Vanessa Branson — sister of the Virgin entrepreneur — has revealed how her life fell apart when her husband left her and their four young children.
Here, in the concluding part of her devastatingly frank memoir, she reveals how she later had a boob job, took a lover — and astonishingly, tried to make her marriage work again...
A year after my husband, Robert, left me for a younger woman, I was still struggling. Our four children were so young — aged from just two to nine — and it made my heart ache to see them so sad.
One day, Louis, who is dyslexic, told me: ‘Mummy, I know why Daddy’s gone and it’s all my fault.’
‘Oh my darling Lou,’ I replied. ‘It’s not your fault. Why do you think it’s because of you?’
Vanessa Branson - sister of the Virgin entrepreneur - has laid herself bare in a frank memoir
‘He left because I can’t read and write,’ he said, burying his head in my lap.
It’s impossible to hold a weeping six-year-old boy who’s blaming himself for his parents’ separation and not feel a surge of anger towards the woman who has taken his father away from him.
Certainly, rather than blame Robert, the easiest narrative for me to grasp was that a 26-year-old had offered a man overburdened with responsibilities an exit route, along with plenty of ego-massaging and sex.
Meanwhile, I was fast approaching 40 and drinking too much. Being continuously topped up was draining me of self-esteem — and sometimes of self-control.
That year, in 1997, I was also facing my first summer holiday without the children — two full weeks. We never resorted to lawyers for matters of access or assets, and my parents would be taking them to Robert while I flew to Los Angeles to see a friend.
As I was waving the children off, Louis lay on the floor, clinging to my ankle and wailing uncontrollably.
When the other children began to cry, my usually restrained father said under his breath: ‘That f***ing man — how could he do this to his children?’
Eventually, they all left hand in hand, and I made it to my flight just in time. My friend, Fiona, picked me up from the airport.
The split with Robert Devereux left Vanessa feeling both grief and anger at the same time - she would later allow him back into her life following a family holiday in Venice
‘My God, Ness, you look absolutely dreadful!’ she said.
Driving along the highway, she continued: ‘What you need is a nice little boob job.’
‘Fiona, don’t be so ridiculous,’ I replied. ‘It’s the last thing I need.’
‘Don’t be such a prude, Ness. Everyone does it here.’
‘That may be so,’ I told her, ‘but I’m completely against plastic surgery. It’s superficial, and anyway, I’m rather fond of my boobs — they’re just a bit deflated because I’m so thin.’
Fi was focused on her goal: ‘I know this brilliant surgeon in Beverly Hills. He does all the stars. Honestly, Ness, he’s brilliant.’
‘Fi,’ I replied, already feeling somewhat worn down, ‘I’m honestly not interested.’
The next day, we were sitting in the surgeon’s office. Before I knew what was happening, he was drawing dotted lines around my bosoms with a Magic Marker.
‘Please, I’m really not sure,’ I said lamely. He had a cancellation the next day, and offered us two boob jobs for the price of one.
I went in first. After an hour or two in theatre, the doctor went to check with Fiona what size of implants I’d asked for.
‘Ness asked for Meg Ryans,’ she told him. Apparently, he went ashen and rushed out. It appeared he’d made an error and implanted Monroes.
The pain I felt on regaining consciousness was indescribable. My chest was in spasm, my blood pressure began to drop alarmingly and I was losing the ability to speak. ‘I think I’m going to die, Fi,’ I whispered.
Paramedics jammed me in the service elevator. In intensive care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I blew up to such an extent that a nurse had to cut off my rings. My liver was struggling, along with my kidneys. The surgeon defensively explained that my post-op collapse was my own fault for not telling him how much I’d been drinking. A few years later, he’d lose his licence to practise medicine.
Thankfully I did end up with the Megs, with no need for another op to fix matters.
Do I regret the episode? Well, it would have been a bloody silly way to die. And it’s true that, if I hadn’t been in that vulnerable emotional state, I’d never have elected to do something so invasive.
Slowly, my confidence began to return, though this had less to do with my new boobs than my decision to stop drinking after my near-death experience.
One night in London, my friend, Lindy, invited me to supper to introduce me to a softly spoken windsurfing champion who’d recently split from his girlfriend. He was a complete Adonis, and in a moment of madness I slipped my phone number into the breast pocket of his shirt.
He rang to arrange a date. Before we met, I joined a friend in the pub. ‘Be warned, Vanessa,’ she cautioned. ‘The first time I went to bed with a man after my divorce, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I just couldn’t stop crying.’
Vanessa pictured with Richard (right) at Eve Branson 'Mum's the Word' book launch in 2013
I met the surfer at a bar, determined to feel strong. We rather hastily found ourselves back at Lindy’s house, kissing and losing ourselves in each other’s chemistry.
‘I can deal with this,’ I thought, as I ran my hands up and down his delightful muscular arms. ‘I’m not going to cry.’
I looked into his dreamy blue eyes — and thought I detected a tear. Then I felt his body emit a barely disguised sob. ‘I’m so sorry, Vanessa,’ he said. ‘It’s just too soon for me — I miss my girlfriend.’
I felt instant relief as we blew out the candle beside the bed and snuggled down, spooning like two children on a sleepover.
A few months later, I reluctantly accepted an invitation to a wedding in Kent, and found myself seated next to the groom’s brother. The groom’s very handsome brother.
He told me his wife had recently left him, and an hour later, we were kissing behind the marquee alongside a gaggle of snogging teenagers. We met up subsequently: I’d go to his flat, where we’d talk and make love under the stern gaze of his ancestral portraits. Then we’d talk some more, both of us grieving the loss of our previous partners.
Enough! I cut out a headline from a newspaper and stuck it on my fridge: ‘GIVE UP MEN AND TAKE UP THINKING INSTEAD.’
It was now two years since Robert had left me. With the children all at school or nursery, I started working again for the first time since the early Nineties — among other things, setting up an art fund for investors, with a friend.
Robert was no longer working for Virgin; at the time he and his girlfriend first hooked up, he’d just negotiated selling his shares and was working out his notice. Yet overwhelming sadness would still catch me unawares, a sickening, all-encompassing grief that I couldn’t throw off.
On one of my feeling-sorry-for-myself days, another friend — Caroline, known as Pidge, who’d recently been left by her husband, Matthew Freud — invited me to dinner. Among the guests was Howell