HOW WE MET; PETER SNOW AND ANGELA LAMBERT

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The Independent Culture
The broadcaster Peter Snow, 59, has presented BBC's 'Newsnight' since it began in 1979; prior to that he was ITN's diplomatic and defence correspondent. In September he leaves 'Newsnight' for 'Tomorrow's World', but will continue to front special programmes on elections and the Budget. He has two grown-up children from his first marriage and three children from his marriage to the journalist Ann MacMillan. Angela Lambert, 55, is a former 'News at Ten' reporter and presenter, 'Independent' columnist, and feature writer; she has published seven books and currently writes regularly for the 'Daily Mail'. She has three children by two previous partners, and now lives in London with the TV director Tony Price

ANGELA LAMBERT: At any one time at Oxford University there are a dozen or so undergraduates who, for whatever reason - eccentricity, womanising, sporting or academic brilliance - everyone is aware of. You might not know them personally but it's difficult to avoid their sheer presence. When I was there, Peter was one of those. His formidable energy linked to his enormous size and good humour meant that he was, somehow, always around.

We met through my friend Alison Carter who married Peter shortly after they left Oxford; and one of the reasons why I had the opportunity of developing a deep and lasting friendship with Peter was partly geographical. We all lived, at various times, in Islington, Hampstead or Highgate. Peter has always been extremely hospitable and gives very good parties, so it wasn't difficult to stay in touch. Part of Peter's warmth is the way he greets you. As he exclaims "Angela! Wonderful! Amazing! You look gorgeous - how are you? - it's terrific to see you!", he literally hurls himself at you in a bone-crushing hug of welcome. It would be hard not to feel friendly towards somebody like that.

When my husband left me with two small children it was a great shock. It was a very harrowing time, particularly as in those days - I was 26 - broken marriages were not what you expected. Peter and Alison stepped in with enormous emotional support. For a while they kept trying to find me a second husband. Each time I went over for dinner there would be a single, strong, supportive male presence. They were extremely eligible spare males who were much too good for me, but I was very glad of Peter and Alison's remarkable generosity. Some other old friends just dropped me - probably because an unaccompanied single woman was quite a social handicap.

A few years later, Peter's marriage broke up. I continued to see them both, but developed a much stronger friendship with Peter. We have a very frank, open relationship which is quite unusual. There is nothing I wouldn't discuss with Peter. He can be very sympathetic and at the same time, quite puncturing - but not in a dismissive way. Peter has a way of empathising with your situation and yet still managing to make you laugh at yourself. He'll say: "Angela, what on earth are you doing with that frightful no- hoper?" Peter has frequently made it clear - until I met Tony, who he likes and approves of - that my choice of men has been lamentable. Although he's disapproved, he's never tried to push me in a direction which might be more prudent or more mature.

Marianne, my third child, was christened when she was almost five; I asked Peter to be her godfather. Some of my children's' godparents forgot them straight after the christening, or thought that birthdays were the be-all-and-end-all of their function. By complete contrast, Peter, despite having five children of his own, is a genuine extra parent to her. When she was eight, I became seriously ill and appointed Peter as her guardian. I had absolutely no doubt that if I died - which, at the time, was a definite possibility - Peter and Annie would have been willing to take Marianne into their family. If necessary, Peter would have cared for her as if she were his daughter.

All my children adore Peter. We are included in the wider Snow family. Ever since I've known him, he has invited cousins, brothers, children and friends to his parties. Peter is the fulcrum of this extended family - a role which is more usually taken by a woman. Each Christmas, he gives huge, rollicking parties which he presides over like a Victorian paterfamilias.

At ITN, I have no doubt that Peter's enthusiastic recommendation of me to colleagues must have made a difference. I'd had plenty of news-gathering experience but none at all in television. On my first evening, he took me up to the bar for a drink. As the only woman reporter on a newsdesk of 17 men, it was a very tough job. Peter was frantically busy, so I didn't just pop over every half hour shouting "Help! How do I do this?", but, characteristically, he extended his tacit protection and approval to me.

For my 50th birthday, Tony invited 33 of my nearest and dearest to a lovely hotel. Three-quarters of the way through a very convivial dinner, Peter made a wonderfully funny and affectionate speech. He said that, when you think of Angela, a number of words come to mind. For a moment, I thought this would be followed by a flattering roll-call, but, no. The one word Peter chose for me was "crisis". Everyone was roaring with laughter, because it was so true. Whatever the crisis - medical, emotional, professional - Peter has been my Rock of Gibraltar. With all my imperfections and foolishness, Peter has totally supported me. He's been a source of pure, unadulterated pleasure in my life.

PETER SNOW: I had just started going out with my first wife, Alison, when I first met Angela. They were both acting in a production of Dr Faustus in the gardens of New College. After the performance I met the cast and was immediately struck by Angela's lively personality. She was an enormously attractive and obviously powerful woman who was also physically expressive. She was a very compelling person to talk to - brimful of interesting ideas. For some people, I've no doubt Angela's outgoing personality may well be too much, but from day one, I've always thrived in her company. If someone's plain and average, their character doesn't stick in your mind, but you don't easily forget someone as forceful as Angela. At the end of the evening, I remember hoping that I'd meet her again.

As it happens, after Dr Faustus we it wasn't until we'd all left Oxford that we met again, at a dinner party to which Angela and her husband had also been invited. From then on we began to see a lot of each other. Early on in our friendship, we felt comfortable talking to each other about our various relationships - the unhappy ones as well as the happy ones. Over the 30 years we've known each other, I've been much luckier and stabler in my relationships than Angela, but she's lived life to the full, and that's really what life is all about, isn't it? If she has a weakness, its her impulsiveness - particularly for exotic men. I've sometimes said to her "Angela, are you absolutely sure of this? D'you think this is wise?" - but that's all. With a few notable exceptions (including, I'm happy to say, Tony, her partner of the past 11 years, with whom she is enormously happy), Angela has tended to lurch from one crisis to another. This is not meant to be a criticism. I've also had my own absurd, pathetic, impulsive moments.

Although she's had a lot of ups and downs - including serious bouts of illness - she's come through with flying colours. I've seen her incredibly down, but never known her to give in to things. Any unhappiness Angela has suffered in the past has never been allowed to spread to her children. The knocks she's had haven't had any damaging effect on them. Quite the opposite. Angela is a wonderful parent. She also seems to have got the mix of being both tenacious and extremely liberal exactly right.

Marianne, my goddaughter, is an absolute sweetheart. Basically she's everything Angela is. Marianne works in Costa Rica as an osteopath. Her mother is very strict about staying in touch with her children - the other two are in England so that isn't a problem. Angela made an arrangement that Marianne would report back to her by phone every three weeks. This wasn't for any reason other than Angela wanting to be sure that her much- loved daughter was all right. On one occasion, three weeks went by but there was no word from Marianne. Ever resourceful, Angela got her Spanish- speaking cleaning lady to telephone every number Marianne had given her since she'd been in Costa Rica, leaving a message along the lines of: "If I don't hear from you at once to say that you're all right, I shall ring the British consul and report you as a missing person." It worked: Marianne called back almost immediately.

In all the years we've known each other, Angela has never been my girlfriend. There's been no romantic attachment between us. What we have is a great affection for each other. We can really communicate with one another and talk about our loves and hates. I think that's quite rare - even between good friends.

In the early Seventies, when Angela first went into TV news journalism, it was very tough being a woman. She's stronger than most men I know and coped very well. Angela's a very good journalist and she's a superb writer. Her newspaper interviews are very revealing. Because she's genuinely interested in others, and so open-hearted herself, I think it would be very difficult for anyone being interviewed by her not to open up their hearts.

In her career, Angela has been far more daring than me. She was ready to take risks and give up a mortgage-paying job in television because she desperately wanted to write books. I wouldn't have wanted to cut myself off in that way and although I've written a couple of books, I've no burning ambition to produce lots more. Angela, by contrast, is full of exciting ideas. She's just been talking me through an outline of her next book and it seems to me that she's onto a real blockbuster. I'm convinced that one day, Angela's going to write a No 1 bestseller. If anyone has the determination to do it, she has, and I'll be absolute thrilled for her when it happens.

! Angela Lambert's latest book, 'Kiss and Kin' (Bantam Press, pounds 15.99), is out now.

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