Stephen Hawking's wife Jane Wilde on their marriage breakdown: 'The family were left behind'

Jane Hawking was talking ahead of the release of a biopic made about the scientist

Ian Burrell
Tuesday 30 December 2014 10:54 GMT
Stephen Hawking continues 75th birthday celebrations with a Cambridge lecture

The former wife of Stephen Hawking has described how she and their three children were “left behind” after the cosmologist was surrounded by “sycophantic” admirers following publication of his landmark work A Brief History of Time.

In an interview to coincide with the release this week of the Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, the physicist’s ex-wife Jane said their life became “very complicated” after her husband achieved fame.

“I rather felt that the family had been left behind,” she told Radio Times. “To me, Stephen was my husband and the father of my children; one does not say to one’s husband, “Oh, you’re so clever! I must worship the ground under your feet, or in this case, wheels.” I found this kind of sycophantic attitude – the attitude adopted by so many people around Stephen – exceptionally frustrating and, of course, it grew a lot worse when we finally had to engage carers.”

Stephen Hawking's first wife Jane Wilde (left) played by Felicity Jones (right) in The Theory of Everything (Reuters)

She described the “exhaustion” she felt looking after someone with motor neurone disease and the “very traumatic” end to the relationship in 1990. “I was, I suppose, very innocent. I expected that carers came into the home to help look after the disabled person and respect the rest of the family. Very few of them did that. I was desperate; I didn’t think I could carry on, because I was so drained.”

Five years after their divorce, Stephen married one of his carers, Elaine Mason. Before the break-up, Jane had begun a relationship with a musician, Jonathan, who became her husband.

She wrote her memoir Travelling to Infinity (from which The Theory of Everything draws) because she feared being written out of her husband’s story. “I felt that Stephen had become such a significant figure, a scientist of such international renown, that at some future date someone would be sure to attempt an inaccurate, sensationalised biography, possibly including me, possibly writing me out of the script.”

She met Hawking on a railway platform when she was a teenager and he was yet to be diagnosed with his debilitating disease. They married young – “because we didn’t know how long Stephen was going to live” – and she became used to him being lost in thought. “The goddess Physics was Stephen’s idol. I was not jealous of her but she did give me some cause for concern. Sometimes Stephen would spend a whole weekend in his wheelchair, elbow resting on his knee like Rodin’s Thinker. He wouldn’t take any notice of the children, or of me, and I would become very worried. Was he uncomfortable or ill, or had I upset him in some way? Then, on the Monday morning, he would look up and smile and say, “I’ve solved that equation!”

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