Madonna, Tara, the Love Rat and me

She was a student in yellow dungarees. He was a charming young actor. Twenty years on, Julie Myerson is a novelist - but her old flame Greg Martin is now 'The World's Greatest Love Rat', the man who broke Tara P-T's heart. What, she wondered, would happen if they met again?
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He is a Love Rat. Or that's what the double-barrelled It Girl called him last summer. Then the smug, middle-brow, Little England papers joined the hunt. They went for blood. They said he truffled out wealthy women - old ones, young ones, any ones - and proposed marriage before they could unhook their La Perla. After gobbling their cash, he let them down. Even his family hates him. He is Scum!

But as well as being a cad, an upstart and a Love Rat, Greg is also someone I once dated a long time ago. And he hasn't changed a bit. Tall, brooding, a boyish 43. And homely. How Hamlet might look if he had stayed friends with his mum.

Practically his first words to me after 20 years are: "Did we... er... did I... ?"

"No," I say quickly, "we didn't. Absolutely not." He looks almost disappointed (well, he is a Love Rat).

"You chased me," I remind him. "But so sweetly. Took me to dinner, wrote me lovely letters. But I don't think we even snogged... not that I remember anyway."

He laughs. (Good, he still laughs.)

But for a few months, those letters, written from Hatfield where he lived with his mum, were the single most exciting thing in my day, my week. By the time I heard that he'd gone off to the States, our correspondence had drifted and I was in love with a Polish biker.

Twenty years went by. And then, that bizarre non-week of the eclipse last summer, I was at the beach café in Southwold with my kids and I picked up the nearest tabloid and saw his face. You know the rest.

Why did I want to meet him? Well, if someone you once liked turns out to be the subject of a witch hunt, you have to know why. When I knew him, he was fun and flirty, but hesitant, genuine, sensitive. He liked to chat. He did not push for sex as many boys I knew back then did. So what sort of a mess had he got himself into? More to the point, if I saw him again, would I hate him too?

He asks me if it's true I'm a published novelist now and I tell him my fourth is out this week. He seems impressed. "I used to send you my poems," I remind him. "I dread to think how awful they were. But you always wrote back saying to keep writing because you knew I was going to make it."

"I do remember you!" he says. "The way you talk so fast!"

We laugh. And then his face falls again. "It's been a bloody terrible year," he says.

I met him in a jazz pub by the Bristol docks in 1980 - me a lonely student pretending to be happy in yellow dungarees, out with a crowd of boys who were all more interested in getting stoned than dancing.

I danced anyway, and then this tall, gorgeous, brooding type in a leather jacket asked if he could join me. He told me he was an actor at the Old Vic.

"Lysander!" I said. "I saw you!" He was delighted. "I'd like to see you again," he said. He took me to dinner - in London. He'd actually met some of the people on the wall of Joe Allen's. He told me that his dad had discovered the Beatles but never had much time for him. I told him mine had never discovered anything and didn't love me either.

Now I ask him whether things got better with his father. He seems taken aback. "Do you know why I encouraged you to write back then?" he asks. "Because when I told my dad I wanted to act, all he said was 'you'll never make it'. I was gutted."

He says he really wants to talk about his work, because all the papers seem to want to make out that he's a sponger without a job. And it's true that, far from being "The Upstart Failure", he's had a perfectly respectable career as an actor - Rada, Bristol Old Vic, West End and plenty of mini-series in LA, where he also sold two film scripts, which weren't made, and then came back to Britain ("wish I hadn't now").

He's excited about his production company, his projected films, the novel that he's writing. "Do you like science fiction?" I make a face: "Not really."

All of which brings us to Dirty Rotten Scoundrel - his "sexual memoir". He says he hopes it will "redress the balance". I tell him I'm worried it won't. "It's sort of oldfashioned," I tell him. "All that ceaseless fornication. And calling women 'little darlings' or 'vixens'."

In the book, which covers 20 years of sexual activity, he has almost every woman he comes across, including Madonna, gets to turn down Faye Dunaway, can't get it up with Sharon Stone... you get the picture.

He looks a bit crestfallen. "It makes it look as if that's all you ever do," I add, "when I'm sure you've done a whole lot more... things."

"But don't you see? It's satire," he exclaims. "The voice is an ironic, comic, fictional one. Except my publishers wouldn't let me say that."

"I'm not sure people will get it," I say, as gently as I can. He sighs. "I'm not sure I care any more."

I try to ask him why, if he likes women so much, he always hung out with such vapid, no-talent, famous-for-being-famous types - and, though he looks a bit exasperated, he hasn't really got an answer.

We talk about our kids - his Connor is the same age as my youngest.

"They must have a lot of fun with you," he says warmly, and I am so glad that this Love Rat is not half as horrid as his memoir, nor as suave and obvious as I'd dreaded he'd be. In fact, he's mostly just as I remember him: open, interested, thoughtful, and with a saving sense of humour about himself.

I ask him whether it's okay to write the stuff about his father and he says yes: "It's over between us. Only don't make out that I've got some chip on my shoulder about being his son, because I haven't."

In fact, the things he has told me about him are achingly sad, cruel and too personal to print. I don't know about Love Rats, but all dads are mean in much the same way.

"But it must have affected you," I insist. He considers this and says, "Maybe," but I like him for resisting the sympathy card. "People," he points out, "are rarely goodies or baddies, mostly just a bit of both."

He's really getting married this year (she's 24 and doesn't speak much English) and it seems to me that is his business, not ours. And his production company's picking up again, and surely all the tabloid shenanigans are behind him now? Then he mentions that The Mirror has offered to take him out to dinner with two other "Famous Cads".

"Don't do it!" I shriek, horrified. "Don't play into their hands."

He smiles and raises his own in mock surrender. "OK, OK, Mother."

So understand this: that he won't like everything I've written (who does?), but somewhere back there in my past was a sensitive, genuine and warm sort of guy who was damn good company when he took me out and didn't even come on to me. That all I remember of this guy is that he wanted to make it in the theatre, wanted to write, was hurt by his dad, loved his mum. That sometimes your past catches up with you in Good Ways. And that if the gossip sharks are out to get you and even your dad doesn't want to know, maybe it's the job of the tail-waggy girl in yellow dungarees who (probably) never even kissed you, to stand up and shout: For God's sake, give the guy a break.


'Dirty Rotten Scoundrel' by Greg Martin is published by Blake Publishing in May. Julie Myerson's 'Laura Blundy' is published this week by Fourth Estate, £15.99