she fought hard to save their marriage.
James says he believed going to university was an opportunity to 'press the reset button'. 'I knew we were in trouble,' he says. 'It was our last roll of the dice, to have time away [from each other], show that the reasons we liked each other at the start were still there.
There is no argument from James that Beverley had the patience of a saint. Catherine Tyldesley with James on stage at the 'Strictly Come Dancing' launch show
'But that didn't happen because we separated so soon after me going [to Cambridge]. In reality, [the marriage] was already broken. I think the reality is that I needed to do something different.
'I didn't want to go and do a repeat of what I had done before in terms of the physical thing. I wanted to challenge myself mentally, but I underestimated just how broken it was for both of us, deep down.
'I don't think I had enough time to speak about it. I underestimated the amount of work [the course] would take academically, and I underestimated how interesting it was. I knew it was going to be a hard year, but I believed when I came back I'd be different, more of the person that Bev wanted, and that we needed a break from one another.
'I think Bev was feeling ignored by me just living my own life, a little bit like a lodger, being there but not being present.
'That wasn't fair on her or the kids so I wanted to hit the reset button. But once you get too far down the stream, it's hard to get back up again.
'Then suddenly she was at home with three kids and I had gone. The reality is that you don't want the children to hear rows. They are old enough to remember that so if we can part ways amicably, then that is the best way to do it.'
His new love is American financier Jordan Connell, believed to be in her early 30s, whom he met at Cambridge.
Last Saturday afternoon Strictly star James Cracknell, 47,