How We Met: 42. Roger Payne and Lisa Harrow

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The Independent Culture
Actress Lisa Harrow, 47, was with the Royal Shakespeare Company for four years, and has starred in numerous films, plays and television drama series. 'Double Take', a new play in which she plays a major role, opens at Chichester this month. She has a son, Timothy, nine, by the actor Sam Neill. Roger Payne, 58, is a marine biologist with a passion for whales. He founded the Whale Conservation Institute in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and is making a film for Channel 4 called 'The Company of Whales'. His four children are grown up and he lives with his new family in Clapham.

'In the jungle you may think you

hear a tiger a thousand times, but when you really hear a tiger, you'll know'

LISA HARROW: A year ago, Greenpeace asked me to speak at a rally for whales. When I'd done my piece, I came off the platform and this man bounced up to me. He said he was making a documentary about whales, and asked if I'd be interested in doing the narration. I said yes - and fell in love with him. Just like that. I didn't want him to go, so I kept him talking for two hours. We discussed all sorts of things. I was trying to beam through to him that I was single and available even though I had a son who was with me. He showed me photos of his children and I felt disappointed, but then he said certain things that led me to believe he wasn't attached. Finally, we went our separate ways. I had made up my mind this was the man I wanted to marry.

Roger went home to America, but kept in touch. Then I went to see him in Boston for a week, and we decided we really did want to marry. One of the key things was going to be how my nine-year-old son Timmy would feel. I was never married to his father, we've been apart a long time, so he's used to having me to himself.

But Roger was wonderful. He made a great effort to get to know Timmy. I told Roger that I was about to tell Timmy we planned to marry, and he did a wonderful thing. He got Timmy on the phone and said, 'Can I marry your mother?' Tim just said yes, threw his arms around me and announced: 'It's the happiest day of my life. I'll have two daddies.' When Roger was next in London he went to Tim's school and told them about whales. Timmy was so proud.

Once we had decided to get married, I got very anxious because I had lived on my own for so long. I was going to share my bed, which I hadn't done for eight years. But now I've learnt to trust a man, which is something I had never done before - my life has been one which wouldn't lead you to do so.

We decided to get married in a stone ring some friends of Roger's have built on a piece of land behind Woodstock in upstate New York. Roger contacted the brass section of Vermont State Symphony Orchestra and they came to play. My sister picked my bouquet in the fields that morning.

I couldn't have let Roger share my home if it hadn't felt right for Timmy. To me, being a single mother has meant weighing up every job, every opportunity to see if it fitted in with Tim's life and education - and not taking it if it didn't. When I had him, I was determined he would not be neurotic, disturbed or insecure.

I saw his birth as a release, not a burden, and I've always tried to take Timmy and his nanny with me when I work. I either bring along a tutor or put him into a local school, as I did when I went to Australia last year. I know there's a lot of anxiety about disrupting children's education, but I think going to different countries - we went to Iceland on one occasion - is a wonderful education for children. The thing I've particularly found hard is the way the press has been obsessed with me having had a child without being married - something which has never bothered me. I now tell journalists that I won't answer any questions about it. Even so, one came to see me, agreed not to discuss the subject, spent hours talking to me, and then wrote a huge article about me being a brave and suffering unmarried mother.

What I'm coming to terms with now is being happy. It still feels extraordinary. At my age, I could easily be sitting chewing my fingernails waiting for the telephone to ring. Instead, I'm looking at all the things we want to do together.

ROGER PAYNE: Lisa was particularly slow to decide that she ever wanted to marry. Anyhow, I heard her voice and fell in love with her instantly. Then I knew within 10 minutes of talking to her that I wanted to marry her. I'd been divorced for eight years, and celibate for more than 18 months. I was enjoying myself, but I'd decided that I'd got to 57 and my chances were over. I was comfortably resigned. Then I met Lisa and I had this sudden sense of certainty.

There's this saying to the effect that when you're in the jungle you may think you hear a tiger a thousand times, but when you really hear a tiger, you'll know. I had heard a tiger.

Once Lisa and I had decided that we wanted to marry after just two weeks, I began to think, 'I'm much too old and experienced not to know that marrying after such a short time is madness.' But then I felt it was foolish to raise doubts when I didn't feel any because once raised, doubts are always there.

After the wedding I went on a trip to Alaska with Tim, who is an extraordinary child - so absolutely normal, full of imagination and energy, bored and polite at the right moments. Lisa called it our honeymoon. I was going to film whales and we were all due to go, but at the last minute Lisa was asked to do a film. Tim and I had a terrific time and I suppose it cemented the bond.

My children are all grown up, so there wasn't a problem about how they would feel about me remarrying. But it's pleasing that they've taken to Lisa - they absolutely welcomed her and they adore Tim. My youngest son, Sam, is a trapeze artist and Tim is just the right size and weight for Sam to do stunts with.

I very much hope my new family and I can go to southern Argentina before too long. It's there I study right whales in a spot of breathtaking beauty where land and sea meet. My work studying behaviour patterns in whales grew out of my passion for music. I became fascinated with the way whales communicate through elaborate rigamaroles and I discovered they can cue each other across oceans.

I'm very proud of the fact I'd never seen Lisa act before we met. Anyone who has would have been spellbound - so I feel my falling in love with her was about who she is. That said, I was overwhelmed by the performance she gives in a new film, Chez Nous, which is coming out in the autumn. We saw it at the Berlin Film Festival and Lisa got a standing ovation - and that from an audience which is notoriously rude and frequently walks out of films.

Finding Lisa has transformed everything. You lose all sense of family when you divorce. Occasions like holidays and family moments are terribly bleak. The lowest point, I think, was the Christmas I spent in a Howard Johnson restaurant. But this year at Lisa's house in London there was such activity. Her family was there; there was a goose cooking, candles on the table. There was this wonderful sense of everything being all right. -

(Photograph omitted)