The Way I Was: I took my mother's sunshine with me: At 20, Barbara Taylor Bradford left home. She tells Nicholas Roe how this was to affect her family

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I WAS very ambitious and driven - I suppose I still am - but I was scared when I left home. I was almost 20 and working on the Yorkshire Evening Post at the time. Then I left to go to Woman's Own in London, and that was when I had this photo taken, because my mother wanted to mark the fact that I was leaving.

I was an only child, you see, and I had been very protected, very spoiled. Now, here I was going off to the big smoke. I remember the cab coming to pick me up that day, and my mother going to Leeds station with me, with my two hampers full of books and another full of sheets and towels and things.

She put me on the train, and I leaned out of the window and waved, and she was crying. I suppose I cried, too, because I was very close to both my parents, and I remember saying to her: 'I'll see you at the end of the week, and I'm going to make dinner for you.' We laughed about that for many years afterwards because, when she came down to stay on the Friday after that, I made spaghetti and used so much that I could have fed the whole of Belsize Park Gardens. I put two packets in, and it swelled like a lot of soggy knitting.

She stocked up the cupboard for me and stayed until the Monday, to make sure I settled in my job all right. Then she went home again, but she used to send me care packages - you know how we used to send care packages to Europe? Little cardboard boxes full of all sorts of things. Quality Street, maybe two new tea towels, and something nice, like a bottle of perfume. They were absolutely wonderful, my parents, and I used to go home at weekends for quite a while, so they were still supporting me in a way.

The strange thing is that 30 years later, in 1981, when my father died and then my mother died just five weeks after, I found my mother's diary and an entry in it which talked about the day I left home.

My father had died of heart failure. I guess he was just worn out. He was 81. My mother had a lot of arthritis, and I think decided that I was happily married, I had a career, she had seen the publication of A Woman of Substance - which she called 'the fulfilment of my childhood dreams' - and I think she just gave up. She didn't want to go on.

When it happened, I was living in New York. Brenda, my mother's housekeeper, telephoned me very early one morning and said: 'Your mother is going into hospital.' I said: 'Can you ask my mother to come to the phone?' Brenda was gone for several minutes, then came back and said: 'Barbara, I don't know how to tell you this, but your mummy just died.' Bob, my husband, tells me that I started to shout, 'She hasn't just died, she's been dead for a long time and you haven't told me.' But Brenda said: 'No, no, she really did just die.'

I took Concorde the following morning and it was then, when I was in Leeds, that I found her diary. I sat there in her living room and wept, because it said: 'Barbara went to work in London today, and all the sunshine has gone out of my life.' I thought how terrible we are when we're young, because we've everything before us and don't understand what someone might suffer when a child leaves home. I think we are rather ruthless and cold-hearted and self-involved at that age, because we're looking forward the whole time.

I realised how it must have been for her. I was starting out on a great journey, a great adventure of life and a career, but for my mother something terrible had happened.

Her daughter was going away, and she saw me as all the brightness in her life. But I didn't know of this until she died.

Barbara Taylor Bradford's latest novel, 'Angel', is published in hardback by HarperCollins, pounds 14.99.

(Photograph omitted)

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