Padma walks out, but some 'trophy wives' have stayed the course

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 3.07.07
Age no bar: Harold Evans with Tina Brown and (below) Phil Collins with Orianne. (File pictures)

London, July 3: Padma Lakshmi would probably lash out with her claws if anyone describes her as a “trophy wife”.

According to acquaintances, she appears to have convinced herself she is an actress, cookery author and television presenter of extraordinary talent.

But now that she is getting divorced from Salman Rushdie, chances are she will find it harder to make further progress in her “career” without his support, the couple’s friends add.

However, that remains to be seen.

But she would be justified in feeling irritated that no report of her relationship with Rushdie has avoided mentioning that she is 24 years younger than him.

At the London and New York parties they attended, the fact that he is 60 and she is 36 is hardly worth commenting on. (Bollywood men tend to turn up at London parties with girls in their 20s, whom they describe either as their PR persons — or that “she’s writing an article/book about me”).

Older men seducing young women with their power, money and charm has always been accepted as the norm.

Why Rushdie’s marriage to Padma did not work would be hard for any outsider to fathom.

But the older man-younger woman routine often does work, as demonstrated by the example of the celebrated power couple — Harold Evans and Tina Brown — who were guests when Rushdie married Padma in Manhattan in 2004.

As is always pointed out in their profiles, Tina managed to snaffle Evans when he was virtually God in the newspaper world as the all-powerful editor of the Sunday Times. Tina was still fresh — some would say very fresh — at Oxford.

She targeted men who could help her polish her prose — she went out with journalist Auberon Waugh and writer Martin Amis.

In 1974, the year Tina graduated from St Anne’s, Oxford, the 21-year-old met Evans, then 46 and very much married, and began to write for his Sunday Times. Four years later, they were living together. Evans divorced his first wife in 1978 and married Tina in East Hampton, New York, at the home of then-Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn on August 20, 1981.

The couple, now Sir Harold Evans and Lady Evans, who have two children, have been together ever since.

Tina became a well-known editor in her own right, firstly of Vanity Fair and then The New Yorker. She recently published a new biography of Princess Diana and though the book has been widely trashed by reviewers, Tina has made the transition from trophy wife, if ever she was one, to a respected author.

As for Evans, he remains the legend he always was, a journalist’s journalist. Now 79, he is still 25 years older than his wife, now a middle-aged 54.

In some senses, the land of the trophy wife is America, though Britain is not far behind.

A recent extreme example was the marriage of former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith to oil magnate J. Howard Marshall. At the time of their marriage, he was 89 and she was 26 — an age gap of 63 years or three generations. Naturally, she denied she had married him for his money.

In the world of celebrities, it is generally accepted that young women will be happy to throw themselves at male stars. The pop singer Phil Collins was 48 when he married his third wife, Orianne Levey, 20 years his junior, in 1999. She bore him two children before the couple split last year.

One marriage that did last despite a big age gap and is still talked about was that between the actor Charlie Chaplin and Oona ’Neill, his fourth wife. When they married on June 16, 1943, in Santa Barbara, California, he was 54 and she was just 18. Chaplin had 11 children, nine of whom survived, between 1919 and 1962.

One must assume that Rushdie would have been happy to have had children with Padma but she may have felt that would get in the way of her career.

Today, the older men-younger women pairings fail to raise eyebrows in London society. The interest is in older women who like to flaunt their “toy boys”.