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The next Best thing

First things first. Angie Best had a full facelift when she was 44. "I didn't need it."

"Why did you have it then?

"Because," she says," it was an adventure."

You look well on it.

"That's because," Angie, born in 1953, answers with a broad smile, "we didn't look to change the way I looked. We just looked to enhance it."

The blonde, still a bombshell at 54, gives me the raison d'etre of good plastic surgery as she perceives it, "If you try to change the way you look, it will never work. If you try to enhance the way you look, it will work."

In other words, she says, if you keep the same nose, the same cheeks, the same forehead -- "but you just want to take away a couple of wrinkles" -- you're fine. But if you want to change the cheeks, have a new chin, change your nose -- you're screwed," says Angie (who recently "joined forces" with The Harley Medical Group to publish the Best Cosmetic Surgery Diet and Exercise Plan).

She adds for reasons best known to herself, "Joan Rivers, God bless her. You've got an ugly girl who wants to make herself look beautiful. That's never going to happen. Because you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

She'll love you for that comment, Angie.

"I couldn't," she says softly, "give a f**k."

And, Angie Best clearly does not give a damn about what other people may think of her. "Are they going to take care of me when I'm old? No," she says over coffee in Bewleys Hotel in Ballsbridge. "Are they going to change the path of my life? No."

The mouthy fifty-something wasn't always like that. She grew up in England thinking that children should be seen and not heard. Her mother, Mimi (a Scottish woman from the Highlands who is now 82 years old), wanted Angie and her sister Lindy "to please everybody."

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Angie obviously didn't listen too intently to her mother (her father, an English bookmaker named Joseph, has been dead 20 years.) She is a tough cookie.

Ask her to describe herself and she camply explodes: "Oh, f**k. Don't give me complicated things to think about." She becomes easily tetchy and impatient. She is here to promote You're Not The Man I Married, a new marriage makeover show on Friday nights as part of BBC One NI's autumn schedule.

On it, Best will, she says, "tackle husbands whose wives have nominated them for the You're Not The Man I Married treatment." She is not here to talk endlessly about a certain ex-husband, however. "Are we here to talk about George or the show?" she snaps.

"Because I'm not going any further if you're not going to mention the show. God, I thought you were the nicest and you have turned out to be the most difficult!"

OK. Should married couples just have contracts, such as footballers have, where they can renew or terminate them after five years?

"I think that is a very good idea," she says. "I think every seven years they should have a marriage MOT. Lists of what you don't like about each other. When you first married this guy, you were madly in love with him. Ten years down the line, he doesn't brush his teeth before his comes to bed, he always leaves the toilet seat up, he spends too much time down the pub, he has a beer belly. We will fix all those little niggly things. We will send him to cookery school so he learns how to cook you a meal. We might even teach him how to give you a massage, so you can get the romance back into your life."

She won't discuss her personal life post-George Best in any relevant or meaningful detail. So, I can't tell you with any accuracy whether she remarried after George. I do know that Patsy Kensit played Angie in the movie about George a few years ago and that Angie, who produced and starred in her own workout videos, has appeared on lots of TV shows, has coached and trained celebrity clients (including Cher, Sharon Stone and Daryl Hannah) and has written a series of best-selling books for over-40s women, including one for the menopause called A Change For the Best.

She has a faintly posh voice. "I sang hymns at Sunday school," she says of her youth. "I can't remember which hymns. I have been to far too many places since then. All I remember is that I was driving Cher to a tennis lesson and I'm singing away to one of the songs on the radio and she turned off the radio and said: 'Leave the singing to me.' So I've never sang since. Oh, Cher completely ruined me for life."

It is a matter of opinion whether George Best completely ruined or made Angie's life. Lest we forget, her husband was the seemingly immortal, but ultimately doomed, demi-god who took football off the back pages and put it onto page one.

He was the alco-anointed one in a Man United jersey who personified genius with a leather ball as much as he did iconic sex appeal.

"Every woman in England hated me because I took their George," Angie says now. "I also knew that most men in England didn't like me because I got in the way of their George. He had to go home to the missus. George was a great footballer; he was a f**king awful husband, God bless him."

She met George, who was then playing for Los Angeles Aztecs, at a party in LA in 1975. It was a suitably inauspicious beginning. Angie, an English beauty who had moved to the US to model and be Cher's personal trainer, got a call at the house from a man in Beverly Hills who said he was having a party for an English soccer player named George Best and would she like to come?

The blonde went with one of her girlfriends. When they arrived at this beautiful house in Beverly Hills, there were five men -- "and 50 women," she smiles. "I didn't have time for that." Angie went over, introduced herself to the host, and left.

Two weeks passed before she got another phone call from the same man in Beverly Hills. He said George would like her to come to his party down on Hermosa Beach.

Angie said she wasn't particularly pushed about driving all the way there, not least because of the enlightening experience of the first party. George sent a car to (in his manner of speaking) pick her up.

The second party was even more inauspicious, it transpired, than the first one. When she arrived at Best's bachelor xanadu, there was no party, no people, just George Best sitting at the bar.

"He had sent for me because he wanted to chat me up," she remembers.

"So there I am standing there looking at this delicious little guy with that accent, the black hair and the blue eyes and the dimple in his chin. I'm thinking, 'Oh, you are delicious.' I was just in love immediately." Then, all of a sudden, she remembers, "I get a drink thrown over me."

"There was this girl standing there," Angie continues. "She's his girlfriend. But he didn't bother to tell her that he was bringing in another one. I should have known immediately, but I didn't. The girl went off crying her eyes out and he ignored her."

Did that not give you some indication of what lay ahead for you in your life with George Best?

She smiles ruefully. "Yeah. Had I not been taken in by his persona, this little brain should have been going, 'Ange, get in your car. Go home now. Run'." She did run, however, straight into his arms.

"When we first came back to England, when he had asked me to marry him, my mother said, 'He was not good enough for my daughter'," she remembers.

I ask Angie to explain what the attraction was beyond the physical for George Best. She doesn't hesitate, like her ex-husband in front of the goal during his glory days with Manchester United.

"Do you know what it was? I am a caretaker and he was a little boy who needed taking care of. In hindsight, that's what it was. I didn't know it then, but I know it now."

The original Posh and Becks, George and Angie married in 1978. They divorced in 1984. As she wrote in George and Me in 2002: "I didn't realise that six years of marriage would last a lifetime." She says it doesn't bother her that people will always talk about her in terms of George Best. (It only bothers her slightly when people call her Alex -- George's second and final wife -- as happened to Angie twice during her two- day stay in Ireland recently.) "In the eyes of people here, I will never be anything but Angie Best. Fortunately for me, I had a life prior to George and after George with my job."

They had a son, Calum, on February 6, 1981. Having Calum, she says, meant that she realised she "had to look after the deserving baby, not the undeserving baby. I could do one baby, not two."

Did it make the undeserving baby jealous?

"No he wasn't sober enough to be jealous, sadly."

How did she deal with that? She thinks the question is manifestly stupid.

"How did I deal with that? Jesus!" she storms, "I didn't deal with it. I got on with my life. I got on with raising my son. I didn't try to deal with any of it. I left George to get on with his shit, which he was doing very well."

Angela MacDonald-James from Southend-on-Sea, Essex finally realised she had to leave her wayward husband one day driving down the freeway in La La Land.

"It was pissing with rain," she recalls. "It was check-up day at the doctor's for Calum. And as we were driving, I see in the middle of the road, on the double yellow lines, this poor, disheveled, soul, soaking wet, huddled over, walking down the middle of the fucking freeway. And I'm thinking: 'He's going to get killed.'"

"As I get closer, I realise: it's my errant husband, who's been on a bender for two weeks and I haven't seen him. And there he is in the middle of the road walking home.

"I keep driving, because I'm not going to miss my doctor's appointment; he can do what he wants, which he has been doing. So, I keep driving and I say to myself: 'I've had enough of this.' And that was the end of the relationship."

When I ask her to go into this deeper, she appears to lose all patience with me, not for the last time. "I'm going to strangle you. I'm really going to strangle you. Read the f**king book. Jesus."

She says she told George, "That's it. You're finished. Goodbye."

The football club Best was playing for had thrown him out too, she says, also because he had gone "on a bender for two weeks and hadn't shown up for any games. He had gone on the missing list. It was his normal routine." (Indeed, as he once said, himself, of his notorious missing routine: Miss UK. Miss Sweden. Miss World.)

"We had just bought a little house and he had painted a beautiful mural in the bedroom for the baby and now he hadn't got a job. I sent him home to England to work. He is not home a week when he meets Miss World. So what happens to the wife and the son? They're forgotten about. I lose my house.

"George is living with my mother and he has met Miss World and they are in all the papers. He moved out and got a flat with her. We are not divorced yet; we are just separated." So she went back to work with Cher in America and brought Calum up alone.

Prior to that, did you accept infidelity as part of the relationship?

"Yes, I did. I did accept that for many, many years. Because I knew and understood that the man I was so desperately in love with had a problem and I knew that when he was drunk he didn't know what he was doing. And he probably couldn't do it. "So I would get calls from the house that he was at and he would be looking at an envelope to say 'I'm at 27 Leebrea Road can you come and get me' and off I would go. People had no understanding of alcoholism back then. I do now. He was a very depressed person. Nobody ever addressed the depression."

Back then what did you think was wrong with George? "Initially, I just thought he needed someone to look after him," she says, "cook his dinner. Give him a home. eep him happy.

"Mistake number one."

She moved back to England from California just over two years ago after George died on November 25, 2005, at the Cromwell Hospital in London, after a protracted illness. She says she knew Calum, who had attained something of a tabloid notoriety himself, would come "out of his dark place" after George passed on because he "didn't get in life what he needed from his father. He never had any father figures in his life. His life was complicated enough.

"There you had the whole world reaching out for this man -- and there was Calum tugging on his trousers going 'What about me, Dad?' And it was that way until George died. I know Calum will be all right. I'm not so sure about me, though. "Can you think of a good question now?" Angie half-laughs.

Best I shut up.

Any couples with a sense of fun interested in appearing on 'You're Not The Man I Married' can call 0044 2890 573001 or send an e-mail to info@greeninc.tv


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