Thursday 21 November 2019

New vogue for the amicable break-up

There's a nice language to the celebrity split writes Sarah Caden, but real life often contradicts those pleasant words

Brian McFadden and Vogue Williams
Brian McFadden and Vogue Williams

Sarah Caden

There is a new vocabulary to the modern-day marriage breakdown; but the mechanics of extricating oneself from a broken relationship have not changed.

Amicable is, it would seem, the modern way, but words are easy. And even Gwyneth Paltrow, whose 'conscious uncoupling' from husband Chris Martin has set the modern tone, has admitted that real life is more difficult than any carefully composed public proclamation of a marriage's end.

Last month, Vogue Williams and Brian McFadden simultaneously issued a statement on Twitter, confirming that their three-year marriage was over. The language they used was of the kind that has now become familiar. It mentioned "sadness" and how they would "remain friends" and referred to the split as "this difficult period".

It was similar in tone and intent to those issued over this summer by actors Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, or, this month, by singers Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale. These couples talked about "love and friendship" and enduring partnership and shared sadness.

Then, later, in both cases, it all got a bit less cosy, as rumours of an affair with the nanny surfaced in the case of Affleck, and general infidelity in Rossdale's case. Neither rumour became anything more than that, but the effect, at least, was to sully the official statement. As in, you can say what you want about your split being friendly and mutual and without resentment and rancour - but living it out that way is a different matter entirely.

Last week, Vogue made it very clear that there is no third party involved in the break-up of her marriage to Brian. It's just one of those sad things, easy to sum up in nice words, but harder to actually endure or understand. "I didn't get married to get divorced," Vogue also said. "I'm not in a great place." She also added that she missed Brian, despite the fact that they continue to share a home.

It was only two months ago, in fact, that the couple bought a place in Vogue's native Howth. She wrote about it at the time, saying they needed a base here, and, in retrospect there is hope in that statement. As if she or they believed that if they put down roots, they could fix whatever must have been wrong.

She has said that even her family find it odd that they are still living together, but she seems to accept it as part of what she hopes is a very modern uncoupling. We can be civil, we can be friends, and we can come out of this unscathed.

Since going public on their split, Vogue has been relatively open. She has talked about the sadness, about the confusion, about the contradiction of it being over but missing the person all the same. And she has said that she can't yet imagine reaching a point where she's ready to start thinking about ever meeting anyone else. All the normal stuff; but also all the stuff that suggests that it's really over for her. Brian's language since they split, however, suggests that he might well be in a different place.

He hasn't specifically made any public statements about how he feels, but his online comments speak of a glimmer of a flame for his ex. Two weeks after they announced their split, he was on Twitter saying how proud he was of her appearance on Big Brother's Bit on the Side. Earlier this month he commented warmly on an Instagram picture of Vogue looking glamorous at the airport at "silly o'clock", and has been photographed several times driving her around Dublin.

All of this speaks of a man who wants it to be known that he still cares, and not in quite the same sad-but-over way as Vogue is expressing herself. Vogue's words speak of sad and confused, but resigned to reality. Brian's speak of hope.

Of course, the big difference between Brian and Vogue is that he has been married before. Brian knows, perhaps, that nothing's ever that simple in love and marriage. He has already had what has come to be known as a starter marriage - a rash, youthful, soon over union that teaches what mistakes not to make the next time - while Vogue is reeling from the realisation that this might be what her marriage to Brian was.

When she first met Brian, Vogue was 24. She had some relatively minor celebrity status in Ireland as one of the stars of Fade Street, RTE's 2010 faux reality-TV series. Brian was, at that stage seven years out of Westlife, but still a major name to his contemporaries. He was living in Australia, working on Australia Got Talent when they met in Krystle nightclub in Dublin, and both recalled their first encounter as an instant attraction.

"I was walking to the bathroom and he did the Madonna Vogue sign at me with his hand and said nothing," she said. "I think people have done that to me a million times but it seemed to work for him."

Brian said that they talked for eight hours that night in 2011, and that it immediately felt right and felt serious. She went to visit him in Australia some months later and stayed. They got married the following summer in Italy. It was fairy tale. It was supposed to be forever.

But then, surely Brian - or Bryan as he was then - went into his 2002 wedding to Kerry Katona with the same sentiment. They were young and in love, they had a child together when they married, and had another the following year. Anyone who remembers how he greeted Kerry when she emerged from the jungle as winner of I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! in 2004 will recall that they didn't seem like a couple divided at that time. But it didn't work and it didn't end well and, in recent years, Brian has said that he conducts all arrangements for visits with his daughters Molly (now 13) and Lily Sue (12) through nannies. For her part, Kerry, now on her third headline-grabbing marriage, hasn't often had a good word to say about her ex as a husband or father.

Where love was once involved, it's hard to make things end well. Even with the best of intentions. Couples are rarely on exactly the same page when the break happens. And the language of a public announcement can end up being just talk, no matter how nice that language is.

Sunday Independent

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