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Alan Bennett reveals that his lover, 'Café Anne', is dead

Playwright talks about housekeeper who was his clandestine 'crazy mate'

He is notoriously secretive about his love life and for decades kept the world guessing over even his sexuality. So it is perhaps unsurprising that news of the death of Alan Bennett's only female lover has not reached the wider public until now, almost 10 months after she died.

Their on-off relationship, which the playwright went to lengths to keep out of the public eye, ended in January when Anne Davies, his former housekeeper, lost her fight against lung cancer aged 57, Bennett revealed last week. She was first diagnosed in August 2007 and managed to defy the initial prognosis that she had only three months to live. The affair had earlier confounded popular belief that Bennett was gay when he let slip details of their relationship to a US magazine in 1993.

The 75-year-old writer last week said the media used his unintentional revelation to "somehow out me as not being homosexual". He added: "It was just absurd that you weren't allowed to be something that they didn't expect you to be."

The unlikely pairing began when Bennett employed Davies – then married – as a cleaner in his London home. He later said he fell in love within a fortnight of the meeting. They ended up living next door to each other in the village of Clapham, Bennett's Yorkshire Dales bolt-hole. The unconventional relationship lasted for many years with Davies's live-in, long-term partner, Rob Watson, reportedly moving out of the cottage during Bennett's monthly visits. The rest of the time Bennett lived with the magazine editor Rupert Thomas, 42, in north London.

Davies quickly became a Clapham institution and was known locally as "Café Anne" because she turned her front room into a tearoom. Her daughter-in-law Laura Davies, who is married to her son Ben, told a local newspaper that Davies was "very protective" of Bennett, adding: "She enjoyed looking after him, but occasionally she did drop him in it. Alan is a really nice bloke and Anne was his crazy mate."

After the media furore over Bennett's reverse outing died down in the mid-1990s, portraits of the playwright and photographs of him posing with the painter David Hockney on the walls of Davies's tearoom were the only public clues to the pair's long-term relationship. Bennett, meanwhile, kept outsiders in the dark about his sexual preferences. When asked once by the actor Sir Ian McKellen at an Aids benefit whether he was heterosexual or homosexual, Bennett replied: "That's a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern water."

The playwright, who packs his works with autobiographical references, told Radio 4's Front Row programme last week: "If there was any sex going, you'd go for it, but it didn't really matter which side it was on. There'd been something of both in my life, but not enough of either."

Davies once said: "He was always gay, but he thought men didn't like him. It's like not being picked for the team at school. I was the only woman he'd ever been close to. I was like an earthquake, turning his life upside-down, with my kids and lovers and mess."