Wednesday 17 January 2018

Jones's peculiar marriage is not that unusual

What Tom Jones said about his marriage was strange, writes Sarah Caden, but all unions are hard to fathom from afar

Tom Jones with Luke Kelly, left, and Ciaran Bourke
Tom Jones with Luke Kelly, left, and Ciaran Bourke
Tom Jones with his wife Melinda and their son Mark as they move into their new home in Sudbury, 1967
Welsh singer Tom Jones and former Miss World Marjorie Wallace in Barbados, 1976

Sarah Caden

All marriages are odd and even unfathomable, as Tom Jones's comments on his own served to demonstrate last weekend. Two people enter it in youth full of expectations of lifelong like-mindedness and joyful shared experience, and later discover that the former is impossible and the latter only works out part of the time. And that's in a good marriage.

And the definition of what is 'good' alters all the way through a marriage, sometimes ending up where Jones and his wife Linda find themselves after 58 years. Still together, still important to each other, but with all the scales fallen from their eyes.

We can't judge them for that; because no one on the outside - and sometime the inside - can really fathom what makes a marriage good or bad. But we've been quick to judge Jones in the last week, following an interview to promote his new book, in which he described 75-year-old Linda as a sad and reclusive figure.

The also-75-year-old singer said Linda was a long time recluse in their LA home, shy and unhappy with how she looks. He said he realised that "she's had a depression since she was young ... She's always had a touch of it.

"Linda is the love of my life, and she still is, even though she doesn't look like she did," Jones said. "I don't look like I did either, but I try my best. She's lost her spark."

What Jones was saying, in essence, was that while Linda remains the wife he wants to be married to, she's not the girl he married at 16.

In fact, as Jones explained, when he's away on tour - which is a lot - he keeps by his bed a picture of the young Linda. "She says, 'I don't look like that any more.'" Jones explained. "I say, 'I know you don't, it brings back wonderful memories.'"

Jones clearly told this story in last weekend's interview by way of explaining how they have both changed, and been through a lot, but he still wants to be married to her. Also, he's pointing out, with a bittersweet edge, that he is capable of caring about the past while still cherishing the present. In most marriages, you could say, both parties turn into people who are far from those who first entered into the contract.

How that came across to some was that Jones was saying: "She's not pretty any more, but I've stood by her; amn't I great?" But what the haters who jumped on Jones forget is that it takes two to stay in a marriage.

This isn't just a case of 'Tom Jones puts up with homely wife when he could have done better.' And that's really not what the man is saying. He's saying, essentially, that age and time are a bitch. But his position isn't really helped by the fact that throughout most of his life, he has been a bit of bastard.

Tom Jones's womanising has never been a secret. He hit it big when he was 24, having come from a poor Welsh background where playing Vegas, hanging out with Elvis and still having knickers thrown at you in your 70s was unimaginable. It was a very male world, where wives and girlfriends really didn't feature and Jones threw himself into it. Linda did not.

You could say without fear of contradiction that he enjoyed himself with women. You could excuse it by saying he got married ridiculously young at 16 and became a father, to their only child, Mark, only a matter of months later. But that doesn't really excuse anything. He had fun, a lot of it, but it can't have been much fun for Linda.

However, as Jones said last week, he regrets none of it. "Because I never hurt anybody," he said. "It never backfired on me and my marriage is solid."

The not hurting anyone, you might say, is a matter of opinion. You might also say that just staying together is not the measure of a good marriage, but Tom and Linda Jones might disagree. And it's their marriage.

Often, though, there were three of them in it. Jones says that the only time Linda objected was when his affair with former Miss World Marjorie Wallace became public.

That one pushed Linda over the edge and she physically attacked him. "I stood there and took it," Jones said last week. "She chinned me ... I said, 'Go ahead.' She punched and shouted."

Well, yeah. There is a degree of self-aggrandising in Jones's account of this. "I stood there and took it, fair play to me." As if he was doing Linda a favour, and, also, the revelation of his relationship with Wallace wasn't some covert tabloid stalk-and-scoop.

There are plenty of pictures of Jones and Wallace posing together, clearly intimate, in one case in their togs on the beach in Barbados.

It's quite likely that what ignited Linda's fury wasn't so much the affair, because, to some extent, she learned to live with those. Instead, perhaps, it was the public humiliation that really upset her.

Which, of course, calls into question Tom Jones's wisdom in saying quite so much about Linda last week. She wasn't there to defend herself, as the interviewer pointed out in his piece, saying how he felt uncomfortable, after a while, discussing Linda's mental and physical state so intimately in her absence.

It wasn't this aspect of Jones's comments that were jumped on and pounded after last week's interview was published, though. Instead, he was held up as a sexist misogynist, with a Stone Age attitude that suggested that little wifey was best off at home while he was off screwing his way around the world.

Tom, a man of his time, you'd have to admit, defended himself against charges of sexism by saying, "I respect the ladies." That helped, as you can imagine.

Other critics of Jones's attitude to his wife and marriage proposed that if Linda has suffered from depression it's because of his behaviour. But if you're going to say that, then you have to ask not why Tom Jones remains married to Linda, but why Linda remains married to Tom. She could have divorced him; no one would have blamed her, but she didn't.

The Jones marriage has always been portrayed as a connection of opposites. They grew up and got together as similar people from similar backgrounds, but then he became famous. He loved and loves the fame and fuss and the flamboyance, and she does not.

But she clearly enjoys it to some extent, albeit from a distance. Decades ago, she stepped back from public outings with Tom and became quite reclusive, but she has remained Mrs Tom Jones. She stayed married to a man with what she knew was a bonkers way of life, which means that she too lived the life, and chose the life, albeit out of sight.

This is not a suggestion that she stayed for the money, but the slightly mawkishly romantic view of their marriage that Jones portrayed last week must be something that works to keep Linda in the relationship, too. For her, perhaps, there is a satisfaction in having the role of someone's rock-solid touchstone to the past and to a more stable world.

God knows there are far worse reasons that people stay in marriages that seem bonkers from the outside but endure nonetheless. Would you want to be married to Tom Jones? Probably not, but Linda does, and he wants to be married to her. And maybe that's all that any marriage can ask.

Sunday Independent

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