Patience Bradley: I despised my father ... I was relieved when they told me he was dead
She was a former Vogue model and Top of the Pops dancer but Patience Bradley’s life had also incredible lows, from the cruelty of the man she called father to her battle against eating disorders, as she tells Stephanie Bell following the publication of her autobiography
She modelled for Vogue at the age of 14 and rubbed shoulders with Hollywood royalty but, as a new book on her life reveals, there is so much more to Patience Bradley than the few, heady years she spent living the high life on London’s very glamorous celebrity circuit.
Two hours of talking and we have barely scratched the surface of her fascinating life which if sold as fiction might be regarded as beyond belief.
Patience herself is the first to admit that her story is surreal in parts.
Even her birth was not without incident and to this day she has no idea how old she is because bizarrely she has two birth certificates each with a different year on them — although both are in the 60s.
She was born premature and weighed less than 2lb, spending her first seven weeks fighting for her life in hospital.
Her late mother Mary was a very beautiful and talented soprano and her father George Lawrence, an esteemed Belfast solicitor and war hero, was, she says, a very cruel man who she thought of as “the devil”.
Her childhood years make for difficult reading as she describes how she and her mother were starved and forced to survive on scraps while the man she believed was her father dined on the best of food in front of them.
It wasn’t until she was an adult that she discovered the late George Lawrence wasn’t in fact her real father and she has been searching for her birth father ever since.
In another twist, after his death it was discovered he was a bigamist and had a secret second wife in Wales.
Strangely all she knows about her real father is that he was the owner of the ginger cat who famously walked the roof tiles in the opening credits of TV soap Coronation Street.
She was only 14 years old when she was offered a modelling contract with Vogue and it catapulted her overnight from nothing to a top model in London, rubbing shoulders with the leading celebrities of the day.
Tragically it also led to her developing bulimia and anorexia as she felt pressure to stay thin and six years ago she published a book about her lifelong battle with food — My Secret is Out — which has become a valued guide for people struggling with eating disorders.
She has lived in Holywood, Co Down with her husband Ivor since their marriage 34 years ago and even that has a twist.
Ivor was her mother’s bank manager and is 30 years her senior. He proposed even though as a couple they had never as much as held hands. She accepted and they have been inseparable ever since.
In the foreword of her book she writes about how blessed she was to have two people in her life on whom she could rely and depend for total, uncritical love and devotion — her mother Mary and husband Ivor.
Her heady years in London were during the years when serial sex predator Jimmy Savile was at the height of his fame and although she didn’t write about it in her book, Patience today shares a personal insight into the man who she met in her modelling days.
It is no surprise that a book on her life — Where Do You Go To My Lovely — was launched this week as this is a lady with a lot to tell.
A naturally warm personality comes through as she talks about some of her life experiences and starting with her childhood reveals a tough time growing up in Belfast with a man who beat her mum and starved both of them.
“My father was high up in the Army and very well known as a solicitor and would have been very highly regarded, but my memories of him with us are not great,” she says.
“He was a good looking man and I remember him in the mornings coming in and the smell of his aftershave and his beautiful suits and he looked so respectable, but he gave us nothing.
“My mother had to prepare his meals and we had to watch while he ate and we had nothing to eat.
“I used to think ‘there is God and the devil and he is the devil’.
“He was violent to my mother. I remember we had a large table in the dining room covered with his papers and if even one of them was moved my mother would have been beaten.
“My mother was very beautiful. She was the type of woman if she walked into a room all men would flock round her, but she was also very innocent. She was a great singer and won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and sang in the West End.
“People now don’t know what it is like to wake up and have nothing. My mother and I survived on the scraps which a butcher would have given to a dog and I remember once a local baker very kindly giving us leftover buns.
“My father went every weekend to Wales and we never knew why. We later discovered he had another wife there.
“I was about eight when he died of a heart attack in a taxi outside our house and there were a number of memorial services for him and I remember sitting in one listening to the minister talking about this great man and I wondered who they were talking about.
“I despised him and I was so relieved when they said he was dead.”
Patience enjoyed a beautiful relationship with her devoted mother. It was her mother who enrolled her in a modelling course in Belfast when she was a young teenager, but she left half way through when the owner advised that the 5 ft 3in Patience was not tall enough to make it in the modelling world.
Shortly after that her mum received a phone call out of the blue from an Italian photographer who was visiting Dublin inviting Patience to a photo shoot.
“I never found out how the photographer got our number,” she says. “Somehow through the pictures he took of me, we got a call from Vogue inviting me to London. I had a year’s contract with them and did two features, only one of which they used.”
Her life changed dramatically overnight and although only 14 years old, she says her mum indulged and encouraged her in the new and exciting opportunities that were coming her way.
Work poured in and as well as fashion shows, she appeared in a number of iconic adverts including ones for Bounty Bars and Brutus Jeans (Get your Brutus Jeans on).
It was a lifestyle which saw her attend the best parties in town with the top celebrities of the day and at one point she shared a house with movie legend Richard Burton’s niece.
“It was amazing meeting so many stars at such a young age,” she says.
“A lot of parents would not let a 14-year-old go to London to live that life, but my mum was never like that.
“She had complete faith in me and she just wanted me to be happy.
“I think I spent the first year thinking I was in a dream world. I remember walking into Miss Selfridges in London and they had my picture suspended from the ceiling in the Topshop section and I just couldn’t believe it was me.
“I met so many people. I loved David Soul. I met Paul Newman who was a wonderful man.
“The first person I met who had any real fame was Oliver Reed. I remember turning up to a party at his house wearing a new bunny coat which was fake fur, but I thought I looked great and he opened the door and the first thing he said to me was ‘do you often wear dead rats’.”
Of the many celebrities she mixed with — and there was many — the one who made the biggest impression on her was Superman actor Christopher Reeve with whom she formed a friendship.
“He was the most gorgeous looking man and a beautiful person,” she says. “A lot of celebrities were very into themselves but he wasn’t. I’ve never met a lovelier man and after he had his accident I remember going to meet him again.
“Before the accident everybody fell at his feet and he was so tall and then there he was in a wheelchair with tubes.
“When I met him after the accident his wee son was with him and he was helping him to do things he couldn’t do because he couldn’t use his hand.
“His son climbed onto his knee and when I looked into Christopher’s eyes I could see it was just him again, he was exactly the same person, and the accident hadn’t changed him at all.”
The only subject which Patience refuses to be drawn on in any detail is that of notorious sex offender Jimmy Savile.
He was at the height of his fame when she was in London.
Details of the abuse he subjected hundreds of vulnerable young women to during those years which only emerged after his death did not come as a huge shock to Patience.
She says: “What happened is frightening. I did think at the time he was a very strange man. In those days the big thing was to be seen with a celebrity. Now the celebrity world has changed but back then things were very different.
“Walking past someone having sex on the floor with a celebrity at a party was nothing. It sadly was the norm back then.
“I remember a boy of 14 died on a settee beside me at a party from taking drugs and I never took drugs because of that.
“I was at a party of an MP’s daughter once and we were all arrested but I was let out because they realised I wasn’t taking drugs.”
Patience left her modelling days in London behind after being diagnosed with severe Reynaud’s and Scleroderma which are two conditions which can occur together and affects the extremities, usually the fingers and toes.
She is chair of the Northern Ireland Reynaud’s and Scleroderma Association and has raised thousands of pounds over the years organising charity fashion shows and has also worked hard to raise awareness of the conditions here, winning a Woman of the Year title in 2000 for her charity work.
A tragic downside of her early modelling career was developing eating disorders which she has lived with ever since.
She was persuaded to turn it into a book by a friend who is a psychotherapist and since it was published six years ago, My Secret is Out has helped countless others to recover.
She says: “It started after I began modelling. Most of the models then would have done anything to stay thin and I developed anorexia and bulimia. It is the most evil illness.
“I tried to take my own life three times and Ivor has really helped me through it, he has been wonderful.
“My whole life 24-7 was about food, nothing else mattered, just food.
“You never recover from it. I would have worked tirelessly just to take my mind off food for two seconds.
“I’m just delighted that the book has been able to help people and I know of three lives it has helped to save.”
- You can discover the full details of Patience’s fascinating life in her new book Where Do You Go To My Lovely published by Excalibur Press at www.excaliburpress.co.uk/sotre/products and Amazon
SURREAL LIFE: Patience Bradley at her home. Left, the man she believed was her father, George Lawrence. Right from top, a Bergasol shoot and modelling for a Vogue assignment