Picture © Brian Aris
In the corner of Lynda Bellingham’s comfortable family home stands a poignant reminder of one of the best Christmas Day surprises her beloved Mr Spain ever sprang on her.
Forced to stay in a hotel in Bradford, where Lynda was appearing in panto two years ago, Michael (now 59) produced a tiny gift wrapped box containing a miniature, exquisitely carved rocking horse.
“Oh Michael, isn’t that beautiful! Big kiss!” she enthused, recognising the model from her My Tasty Travels TV tour. Smiling at the memory, he then revealed the full-sized version she’d coveted would be with her by Spring.
“She’d no idea!” he says as he stares across at Tiddlywinks, christened after Lynda’s childhood pony, and who she loved riding with grandson Sacha (4) and step grandsons Cooper (9) and Oakley (5). Like the rest of the family – Michael, sons Michael (31), Robbie (26), stepson Bradley (25) and stepdaughter Stacey (31) – even Tiddlywinks now looks forlorn in the home so used to Lynda’s legendary sparkle, especially in the run up to Christmas.
As the nation now knows, Lynda loved Christmas with her family more than anything in the world and longed to live to enjoy one last celebration with them. Sadly that was not to be when she passed away aged 66, of bowel cancer on October 19. Both equally positive, she and Michael thought she’d make it – right up to two days before she died. “She was getting ready to come home on the Friday. We had everything arranged here for her to die at home but suddenly horrific pains came back over her. I knew then she wouldn’t make it to Christmas and she knew it was the end of the end, even though it wasn’t put into words,” he admits.
“I stayed with her all the time but when she was asleep on Saturday I slipped out around midnight to a little church nearby to pray for her. By 11am next morning she was so poorly I was back praying for Him to take her. I didn’t want her to suffer any more. At exactly ten to eight that Sunday night, I kissed her, told her I loved her a million times and she went peacefully in my arms.”
Struggling to hold back tears, Michael, who now wears Lynda’s wedding ring on his little finger and still has her voice on his answerphone, admits: “As far as I was concerned she was going to beat this cancer. I really thought she was going to; she really thought she was going to and be here for Christmas. We’ve always both been very, very positive. She used to say to me: ‘you’re my Mr Positive.’
“Lynda absolutely loved Christmas and giving. No matter how many decorations we had in the house, she’d still bring more in. She loved the whole day and had to do it all herself from the stockings to the dinner. She used to make it look so easy.”
Even when they spent their final holiday together in Corfu in September and Lynda suggested he book a holiday to see his stepsister in Australia, it never occurred to Michael she may have a secret inkling she wouldn’t see this Christmas. Knowing how much she loved to plan for any eventuality, he just replied flippantly: “Have you got a direct line to God or something?!” and thought no more about it.
Now he’s thinking of taking that advice and escaping there for Christmas and New Year with Bradley. It won’t be to Sydney though, as he and Lynda always longed to see the New Year fireworks on Sydney Harbour Bridge. “It would be too painful without her. We never did it because the time was never right. Work always came first with Lynda; she was never one not to fulfill a contract,” he adds.
Even when ill and exhausted earlier this year, she insisted on writing her second novel to fulfill a publishing agreement she’d signed when contracted for her first. I’d come back home some mornings and find her literally slumped fast asleep on the computer keyboard; pick her up and put her back into bed for an hour. It was so hard for her but Lynda was never one to give in,” he recalls.
Based in the world of theatre, her second novel is a love story with a dark twist. The main character, actress Sally Thomas, is based on Lynda’s own experiences. Humbled by the huge legacy she left behind, Michael admits he’s incredibly proud of Lynda, whose bestselling autobiography There’s Something I’ve Been Dying To Tell You... has been the number one non-fiction book for weeks.
Publishers are hopeful her novel will join it at the top of the fiction list. For now though, there’s no escaping the raw grief that’s hit him.
“She’s left such a huge gap. She was such an attractive lady; so sexy; a great mother; a great wife. It’s what every man dreams of.
“I probably had the best ten years of my life with Lynda – ten years people would absolutely crave for. It was just phenomenal. End of.”
Lynda’s youngest son Robbie (26), Guest Experience Manager at London’s West End Athenaeum Hotel, recalls:
“Mum always made Christmas very, very special. Every year when we were young, she used to wrap me and my brother up in warm coats, hats, scarves and gloves and take us out into the freezing cold, dark night to tour through the London Christmas lights on an open-top bus. You felt as if you could almost touch the lights; it was magical and probably my favourite Christmas memory with Mum.
“This year, we’ll all miss her so much. As old as we are, it’ll be the first year she hasn’t left us a stocking stuffed with everything from a clementine to silly gadgets, aftershave and computer games – all individually wrapped – at the bottom of the bed.
Christmas dinner will probably be the hardest part though. She was so good at doing all that; she always loved to take care of people. It will be strange. I’ve no plans at the moment and I might even be working on Christmas Day, which might be a good thing.”
Eldest son Michael (31), an actor and dad to Sacha (4), remembers:
“Throughout my teens there was often only the three of us at Christmas – Mum, me and Robbie – as she divorced my father two weeks before my 13th birthday.
“One year she’d been away filming in Russia and didn’t get back until just before Christmas but she had everything sorted before she went and we still had a huge tree, stockings and sat down to an amazing dinner on a beautifully laid table complete with crystal glasses she’d brought back. I don’t know what I’ll be doing this Christmas. I turned down a panto part this year because I hoped we’d get one last Christmas together. But if I am here, I will cook a roast dinner – she passed that on to me. It won’t be goose like Mum made but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.
"Mum drilled into us that when she died her energy would go into us and at her funeral all the things she said came flooding back. She always urged us to stay positive and be nice to people. Her favourite expression was: ‘palms up; heads to the sky’ and I’ll try to pass that on to Sacha. I’m so sorry she won’t be here to see him grow up and my real hope is he retains some memories of her. She was the best.”
Stepson Bradley (25) a property developer, says:
“I was 18 or 19 when I spent my first Christmas with Lynda and Dad. I didn’t really know what to expect. It all felt a bit overwhelming and I was really nervous but I needn’t have worried. I’d been out on Christmas Eve and woke up in the middle of the night to find Lynda in my room. ‘Go back to sleep,’ she hushed. ‘Let Father Christmas bring your stocking!’ Next morning I found it on my bed filled with unbelievable presents. She always treated me exactly the same as her own sons and now Robbie and Michael are like my brothers. If we spend Christmas here it might be more tears than it’s worth so I might be going to Australia with Dad. We’ll all get together before Christmas though; it’s what Lynda would have wanted.”
Stepdaughter Stacey (31), mum to Cooper (9) and Oakley (5), adds:
“Lynda was the Oxo mum! She liked to get everybody round the table and enjoy themselves while she waited on us. She’d spend all Christmas morning cooking and I used to feel quite guilty that she wouldn’t let me help but whenever I tried she’d just say: “Sit down Stacey!” I loved the moment though when she’d done everything and finally sat down to join us. She’d look round the table, see us all smiling and then she was happy. She loved that. When you were with Lynda you just knew it was Christmas. She made it.”
Thank you for your amazing generosity
Lynda is still making a difference this Christmas, through your amazing generosity. A fund we started in her honour has raised thousands for three of the charities closest to Lynda’s heart – Action Against Cancer, Marie Curie and Macmillan.
Yours Editor Sharon Reid says: “We started the fund because we wanted to give readers a chance to remember Lynda in a way that reflected her own generosity and kindness.”
The current total as we went to press stood at £4,925.
- If you’d like to make a donation visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/YoursMagazine or post a cheque payable to the charity of your choice to: Yours Lynda Bellingham Appeal, Media House, Lynchwood Business Park, Peterborough PE2 6EA.