I sold my story, too

When the Catholic Bishop of Argyll resigned and went off with his lover, many felt sympathy, though it rapidly decreased as his full story unfolded. And when he `told all' (or sold all) to The News of the World, support dropped to zero. What could have popossessed him? Then Marion Smith called The Independent. She knew. She had done the same thing herself. By Emma Daly
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Indy Lifestyle Online
One morning last year, as on most Sundays, News of the World readers woke up to enjoy the saucy details of an adulterous affair. "We were at it like rabbits," the mistress said of her lover, the village GP, sharing with readers both the sublime - "I've never been so much in love" - and the ridiculous - "He liked to make love in a Davy Crockett hat with a bobbing furry tail."

A particular scorn exists in this country for those who sell their stories to the tabloids - the condemnation, for example, of the Bishop of Argyll, not just for kissing, but for telling the News of the World and receiving a handsome sum in return. Marion Smith has a different perspective. She is 33, attractive but demure-looking, sensible, half-German, a far cry from the "leggy blond models" and the lurid tales flagged as tabloid "exclusives". But she is the mistress quoted above.

"When I saw the Bishop's story I thought, OK, he has made some serious mistakes, but you don't compound all of those mistakes by selling out to the News of the World unless you feel that you really have nothing left to lose," she says.

Mrs Smith joined Dr Keith Pilsworth's practice when she moved to the village of Kirton in Lindsey with her husband Mark and three children in 1989, but got to know the doctor in 1993, when he helped the family after their two daughters were run over. "He was really helpful and supportive," she says now, referring Mark to a stress counsellor and arranging consultations for the two girls.

In October1993, Mrs Smith began an affair with her doctor, which continued for four months - until her husband discovered the affair and confronted the doctor. The Smiths separated, and Mark filed a complaint to the General Medical Council.

Mrs Smith, who still believed she and Dr Pilsworth were to set up home together, encouraged her husband to seek a divorce; a friend alerted Mrs Pilsworth to her husband's involvement in the divorce. The doctor told his mistress it was definitely over and, after several months apart, the Smiths embarked upon a reconciliation. She was not keen to pursue the GMC complaint but the hearing went ahead in March 1995.

Dr Pilsworth admitted the affair and was struck off, despite a petition in his favour filed by about 1,000 villagers. The doctor was perceived as victim even before his mistress sold her story; sympathy for Dr Pilsworth increased with the horrifying news, six months later, that his son Timothy had committed suicide while acting as his father's locum.

After the hearing, the GMC, aware that feelings ran high among Mrs Smith's neighbours in Kirton in Lindsey, advised the Smiths not to return home. "The GMC had also said, please, whatever you do, don't sell your story to the papers," Mrs Smith says, "and I promised, I absolutely promised, that I wouldn't do it. And I had no intention of doing it."

But the Smiths returned home to a semi-siege: their house was surrounded by furious villagers demanding that the family leave. "Within an hour of arriving back, the nightmare began - I've got three children, they were in tears, I was in tears. Eggs were thrown at the house and ... a dead magpie was posted through the letter-box."

Mrs Smith, known only as Mrs A at the GMC hearings, called the police; thus it was that a local newspaper saw the police report and was able to identify "Mrs A" to their readers - while running a review of a Prince concert she had written for them on the inside pages. It was a horrible blow to Mrs Smith, who was studying journalism at the time and working for local media, and was not softened by the apology of a colleague who read her name out on local radio.

"Once I had no anonymity I really didn't have that much left to lose, because the campaign had begun," Mrs Smith says.

With tabloid reporters and photographers camped outside, things moved swiftly. "Romeo doc's lover to flee town," said The Sun, two days after the GMC hearing. By then, the Smiths were already in the penthouse suite of the Royal Lancaster hotel in London, courtesy of the News of the World.

"It wasn't a choice,'' Mrs Smith says: the family had overheard some villagers discussing the possibility of pushing burning goose droppings through the letter-box and she feared for the children. They needed to move, and they needed money to do it.

"Mark said, `The decision's yours, I don't want you to hold me responsible afterwards', because he knew I wasn't very happy." The News of the World offer - Mrs Smith says they paid a five-figure sum but she will not reveal how much - was only good for a couple of days, so she says: "I thought it would probably be for the best if I went ahead."

The News of the World put the family in a newspaper car, saying the Smith's red BMW would be too easy for their rivals to spot, and whisked them off to London. "I'm slightly aggrieved that the only time in my life that I ever had a royal penthouse I had to share it with two reporters from the News of the World," Mrs Smith says with a laugh.

"They wanted the sexual side of the story and I decided that I wasn't going to give them any sexual details, although they had a right to them, so I developed a very scatty personality - `Oh I can't remember'," she says. Furthermore, "I still had feelings for [the doctor] ... that affair to me was the honeymoon I never had and I didn't want to destroy the memory of it, and I was very keen to hang on to all the precious romantic details."

The interview was conducted over eight hours, finishing at around midnight. "I'm no sex queen, and I knew as well that my family would be reading this ... so I decided I would give them amusing anecdotes."

So she described trysts in a multi-storey car-park with the connivance of the parking attendant; the doctor's insistence once on wearing the Davy Crockett cap in bed; the phone calls from patients he answered on his mobile while entangled with Mrs Smith in his red Golf. The headline read: "Nurse hammered on surgery door as we bonked on couch".

Next came the photo shoot. "They had rails of dresses and skirts, a basket of stilettoes and a black bin-bag full of underwear,'' says Mrs Smith, who for the interview wears a mid-calf length rust wool dress with a cowl neck. She refused to change despite repeated pleas.

In the end, "I broke down in tears and said I don't want your money, I don't want to do this, I'm calling the whole thing off," she told them. "You're trying to make me look like a prostitute." Senior staff came out to soothe her, a female employee tried on the favoured costume - basque, suspenders, stilettoes and overcoat - in a futile attempt to persuade Mrs Smith of its merits.

A compromise was reached: the News of the World bought two T-shirts Mrs Smith had seen, with the logo "I've been doctored", a Davy Crockett cap and a stethoscope. "I drew the line at the stethoscope," she says.

The reporters warned Mrs Smith she would not like their style of language, but it was not until she saw the finished copy the full impact hit her. "I would never say `We were at it like rabbits'," she says. "They had debased my perfect romance ... to the bare bones of sexual gratification."

Or rather, as she admits later in the interview: "I have to take responsibility for it." For, however much she might dismiss the coverage of her story, "This was me destroying the thing that was really very precious to me."

As a media student, Mrs Smith was less naive than many who tell all, but she, too, was horrified to see the results in print. "I think that the worst thing I did in my life was sell the story; if I hadn't done that I would just be an adulterer," she says now. "But I can't bear to think what would have happened if I hadn't sold it, because I did feel very much at risk in the village."

Mrs Smith recognises the damage the affair has wrought on her husband - "He is a saint" - and her children, and she thinks the News of the World story aggravated the situation. "I've regretted it from the moment that I signed the contract; I never wanted to do it," she says, though "I'm fortunate that the offer to sell was there."

Mrs Smith has moved away and changed her appearance, but she is terrified that her children will suffer from her notoriety in the future. Still, she has the News of the World to thank for the move to a new house (although the couple have a huge mortgage which both Smiths work all hours to re- pay, she says). And the move to a private school, where her children are flourishing.

Yet it still rankles. She contacted The Independent out of frustration because "I felt the image that was presented to the world was so drastically removed from the person that I am."

Even the image in the story that she sold? "Oh yes." Hence her response to the Bishop of Argyll. "I think he deserves at least some understanding," she says. "The condemnation surely comes from within. I hated myself for what I was doing."