Ronnie? He was just like you and me

If there's one woman who understands tough guys, it is Kate Kray. Not only did she marry one of the Twins while he was in prison, but since his death, she has spent her time interviewing 'the hardest men in Britain'.
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The Independent Online

As I'm standing in a pub waiting for Kate Kray, the ex-wife of the notorious gangster Ronnie, a heavily tattooed man approaches me. "Is your name Julia?" he hisses. Yes, I reply, uneasily. "Kate's waiting in the car," he says. The man, who goes by the name Razor, is Kate Kray's minder. Kray never walks into a pub on her own. "It's not something girls should do," she says, almost chastising me, when Razor escorts her inside.

As I'm standing in a pub waiting for Kate Kray, the ex-wife of the notorious gangster Ronnie, a heavily tattooed man approaches me. "Is your name Julia?" he hisses. Yes, I reply, uneasily. "Kate's waiting in the car," he says. The man, who goes by the name Razor, is Kate Kray's minder. Kray never walks into a pub on her own. "It's not something girls should do," she says, almost chastising me, when Razor escorts her inside.

A ready smiler with blue eyes and blonde highlights, Kray looks good for her 44 years. What makes the biggest impression, however, is her vivacity and warmth, which make her instantly likeable. There is not the slightest trace of the wreck of a woman who ended up in a psychiatric hospital because of the strains of being married to one of the most infamous residents of Broadmoor.

Her five-year marriage to Ronnie, who was jailed for life for the murder of gangster George Cornell in 1966, ended in divorce in 1994 (he died the following year). The failed marriage did little to deter the former kissagram girl from mixing with criminals, however. Over the last year she has talked to over 100 tough guys for her book, Hard Bastards, which is currently fourth in The Sunday Times bestsellers list. It contains interviews with the 24 "hardest" men in Britain - including Charles Bronson, commonly dubbed Britain's most dangerous prisoner, Irish terrorist Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, and an array of doormen, minders and martial arts champions.

Those looking for insight into the minds of these men will, however, be disappointed. After a brief introduction, each one answers the same list of questions - which include their birth sign, who they admire, whether they believe in hanging and their "toughest moment". Kray's thoughts on what made these men into the hardest in Britain are less than shattering. "It's just in their make-up," she says amiably. "It's something in 'em... They came from all sorts of different backgrounds and I explored all the avenues that I thought might have shaped them - their childhood, something that happened to them. It wasn't any of those things - it was always something in the person."

Why include their birth signs?

"I'm a girl, see."

The men were, she says, "really nice". "But I'm a girl and no threat. They were all very respectful, probably initially because I was married to Ron. But then if I was a dippy bird they wouldn't have been so pleasant, maybe told me to sod off. If they had been real bastards, I would have known instantly."

What did she like about them? "Being a girl in that world I liked their manners. I like men opening the door for me or standing up when I walk into a room."

Despite the book's reverential tone, Kray denies it glorifies crime. She also refuses to comment on the atrocities perpetrated by many of its subjects - gangster Albert Reading reveals a penchant for burning his victims with acid until their flesh melts. "It's their business, not my business," says Kray, who lives in south-east London. "People expect me to be horrified by the things they've done. What I'm more shocked and horrified by is paedophiles and rapists. I couldn't speak to those people. But these men only do it to their own. People in this pub wouldn't feel threatened by them because they are not in their world."

It is doubtful, however, whether our fellow drinkers would feel happy if Johnny Adair, the former Ulster Freedom Fighters commander whose unit is thought to have murdered up to 20 people, suddenly walked in and ordered a pint of Guinness. Incredibly, when Kray met him she was blissfully unaware of who he was. "I didn't know what he done, what side he was on. I really didn't have a clue. When I went over to interview him he said: 'Do you know anything about me?' I said: 'No, I don't know if you are the UDI, the MFI or the B&Q.' All I knew was this man had the three Rs - respect, reputation and could have a row."

It was this ability to avoid linking the criminal with the crime that ended in marriage to Ronnie. She met first met his twin, Reggie, when visiting a friend at Gartree Prison in Leicestershire. At the time she was earning a living hiring out a Rolls Royce. "Reggie introduced himself to me and we just got chatting. From the moment I met him he said: 'You must meet Ron, because you're so funny and you'd really get on'."

A year and a half later she agreed. "He looked like my bank manager. He had on a navy-blue cashmere suit, a starched white shirt with cuff links, crocodile shoes, and his hair was all slicked back. I'd expected him to have his jumper on inside out and his glasses on upside down. But he was just normal like me or you.

"He was an extremely funny man, different from anyone I had ever met before. He never raised his voice above a whisper. There was just something about him."

Ronnie asked her to marry him on her second visit. She told him he was "nuts" and needed time. A year later, in 1989, she agreed and they were married within weeks.

So what made her want to be the wife of a bisexual paranoid schizophrenic murderer serving life in Broadmoor? "I was a bit mad I suppose," she says, erupting into giggles. "I was 30-odd, divorced, couldn't have any children and didn't fit in with coffee mornings and Pampers. I just didn't seem to fit anywhere - then along come Ron and, at the time it was what I needed.

"Maybe it was a mid-life crisis. Men buy Harley Davidsons and get a young bird - I married a Kray. He was exciting to be around. He was so funny, mad and witty. Sure he could be an absolute bastard, but at the end of the day, at that time, it was right for both of us. People say I married him for money or for his name, but I knew Reggie for a year and a half before I met Ronnie, and certainly wouldn't have married him for any money in the world. Anyway, I had much more cash than Ronnie." Three years into the marriage, however, she was found guilty of fraud, having been caught buying nearly £1,000-worth of designer clothes on a stolen Diners Club card.

The marriage, was, she says, "absolute hell 99 per cent of the time" as her husband made her run his life on the outside. "I had to go and see all his friends, pick up money, pick up this, arrange that. He'd ring me up and say 'Pick up this parcel from this man outside the station at four o'clock tomorrow'. And then he'd say 'Wait for my instructions' and then it would be 'Pass it on to such and such in Scotland'. It was day in, day out."

A year into the marriage she had a nervous breakdown, and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for three weeks. "I lost my identity. I'd walk into a room and people would whisper 'There's Ronnie Kray's wife'. I was totally paranoid."

Ron suggested that she got a boyfriend (their own marriage was never consummated, as Broadmoor does not allow conjugal visits). But it was not easy finding someone prepared to date the wife of Ronnie Kray. For Ronnie, however, sexual relations were much easier.

"I always knew when he had a boyfriend," she says. "He would ask me to get him a Gucci watch. Sometimes he would ask me to get four or five and wink, and I'd know what he meant."

Was she jealous?

"Naaaa. That was Ron's life inside," she says.

It was Ron who eventually asked for a divorce. "It was all the pressures. They got too much for him and for me. Mainly for him because he was really paranoid by that time. If I had my glasses on when I went to see him he'd say 'You're not Kate. Who are you?'."

By that time she had already brought out a book about her marriage. There has since been one on Britain's eight deadliest murderers; one on the "deathbed secrets"' of Ronnie; and a co-written autobiography of gangster Roy Shaw.

How would she answer critics who say she's cashing in on her ex-husband's name (she was declared bankrupt a week after Ronnie died)? "They don't know what they are talking about," she says, non-plussed. "People say: 'Why don't you change your name?' I'll change it when I marry again. What am I suppose to do, change it back to my last married name? At the end of the day I write crime books now, and it's an awfully good name to have when writing crime books."