'I didn't realise my husband was gay': Trisha Goddard tells the story of her most shattering betrayal
By TRISHA GODDARD
Last updated at 00:40 01 April 2008
Never go out with a passenger. This was my cardinal rule when, in my mid-20s, I was a stewardess with Gulf Air - though lots of the blonde bimbos I worked with were happy to take diamond rings and even cars to be a "bit on the side" for the rich Arabs who flew with us.
Then, after five years in the job, I broke my rule, not for lavish gifts but for the chance to make a total change in my life.
I was on a flight to Bahrain in which first class had been overbooked and a number of passengers were kicking up a real stink because they'd been shoved into economy.
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Painful truth: TV chat show host Trisha Goddard and her first husband Robert Nestdale
The noisiest was a distinguished-looking but very pompous Australian gentleman.
Back in Bahrain, I checked straight on to a plane for London, where I was going for an interview with the BBC in the hope of becoming a trainee reporter.
And in the seat next to me was that same pompous Aussie from the previous flight.
I hoped he wouldn't recognise me, but he did, and introduced himself as Robert Nestdale, leader of the Young Liberals, a conservative political party down under.
He was a lot older than me and had a posh and patronising way of speaking. But he turned out to be very interesting, and we got on well.
I did my BBC interview and was back in Bahrain when Mum rang from home to tell me a Robert Nestdale had phoned asking for me. She had given him my address.
Letters started arriving. He would tell me about his charity work in Africa, while also name-dropping the high-powered politicians and journalists he knew.
I was impressed, though bemused by his interest in me.
Then there was a bit of a gear-shift and the letters became emotional. He wrote that he couldn't stop thinking about me. He wanted me to visit him in Australia and listed all the VIPs he would introduce me to.
It was weird. I was having a long-distance semi-relationship with someone I barely knew.
But, I thought, sod it, why not? So off I went to Sydney, where Robert was charming and courteous.
On my first night there, he took me to a glittering party. Suddenly I was in a world of red carpets and flashbulbs, one I'd never had access to before. He even introduced me to the prime minister, Bob Hawke.
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Although a picture of health these days, Trisha was a drug addict during her first marriage
I was totally out of my comfort zone, yet I didn't feel uncomfortable. It was simply thrilling, and I felt inspired.
I stayed at Robert's house, but we slept in separate rooms, and each morning I woke up thinking: "It's a bit surreal, all this - but I'm having a ball, so who cares!"
Then one morning I found Robert sitting at the end of my bed, looking at me like a man possessed. Naked, he was not a pretty sight.
His skin was pallid and had that blue-grey tone that smacks of poor circulation. The contrast between him and some of the more athletic guys I'd been out with was pretty difficult to get over.
But I let him "make love" to me, though I didn't think the earth was about to move. I was right.
He had the sexual maturity of your average 12-year-old boy who barely knows how to put what where. It was soon over.
He seemed happy enough, though, and it seemed that I'd acquired a lover of sorts, though exactly where we stood with each other was a little unclear.
The Press cleared up that issue for us. Before the end of my trip, stories were appearing about Robert Nestdale's new love interest.
Apparently, we were besotted with each other.
Well, I did like Robert quite a bit, but looking back it was his world I liked more.
Back in the Gulf, more letters poured in, declaring his undying love. It was very flattering.
A lot of my friends were getting married, I was 27 and I remember thinking it was about time I got married, too.
So I did, despite my mum's protest that, "you hardly know him, don't be stupid".
I turned down the offer of a BBC trainee-ship (they were paying peanuts - £10,000 a year and I was earning that much in a few months as a stewardess) and I convinced myself I was falling for Robert.
I bought a one-way ticket to Sydney and moved into his house. Straight away, I was thrust into a world of political meetings and posh dinners, and I loved it.
I could see I was useful to Robert. My being black, and able to speak French, German and a bit of Arabic and Swahili, made him look very good in the diplomatic circles he moved in.
He proposed to me in a hotel foyer in Canberra before a function in Parliament House.
I accepted, but even as he was slipping the engagement ring on my finger I knew I wasn't in love, and I wasn't so sure he was either.
It was the same at our wedding. As I stood beside him at the altar, I thought, what have you done, you silly cow?
The truth is, I married him because he could take me to places that were otherwise out of my reach. There's no denying that my behaviour was mercenary. But his motives for marrying me were suspect too, as I soon discovered.
On the night of our wedding, after all the guests had gone, Robert said casually: "I'm off to Canberra in the morning."
When I protested that I thought we were going to have some sort of a honeymoon, he replied: "Oh, come now, darling. You didn't expect me to lounge around with you, did you?"
I was gob-smacked. The ring was on my finger and there was no need for charm any more.
Robert had got what he wanted - a token wife - and that was that as far as he was concerned. But he'd picked the wrong girl. I wasn't going to be anyone's "token".
From that moment on, all pretence was dropped as Robert revealed his true nature.
He lived like a bachelor, but would call on me when he needed to be seen with a partner. I could cope with that, but I couldn't stand the way he wanted to control me, down to the clothes I wore.
Whatever I chose to wear, he would tell me to take it off. "Oh, sweetheart, yuk!" he would say. If I disagreed, he would simply answer: "I have spoken and that is it, now get changed."
If I didn't do as he said there would be a massive row that consisted of me shouting and him being cool and calm, the consummate politician.
He realised that controlling me wasn't going to be easy, but he wasn't fazed.
"You're a challenge, darling," he would say, "but I'll break you."
One of his methods was to "accidentally" lock me in the house. He'd go off to work and double-lock the door from the outside to ensure I was stuck inside until he fancied coming home.
As for our sex life, it was diabolical. Robert either couldn't do it, or would "lose interest". Within three months, we were in separate beds.
Work saved me. Robert eventually delivered on his promise to help my career and introduced me to some people in television.
I began by making a public relations documentary for a charity and I absolutely loved it.
Then I got my first break in TV, presenting a fitness workout for kids - not quite what the would-be journalist had in mind, but it was a foot in the door.
Work was great. Great because I loved it and because it kept me away from Robert. Life with him was s***. There's no other word for it.
He showed no interest in my job and disapproved of the crowd I was mixing with. Then, to my horror, I discovered he had people spying on me. My own friends were reporting back to him on what I said and did.
One of them, Noel, with whom I went to the gym, finally admitted something even worse. Robert had asked him to sleep with me so that he wouldn't have to have sex with me any more.
"He thought he might lose you if you don't have a sex life," Noel explained. "He told me what turns you on, what you like to do in bed, you know."
I was utterly shocked. I marched home, where Robert was in bed.
"You bastard!" I screamed. "Are you out of your mind? You've betrayed me, and you've made my friends betray me. You went to Noel and discussed my sex life like I'm a kept animal! How dare you!"
He grabbed my wrists. "You're being hysterical, dear," he said, like a parent to a child. "I'll call the doctor and he can give you a shot to calm you down. You're not the most stable of people, Trisha, we know that, don't we?"
He kept coming towards me, steadily and slowly, shaking his head as if I'd got it all wrong and looking at me as if I was mad.
I went downstairs to the kitchen to get away from him, but he followed me. He kept approaching me slowly, creepily.
He knew how to get inside my head, and that was precisely what he was doing. I think he got some kind of sadistic kick out of it.
That's when I grabbed the knife. "Get back!" I screamed.
But he kept coming forward, patronising me, telling me I needed a doctor. He was denying me my right to be angry about what he had done, talking to me as if my mind was not my own. Then, he suddenly launched himself at me.
I'll never forget the sound of spattering across the ceiling. It was blood. My blood. In a moment of total despair, I had turned the knife on myself. I'd plunged it hard into my wrist and severed an artery.
Robert called 999. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't use the siren," he told the ambulance controllers. "We don't need people to know about this."
I could hardly believe my ears. He cared more about his image than whether I lived or died.
At the hospital I was screaming in agony, but when my husband waltzed in a few hours later, charming all the nurses, all he could say to me was: "Keep it down, darling." He was worried I might be an embarrassment to him.
That was when I thought: "I truly hate you and you will never know how much." Worse still, I was hating myself for thinking I could make myself love him.
Although I was on the "suicide ward" I knew I had not tried to kill myself. I had not wanted to die. I had wanted to escape.
Cutting my wrist was a moment of desperation after months of Robert's non-stop manipulation. He had pushed me to the point of madness.
But I believe that if I hadn't turned the blade on myself, I'd have ended up in prison for killing him.
I spent most of my time in hospital high on pethidine, a powerful painkiller but also highly addictive. By the time they released me, I was totally dependent on it. To my surprise, Robert said he wanted to make things work between us.
Part of me thought he'd realised where he'd gone wrong and would stop the control-freakery. So I went back to him. Hah!
The first thing he did was make me oxtail soup, though he knew I was a vegetarian.
"Be a good girl and eat it up," he said. He wasn't going to change. I was living with a narcissistic maniac.
He used my pethidine addiction to control me. To get the tablets, I had to do as I was told. It was then that I really did feel suicidal.
A friend saved me by persuading Robert that I needed to go to a retreat to detox, but this was no spa, more like a boot camp.
It was painful, both physically and mentally, but I returned to Sydney a recovered junkie.
Robert persuaded me to start seeing a psychiatrist, but the shrink turned out to be someone he knew, and that set alarm bells ringing.
If he could get my friends to spy on me, what would stop him persuading a doctor to reveal inside information about me?
Then he could make my life even more hellish with any number of mind games. I needed to find my own help, which is why I stepped into a counsellor's office in Sydney's red-light area as I was walking home from the gym.
The woman I saw was incredibly nice, and because I was talking to a complete stranger, I poured out everything.
At one of our sessions, I produced a photo of Robert. She froze. "Get out of that marriage now," she said. "Leave right away. I'm not at liberty to tell you why, but, believe me, I know."
She spoke with such conviction that I couldn't ignore her. The next day, I stuffed all of my belongings into plastic bags and called in the removal men.
Three years went by. I was now the high-profile presenter of Australia's leading current affairs programme, the first black person ever to do that job, which caused a lot of controversy.
Someone sprayed the letters KKK (for Ku Klux Klan) on my front door. But I was also a mother, with a little girl named Billie by my boyfriend, Mark. A few weeks after the birth, an old friend rang to tell me that Robert was dead.
I was shocked. I had heard rumours that he had cancer, and had called him a couple of times. He was evasive, ever the politician, but he eventually told me he had leukaemia.
And the next thing I heard he was gone. I was sad, but I wasn't devastated.
I had never told anyone why I left him, and I was always seen as the one who had walked out on the marriage.
Many of his friends viewed me as a pariah. So I was surprised to be invited to the memorial service.
But I went and listened to the tributes. Every speech focused on his exemplary character and his tireless work for the causes in which he believed.
Then John Dowd, an old friend, stood up to speak. "Robert had two sides..." he began. People shifted nervously in their seats but I was agog.
"And his other side was altogether darker. We must remember to care for those damaged by it."
It was a huge relief to hear someone giving a balanced view of Robert. The next day, John came to see me. "What illness did Robert tell you he had?" he asked.
"Leukaemia," I answered. "It wasn't leukaemia," John said with deadly seriousness.
He went on: 'When you gave birth and your picture was in the paper with the baby I showed it to Robert in hospital. He let out a strange, vindictive laugh and said: "She thinks she's got it all." It sent a shiver down my spine.'
And then the penny dropped. Robert had worked a lot in Africa, where HIV is prevalent. "I think Robert died of AIDS," John said.
I went cold, numb with fear. "Do you think he had it when I was with him?" I asked. John said: "I've arranged a blood test for you tomorrow."
All I could think of was the disease that could be coursing through my veins, and through my baby's too!
I felt sick to my heart. I called Robert's doctor, who confirmed that he had died of AIDS. Worst of all, when I was sleeping with him, he would have been at his most infectious.
I had the test and waited three weeks for the results. I thought I would go mad in that time. I could barely function.
A million questions were flying through my mind.
How had he contracted it? Did he get it from a woman, or was he gay? Had I just been a cover-up for his homosexuality?
Finally the results came in. I was clear. I nearly fell over with relief.
But then something else sinister happened. I got a very clear message from people in Robert's party that if I ever went public about how he died, they would turn it around on me and tell the Press that I had given HIV to him.
I was still reeling from this when I discovered that Robert's GP had instructed him to tell me he was infected.
Robert then led him to believe that he had done so, that I'd had a test and that I was clear.
This really took my breath away. Everyone thought Robert was honourable, but he told terrible lies all the way to his deathbed.
Not long after, there was a report on the news about a politician using rent boys in that same redlight district where I had seen a counsellor all those years ago.
Suddenly it was her on the screen confirming that politicians were indeed customers of rent boys.
Was this the secret she couldn't disclose when she so forcefully urged me to leave my marriage to Robert? But I was too exhausted to pursue the matter further.
Despite all he put me through, I don't hate Robert. I have only pity for him. He must have spent much of his life wrestling with his demons rather than coming out.
He had to live two lives and I wouldn't wish that upon anyone. In many ways, our marriage was one of mutual convenience.
Somebody once asked me if I used Robert to further my career. My response was: "Yes, but not as much as Robert used me!" That just about summed it up.
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Edited by bindy - Dec 02 2013 at 10:17am