LOUISE FENNELL reveals the hilarious story behind her marriage to the King of Bling  


Tantrums and tiaras: LOUISE FENNELL reveals the hilarious story behind her marriage to the King of Bling

Today the Fennells enjoy an envious lifestyle, with celebrity jeweller Theo designing for A-list clients including Elton John and Naomi Campbell. The couple’s two daughters are Emerald, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, and Coco, a fashion designer. But, as Theo, 70, publishes his star-studded memoir, here, his wife and author Louise reveals the distinctly less ritzy start to their relationship . . .

When I first clapped eyes on Theo in 1977, it was at a racy party on a rooftop in London‘s Mayfair, which my friend Mark and I had gatecrashed. Mark used to tell people on the door that he was Mark Getty, grandson of oil baron Jean Paul, and that got us in anywhere. It was the 1970s, nobody knew what anyone looked like.

When I asked who the ridiculously handsome blond man was, on the other side of the terrace surrounded by women, Mark told me it was Helmut Berger, an actor known for his beauty and sexual ambiguity. I had no idea whether this was true or not because I knew very little about anything, but what I did know was that ‘Helmut’ was the man for me.

People talk about seeing a person across a crowded room and just knowing that person is the one. I could say that too, but it would be too schmaltzy. I was 19, reckless and carefree, so I whizzed over to chat him up. He told me he was called Theo, not Helmut, and he was a jewellery designer. That’s where it all began.

Louise Fennell explains that she first met Theo in 1977, pictured now together, at a party on a rooftop in Mayfair

Louise Fennell explains that she first met Theo in 1977, pictured now together, at a party on a rooftop in Mayfair

The duo, pictured on their wedding day 25 years after their first ceremony, began dating within a few weeks of knowing each other and spent time at Theo's flat in Chelsea which Louise describes as a squat

The duo, pictured on their wedding day 25 years after their first ceremony, began dating within a few weeks of knowing each other and spent time at Theo’s flat in Chelsea which Louise describes as a squat 

Within a few weeks we had disengaged ourselves from our other romantic entanglements and became firmly entangled with one another. Theo had a flat on the Fulham Road in Chelsea. He called it a flat but, when I first set eyes on it, it could only have been described as a squat.

The thin walls reverberated with the sound of the number 14 bus which stopped outside, a few feet from the bedroom window. There were wastepaper bins full of old burgers, wine bottles and God knows what else. Records were strewn about, ashtrays overflowed on to every surface.

The electricity was frequently turned off in our early years together, as neither of us ever paid the bill. In fact, we rarely had any of the utilities — hot water, heating, telephone — on at the same time.

Theo says he can’t remember the exact words he used for his proposal on that mellow afternoon, a month or so after we’d met. But I can. We were both a bit drunk and he slurred the words, ‘I just wondered what you were planning to do with the rest of your life?’ Not a question I had ever given any thought to, so I responded with, ‘What do you mean?’

‘I wondered if you would consider spending it with me?’ I promptly replied, ‘Yes’. No one this handsome or hilarious was ever going to ask me to marry them again and I really didn’t have any other plans. Who thought that it’s a good idea to know anything about a person before you marry them? Hardly anyone in the 1970s, that’s for sure.

Famous friends: At a party with Joan Collins in 2002. Theo is a jeweller to the stars, with clients including Naomi Campbell and Elton John

Famous friends: At a party with Joan Collins in 2002. Theo is a jeweller to the stars, with clients including Naomi Campbell and Elton John

When I rang my mother to tell her that I was engaged, she said, without missing a beat, ‘How lovely, who to?’ She must have felt a jolt of dread. The last boyfriend I had brought home, only a couple of months previously, was already married with two small children. In mitigation, his wife had left him for an Argentinian polo player before I met him.

I reassured Mum it wasn’t him, but a lovely, funny, handsome 25-year-old called Theo, and she seemed remarkably unfazed by the news that she and my father might have to stump up for a wedding, even though my sister’s wedding invitations had already gone out and there was no chance of any more money to pay for ours anytime soon.

In hindsight, my mother’s calm reaction may have been rooted in her assumption that this was another one of my ‘fads’, which she told Theo, with glee, almost as soon as she met him. He laughed. My mother adored him.

The next hurdle was to meet my future mother-in-law. We whizzed up to Yorkshire by train and, as soon as I met her, my first thought was: this can’t be Theo’s mother, surely she was given the wrong baby? Where Theo was tall, blond, warm and funny, she was small, dark and on the frosty side of cool. But then I saw pictures of his dear, departed father and knew we were in the right house after all.

I did nothing to endear myself to her at that first meeting, for lots of reasons, but the main one still makes me shudder with mortification.

Louise, pictured now, said that her husband gave her two rings to choose from for their engagement but instead of picking between them she kept both

Louise, pictured now, said that her husband gave her two rings to choose from for their engagement but instead of picking between them she kept both

Theo woke me on the first morning of our stay and gently put two rings on my finger, one diamond and one ruby, saying excitedly, ‘What do you think?’ and I sleepily replied, ‘They’re lovely, darling, thank you. Two rings, wow! Are you going to make them into one?’

What he should have said was: ‘No, you idiot, just choose one. They are my mother’s and she said I can give you whichever you like best.’

But he did not say that. He simply said, ‘I’m so happy you like them.’

Bafflingly, it wasn’t until about 15 years later that I realised my mistake, by which time obviously the damage had long been done.

The wedding shambles began in earnest. We weren’t going to wait. We would ‘help’ my poor parents with the cost, how I cannot imagine, but that was the plan. We booked Chelsea Old Church and an unglamorous hall next door for the reception; three months from meeting to marrying seemed perfectly reasonable to us.

Next, I would need a dress. I had been working as a shop girl for a designer called Thea Porter since I was 17. As soon as she heard of my impending marriage, she generously volunteered to make me a dress as a wedding present.

Thea made the most exquisite clothes in the world for the glitterati of London, Paris, New York and LA. Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor were amongst her fans. She had a shop in Soho, where I worked, and another in Paris, where she was spending a lot of time. So the dress would be made in France and would be a surprise.

She said that before the wedding she had one night when she worried about marrying him but then said she wondered how she could have thought to call off the engagement afterwards

She said that before the wedding she had one night when she worried about marrying him but then said she wondered how she could have thought to call off the engagement afterwards

The days leading up to the wedding were a little tense. Thea was still in Paris, as was my dress, still a mystery in form and style.

We just had one more party to go to before the wedding, thrown by Theo’s old friends, Sid and Vic, in our honour in a pub in the East End. I hadn’t met Sid, but on the one occasion I’d been introduced to Vic, his opening gambit had been, ‘Blimey, you don’t look nearly as good in real life as you do in your photos, do you love?!’ Which didn’t endear him to me much. So I did the sensible thing and wriggled out of going. Theo wasn’t too thrilled.

I woke with a jolt in the middle of the night, Theo still wasn’t back and I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing? How could I marry someone I hardly know?’ We were penniless and too young and I still didn’t have a bloody dress to wear. I had to ring my parents to tell them.

I picked up the phone and dialled. Nothing happened — it had been cut off! In order to cancel the wedding, I realised I would have to get dressed, go down the road into a dark, scary alley and use the phone box. F*** it, I was just going to have to marry him and deal with the fallout later.

Theo then appeared and said everyone had taken my skiving in very good heart. He soon passed out. He looked like an angel when he was asleep. I wondered how I could have thought I wanted to call off the engagement.

The dress arrived the day before the wedding. It was an incredible confection of lace and silver beads. It fitted perfectly and it really did seem, against all odds, that everything was going to be all right.

On the wedding morning, my belo-ved father and I entered the church nave, where we stopped on the threshold for a moment, to survey the scene and to make sure there was actually a groom. There was.

Theo, pictured now, put a wedding ring on Louise's finger which was much too big for her as he had not made one until the last minute

Theo, pictured now, put a wedding ring on Louise’s finger which was much too big for her as he had not made one until the last minute

Theo was looking decidedly peaky, the golden boy turned ashen. When he put the wedding ring on my finger (hastily cobbled together as he’d forgotten to make one until the last minute), it was much too big. I was a little hurt but what did it matter when I had not one, but two engagement rings to hold it on with?

I was also wearing a tiara that Theo’s mother had given him for me, or was it just lent to me to wear on the day? Might there have been two misunderstandings, both of them involving my mother-in-law and diamonds?

She spent years thereafter asking if I ever wore this treasure, where I kept it, etc. I’m sure she knew the only time I’d laid eyes on it was to glance in the mirror before heading to church to say ‘I do’ to a man who had almost nothing left to lose. Not least because he was about to flog the last of the family’s heirlooms (that tiara) and put the money to frivolous use (our wedding and honeymoon).

The couple arrived in Venice for their honeymoon out of season with £50 and neither had a credit or debit card

The couple arrived in Venice for their honeymoon out of season with £50 and neither had a credit or debit card

We arrived in Venice, on honeymoon, out of season. In those days you could only take £50 with you when you went abroad. Neither of us had a credit card and bank cards didn’t exist. Fortunately, a travel agent friend had arranged a room in a small hotel which, conveniently, we could pay for upon our return to London.

Our £50 soon dwindled but we discovered that if we went to the only restaurant affiliated to our hotel for every lunch and dinner, we could sign for it and settle the bill when back home. At this point it became quite clear that neither of us had any money, something about which we had been in denial until then.

We both also had to start owning up to some of the other misleading things we had told one another, which was in turn hilarious, tragic and sometimes emotional. I’m sure it was entertaining to the waiters who witnessed this soap opera each night, but for the actors it was exhausting and demoralising.

Theo and Louise have had a long and happy life together with many ups and downs and a marriage lasting many years

Theo and Louise have had a long and happy life together with many ups and downs and a marriage lasting many years 

It began to dawn on us that this might be the reason people got to know each other a bit before they got married. Too late — we were on a fast track now and it was make-or-break.

Twenty-five years later, we had another wedding, in Las Vegas, this time with ‘Elvis’ presiding. He was more fun than the vicar from the first time around and the service was accompanied by the sound of Emerald and Coco, our wonderful teenage daughters, squeaking with laughter.

When Elvis sang Can’t Help Falling In Love With You, Theo and I each felt he was singing to us personally and we cried. We love Elvis, possibly even slightly more than we love each other. Our Vegas wedding was a lot more romantic than our first and it only cost about $100.

We’ll be coming up to another 25 years soon — perhaps we’ll get married again. We’ll both be in our 70s by then, so who knows what will happen? But taking a chance on each other all those years ago was the most miraculous, fortuitous thing we could ever have done.

We’ve had a wild and wonderful life together, stumbling from crisis to laughter and joy then back to crisis again. I could never imagine my life with anyone else. But if our phone hadn’t been cut off that night, or if mobiles had been invented, all this might not have been. It almost makes me weep to think of it.

As the novelist William Boyd says, ‘That’s all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience.’ I’ve often jumped right in and been lucky not to drown. In fact, Theo turned out to be a bit of a lifesaver, quite literally: he once rescued a drowning man from the sea. He just jumped right in. I was there too, but I’m afraid to say I didn’t jump in. My mother-in-law wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

  • Theo Fennell’s memoir, I Fear For This Boy: Some Chapters Of Accidents (£25, Mensch), is out now. To order a copy for £22.50 (offer valid until July 11, 2022; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.

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