The odd couples

As the nation digests the astonishing news that Prince Charles once enjoyed a brief liaison with Barbra Streisand, John Walsh looks back on some other pairings of recent history that defy belief
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The Independent Online


According to a new biography, Barbra: The Way She Is by Christopher Anderson, the jolie-laide singer was romanced by the heir to the throne in 1974, when he visited the set of Funny Lady at Columbia Studios in Hollywood. They had coffee and a 20-minute chat and Charles later told friends, "She has great sex appeal." They met again in 1994. Charles had told his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, that he used to know Streisand but her charms had now faded. Shortly after the book was published, she got in touch (whether to remonstrate at his lack of gallantry or for another reason is unclear) and they renewed their friendship in Los Angeles at a gala dinner in Charles's honour. Later she visited his hotel for a protracted "tea-date." The following summer, Anderson alleges, Streisand visited England with her squeeze Jon Voight, and called on Charles, alone, at Highgrove. An indiscreet member of the Royal Household reported: "The Prince and Miss Streisand were very affectionate towards each other. I entered the room at one point and obviously interrupted them - they were quite flustered." The book quotes the Princess of Wales's friend Lady Elsa Bowker, as saying: "Diana knew that Charles was infatuated with Miss Streisand. She would not have been surprised if they had an affair."


A collective, nationwide noise of "Eeeewww" greeted the news of the former prime minister's four-year fling with the former junior minister of health whose name will somehow always be redolent of bad eggs. The news broke in September 2002, when Mrs Currie's diaries were serialised in The Times. She revealed that they had fallen for each other in 1984, when Major was the Treasury Chief Whip and Currie a backbench MP. Two years later she became a health minister. Then Major rose to Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the affair ended soon after his cabinet appointment, in early 1988. Currie claimed that her love for Major remained strong after the bust-up and, reading between the lines it seemed that her book was prompted by irritation that her name did not appear in the index of Major's own book. As the nation digested with horror Mrs Currie's diary references to "a large man in blue underpants," Major confessed his discomfort at the revelations ("It is the one event in my life of which I am most ashamed, and I have long feared would be made public." His shame was understandable in the context of his call for a "back to basics" approach to public morality. But he probably felt the sting in Mary Archer's comment: "I am a little surprised, not at Mrs Currie's indiscretion, but at a temporary lapse in John Major's taste."


Like Elton John, Michael Barrymore and others, Graham Norton had a pre-homosexual period when he experimented with friendships with women - among them Delia Smith, doyenne of British cookery writing and enthusiastic Norwich City fan. Surrey-born Smith is an Irish Catholic whose forebears hail from Cork. She attended prayer meetings at London's Westminster Cathedral, where she first encountered Norton. Dublin-born and raised, Norton initially rebelled against his family's strict Catholic beliefs but, finding himself alone in London in the mid-80s, sought the church as a refuge. Smith took a liking to the flamboyant but depressed young Irishman, took him home and fed him experimental recipes involving, as he later put it: "offal, offal and more offal. Guts, to give it its proper name. I never enjoyed it much. I used to say, 'Delia - I hate your guts!'" After the success of Delia Smith's Cookery Course, Norton moved to a bedsit, but the couple continued to see each other; her concern over the frugality of his meals inspired her classic on solo dining, One is Fun. In 1987 their friendship was made public in the Sunday Mirror. Norton returned to Eire and got his break playing the annoying priest Father Noel Furlong in Father Ted. It became clear there were no hard feelings between them when she appearedon So Graham Norton in 1998.


The archetypal rock'n'roller met the legendary poet at Smith College in 1955, when he and his band played at a summer "homecoming ball". Berry was then 29 and tasting success for the first time with Maybellene, named after a line of cosmetics. His band, the Sir John Trio, were No 1 in the charts and their hard R'n'B sound was a "cool" alternative, among progressive colleges, to the soupy country and western fare generally heard at college "hops". Plath was 22, a senior student at Smith and in the process of conquering her demons. After a failed suicide attempt, a period of electroshock and therapy, she had sailed through the final exams and was about to graduate summa cum laude. In a mood to let her hair down, she danced through Berry's entire set and, through the college ball committee, arranged to meet him backstage. They conversed for an hour about the underpinning of rhythm by the human heartbeat and Berry invited the flushed and excitable Plath to join him at a nearby motel. College friends provided a cover story for Plath in the next two weeks as she accompanied the band on a tour of Maine, New England and Maryland, occasionally helping with cooking and washing duties, before returning to Smith. Berry fondly commmemorated their brief but passionate union in Little Silver Dollar, while Plath immortalised her quondam lover in Berry Song ("Love set you ticking like a fat gold watch ...") She was to meet and marry Ted Hughes in Cambridge only a few months later.


Germaine Greer's tally of past lovers is impressive (it includes Warren Beatty, Martin Amis and the disgraced MP Jonathan Aitken) but one of her less-known conquests is the Oswestry-born golf legend. Born in 1958, Ian "Woosie" Woosnam may have a reputation for dull reliability on the fairway, but a wild streak when young led him into many adventures. In March 1980, after turning professional, he journeyed around Europe in a Volkswagen camper van, living off tins of baked beans. With golfing success (even in the Luxembourg Open) eluding him, he was forced to supplement his meagre income by posing naked in life-drawing classes in the Ecoles Superieurs of Toulouse and Marseilles. Coincidentally, both art colleges played host that month to Greer, then at the height of her fame as a feminist thinker and art commentator, whose book The Obstacle Race: the Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work had recently been published. Meeting in a life classroom for the second time in two weeks, Greer quipped: "There's something about you I recognise!" Despite her lack of interest in sport, and his unreconstructed views on female empowerment, they became an item for several months. She accompanied him to golf tournaments at Sandwich and Gleneagles, even agreeing to carry his clubs when no caddy was available. He introduced her to the Woosnam Power Swing and the concept of "perpendicular putting ", which she used to good effect in later published works on male hegemony. They fell out badly, however, in 1981 - reportedly over his " sneering masculine condescension" over her 48 handicap.


It's been a long-standing urban myth that Bamber and Paul Gascoigne are uncle and nephew (in fact, there's no family connection) but the liaison between the Old Etonian brain-on-a-stick presenter of University Challenge and the giggly boob-jiggler of a dozen Carry On movies is well documented. Gascoigne and Windsor met in 1959 when he had just returned from a year at Yale and was looking for a career in TV. She was playing the role of Rosie, the chirpy lead in Lionel Bart's Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be. He came to see the show to interview her for Associated Television. Viewers of the much-repeated TV bloopers shows treasure the moment when Gascoigne, pink-faced, bespectacled and earnest, says, "What I admire about you is your honest vulgarity" and his interviewee replies, "What I admire about you, darlin', is the huge black eye you're going to get any minute now". Despite their tiff, the two met again at the ATV Christmas party and fell in love. "I may have taught her all about Mesopotamian ceramics and 18th century bookbinding," laughed Gascoigne in 1960, "but she has taught me such a lot about other things - jellied eels, pints of mild and slap and tickle on Saturday nights!" At high table in Gascoigne's old Cambridge college, Windsor sang comic songs ("I'm One of the Nuts from Barcelona") and contributed to a symposium on urban dialect. Gascoigne was offered small parts in the cult comedies Crooks in Cloisters and Tailors and Maids although he admitted in his autobiography, Grass Groin, that he later considered the roles "demeaning". Their affair ended when Gascoigne claimed he had been sent a dead eel through the post by an admirer of Windsor's. "It was a Bamber eel," he told police, " Anguillida bamberensis, a freshwater species related to the vivaporous blenny. I got the message." He began work on University Challenge the following year.


An odd pairing, perhaps, between the bug-eyed British satirist whose first job was compere of the Boggery Folk Club, Solihull, and the coolly super-competent Secretary of State in the Bush administration, but their liaison was, by all accounts, fiery and mutually enriching. They met in 1975 in Rice's birthplace, Birmingham, Alabama, during a "twinning weekend" in which citizens from other Birminghams were welcomed and invited to set up cultural exchanges. Midlands-born Carrott, 30, had just released his first single Funky Moped and was touring the southern states. Rice was 21, and recently graduated in political science from the University of Denver. At their first meeting, Rice introduced herself with the words, "I'm Condoleezza," to which Carrott reportedly replied "My condolences." Their friendship grew through music (he played guitar, she the piano) and a shared interest in politics. They renewed their acquaintance in 1976 when Rice travelled to Carrott's Birmingham. Together they appeared together in a production of The Mikado in Wolverhampton. The response was mixed, and racist ill-feeling was held to blame for some poor reviews. Carrott defused the situation by commenting: "This isn't a race issue, folks. It's just a Rice issue!" In his autobiography, 24 Carrott Gold, he paid tribute to his former girlfriend: "I'd never met anybody like her - so fiery, ambitious and gung-ho, but with a sweet, sensitive, artistic nature underneath it all. And believe me, she was a ferocious kisser."