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Jenny Eclair: My partner of 35 years rejected my marriage proposal

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Jenny Eclair, Comedian and author, 57, in a relationship

My father, Derek, was the first funny man I met. He liked a good rude joke and a fart joke, and was pretty scatological. Considering he was an army major, he was pretty relaxed. 

Jenny Eclair: My partner of 35 years rejected my marriage proposal
Jenny Eclair. 

When I was four, we lived in Berlin. He used to put me on his shoulders and pretend that we didn’t know where we lived, then walk up the wrong garden path. I’d be sick from laughing.

My younger brother Ben taught me to be scared. He developed meningitis at four and nearly died. I went from someone who didn’t know things could go wrong to someone who catastrophises constantly; who would get up and check on her 27-year-old daughter Phoebe to make sure she was breathing in her sleep. My ability to take happiness for granted was forever ruined. 

My parents met at a tennis club in Blackpool, northern England. My mother, June, now 87, was a very good tennis player, but she contracted polio.

My father was abroad when he heard, so he got compassionate leave. When he arrived at the Blackpool Infirmary, he said to her, “You will walk again. When you walk down the aisle to marry me.” He used up all his romance in that one sentence. 

He died in 2014 of organ failure. He was 90 and like an old tank: everything had fallen off or was broken. I think he lived the last three years because he didn’t want to leave my mother. He adored her, and she adored him. It was a kind of pact.

I was 13 when I had my first kiss. It happened at Girl Guides camp in Wales, as the Boys’ Brigade company was in the next field to us. It was like rats, we swarmed all over each other. David and I lay on a slope and snogged. But soon the shadow of my Guides captain fell over us. The only reason I wasn’t sent home was that she spotted her daughter doing the same thing. 

My first boyfriend was Martin. I was 15 and he was 16. Martin wore cheesecloth shirts and was the singer in a band called Goose. His parents owned a seaside hotel in Blackpool, about eight kilometres from where I lived.

Out of season, it was empty, and so we used to snog in the bedrooms with the lights off. Our relationship lasted about six months, long enough for him to buy me a leather handbag at Christmas.

After studying drama at Manchester Polytechnic, I moved to London in 1982 and got a job in a wine bar in Camberwell. One day, I walked past a tatty 1950s Porsche, parked down the road from where I was staying. A pair of legs in deck shoes stuck out. I don’t know why, but I hovered and a man crawled out. Geof looked up at me and I looked at him: there was a definite moment.

Geof came into the other wine bar where I worked, in Covent Garden. He had sort of stalked me. He asked if I’d like to go for a drink that night but I was working in Camberwell. So he came there during my shift, and afterwards we took a bottle of wine back to his flat. Once there, I didn’t want to leave.

He was a graphic designer for the TV Times magazine. He had ties, suits, shoes and even luncheon vouchers. Everything. For years we had that wine bill pinned to a board in our kitchen. 

Without question, Geof has enabled me to enjoy the career I’ve had. In my 20s I lived rent-free in his flat, which meant I could do what I wanted. It was like having a rich father. I’ve paid for it since, though, as I’ve taken on a lot more financial responsibility. 

After I’d had Phoebe, Geof drove me to my comeback stand-up gig. When I came offstage I got in the car, fed Phoebe, and then we went home. After I stopped breastfeeding, things got easier. Geof was a great support and never minded taking over. 

Geof is 68 now, but he’s not really slowing down. He’s still doing up other people’s houses for a living. We’re both freelance, so there will be no early retirement for either of us. 

Valentine’s Day last year, I shouted down the stairs, “Do you want to marry me?” He said, “No, not really.” We’ve been together almost 35 years. At some point we’re going to hobble to the registry office.

In 2010, I was part of the UK I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! My campmate, [British actor] Nigel Havers, was charming. He is quite posh and very easy company. He asked me questions about me, and then I’d do the same with him. It was quite nice, as I spent a lot of days in camp realising that young people never ask a woman over 50 a question.

Did I fancy him? No. I don’t fancy anybody. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt a deep stirring in my loins. That bit of me is slightly dead. It died in my mid- 40s. It would be interesting to know who, what and how that might be revived.

Jenny Eclair performs How to Be Middle Aged (Without Going Insane) at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from March 30 to April 16; comedyfestival.com.au

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