How We Met: Candida Lycett Green & Tory Lawrence

'While working for Candida's father, I left the typewriter plugged in and the office caught fire'
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The Independent Online

Candida Lycett Green, 68, is a journalist, television presenter and author whose books include England: Travels Through an Unwrecked Landscape. She also edited and prefaced the collected letters and prose of her late father, Sir John Betjeman. She lives in Uffington

As children, Tory probably figured larger in my life than I did in hers, since she was a year or two older than me. She was the star of the local horse shows; I remember her galloping across the Berkshire Downs and winning all the showjumping prizes. My brother was in love with her and once took her to the Regal cinema in Wantage; I remember being incredibly impressed by the amount of scent she wore.

Then, when I got married, Tory and her then-husband were the only friends [I and my husband] had in common, so we spent a lot of time with them. Tory was fantastically glamorous to me, and also a natural blonde – she and Brigitte Bardot were the reasons I would dye my own hair.

We had lovely times during that period, but our friendship was not so much to do with being part of a set as a link based on a shared bank of memories and a deep feeling of belonging to a place. We are both attached to the area where we grew up and have a shared love for the sense of history and prehistoric man you feel there. The [Uffington] White Horse has been a subject of my writing and Tory's painting – we didn't confer about it; it is in our bones.

Tory is still my guru on horses and riding. I ask her advice all the time, as she was top of her trade and as brave as a lion physically. She no longer rides because she broke her back while team eventing, which is when she took up painting. At the time, that came as a slight surprise, but whatever she does, she does it properly, whereas I have just muddled along as a journalist since I was 17.

We have always lived in close proximity, although she moved to Suffolk a few years ago, which was a huge blow for me. We used to love walking our dogs together along the Ridgeway two or three times a week. We still do that when she comes back, confiding in each other like typical girlfriends.

When I heard I had cancer I rang Tory before I even rang my husband – that's how close we are. In some ways I was putting off telling him, but speaking to her gave me the strength to do it. She is very calm and reassuring; even after all these years I still look up to her.

Tory Lawrence, 69, is a painter. She won the Spink Prize for Painting in 1996 and 1998 and, in 2002, the Gainsborough's House Museum Drawing Prize. She lives in Suffolk and London

I have memories of Candida from before I met her properly. I am a bit older than her and my first memory is of a fancy-dress party given by her mother when they were living at the Old Rectory in Farnborough [Hampshire]. Candida was dressed as a beautiful Little Bo Peep with a hooped skirt and her hair in ringlets.

My family lived about eight miles away and Candida's mother used to organise gymkhanas and paper chases on the ponies and so we'd all gallop over the Berkshire Downs together as children. The very evocative writing that Candida does now makes me long to return to that area of countryside where we grew up.

Later, I worked as a secretary for Candida's father, John Betjeman, for nine months in London. I was not very good – one evening I left the typewriter plugged in and the office caught fire. I got married soon after, which I think was rather a relief for him, as he didn't have to sack me.

My husband and I bought a house near Candida and her husband Rupert, and we then got to know each other as adults. My first impressions of her as a young woman were of someone rather silent, but very beautiful and intelligent. They were – and still are – a very glamorous couple.

We became close rather slowly. There were lots of great parties – picnics on the Downs at night among the beeches; cricket matches and poker parties with my father. It seems, now, very idyllic. Candida would come to my house and transform my rather ordinary dining-room with flowers. She has a great ability to make a place somewhere wonderful to be.

In the late 1960s we moved away to Wiltshire, and Candida and Rupert lived in London, but they rented a tiny cottage in the yard of our farmhouse for weekends. We both had children at that time so there were lots of outings and walks. It has been a very secure friendship ever since.

I tell Candida things I don't talk about to anyone else. I had a friendly divorce but she was very supportive and a great encouragement when I took up painting full time at around 40. She has bought several of my landscapes – I suppose liking them enough to buy them is the best compliment.

Our mutual love of the Downs is still one of our great bonds – the hills and the chalk, so now if I go to visit Candida we walk the dogs together there and go for a pub lunch.

What I admire most is her energy and ability to keep going through any difficulty and yet somehow remain the same – she is still as beautiful and funny and clever as she was when we first became friends. n

'Unwrecked England', by Candida Lycett Green, is out now (Oldie Publications, £25). Tory Lawrence's exhibition Ancient Land is at the 12 Star Gallery, London SW1, from 16 December to 15th January (www.torylawrence.com)

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