DAVID MELLOR and his wife, Judith, are to divorce after 20 years of marriage.
The former Heritage Secretary and Tory MP for Putney said last night that he had become ``extremely close'' to Lady Cobham, the wife of Viscount Cobham. ``We intend to remain so,'' he said.
The statement came a few hours after the News of the World asked him to comment on a story it is running today. In a separate statement, Lady Cobham said there was ``a deep bond'' between her and Mr Mellor and that her husband understood the situation.
Lady Cobham was an adviser to Mr Mellor at the Deparment of National Heritage. He resigned from his Cabinet office in September 1992 after an inconclusive libel action over a newspaper report claiming that the daughter of a PLO official had paid for him and his wife to go on holiday. Earlier, newspapers had printed details of his affair with the actress Antonia de Sancha. The Mellors went to stay with Lady Cobham at the family seat, Hagley Hall in Hereford and Worcester, after the affair was revealed.
Mr Mellor said last night in a statement: ``Over the course of the last two-and-a-half years, Judith and I have been working together to sort out our future lives in a way which is in the best interests of our children and ourselves and in the knowledge that we would be going our separate ways.
``I know this sounds a bit Mills & Boon, but Penny and I are an item. Judith and I have been contemplating divorce for some time.''
Penny Cobham, 40, has been married for 20 years to the 11th Viscount Cobham. The couple have no children.
Hagley Hall provided a sanctuary for the Mellors after details of toe-sucking and the wearing of Chelsea Football Club strips were exposed in the account of Mr Mellor's relationship with Miss de Sancha.
Meanwhile Lady Cobham, a cordon bleu cook, confessed her own passion in May last year, for fresh cherries chopped into fresh cream. ``Chewing the flesh off the stones, getting juice on your fingers, it's messy and you have to work, but that's why they are so rewarding,'' she explained.
Last night Mr Mellor was confronted by reporters as he arrived at the BBC's Broadcasting House to host his BBC Radio 5 Live football phone-in show, Six-O-Six. He told a reporter who asked if he had treated his wife badly: ``You are a pompous prat.''
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