Penny Lancaster was 27 when she met Rod Stewart. She was a student photographer; he was an international superstar and, at 53, almost twice her age.
“I can’t say I was on a mission to find the right man,” she says now, “but I craved motherhood. Luckily, Rod fell in love with me enough not to mind the idea of more children – despite the fact he already had six. But he absolutely adores all of them – he loves the madness, the energy of young people around him.”
The age difference between Rod and Penny is irrelevant, she says. “I actually wanted to be with an older man, someone mature who’d been around the block.
“He has all the graces of a gentleman and all the respect for a woman that younger men haven’t yet acquired. It’s good for our two boys to see (Alastair 12 and Aiden, five). They’ll see him open the door for me or ask me what I’d like before he asks for what he wants, in a restaurant, for example.”
The couple have been together now for almost two decades. People say I haven’t changed and I’m pleased. A lot of that is down to Rod. There are lots of stars, legends, icons – you choose the word – who forget where they’ve come from. Not Rod. He’s from a relatively poor background but he hasn’t forgotten that. There’s not a week goes by when he doesn’t turn to me and say: ‘Aren’t we lucky?’”
“It’s something we constantly remind the children about. Rod remembers very clearly what life was like when he was growing up. Nor did he have stardom suddenly thrust upon him – he was rejected as a musician time and time again. His success came gradually and I think that helps explain why he never takes it for granted.”
The wider family is complex, but Penny is very good at keeping all the plates spinning. “What I felt about Rod was that it wasn’t just meeting a man and thinking about our future together. It was meeting a man and his previous families – his partners, all his children.
I can’t understand a new wife or partner who wants to deny the past. I wanted to be a mother so why wouldn’t I embrace Rod’s children in the way that one day, I hoped, I would embrace our own. It was lovely when his children said they were so glad Rod had met me. I’d made him a better listener, apparently.”
There’s no need to ask if she’s happy. “Oh yes, but, like Rod, I never, ever take it for granted.”
Along with Rod, Penny is a Vice-President of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which, together with Specsavers, recently launched an initiative to encourage more people to get their eyes tested regularly. “Nearly half of all cases of sight loss could have been prevented if people had only allowed an optician to run simple tests on them,” says Penny.