Daily Telegraph interview with Lindsey Carlos Clarke first interview with Bob's wife since his tragic death
March 21, 2007
One year ago, the acclaimed photographer Bob Carlos Clarke threw himself in front of a train. Speaking for the first time, his wife Lindsey tells Janie Lawrence what drove a mercurial genius to a desperate act
Sometimes Lindsey Carlos Clarke is so hopping mad with her late husband that she stomps off to Brompton Cemetery in south-west London with the sole intention of having a row with him.
"I'm angry because this wasn't the deal," she says, animatedly waving a cigarette. "You can't suddenly decide life isn't quite as perfect as you'd like it to be and say, 'I'm getting the f*** out of here'."
On Saturday, March 25 last year, 55-year-old Bob Carlos Clarke, the photographer famed for persuading Jerry Hall to straddle a 10-foot alligator - and whose erotic pictures of semi-naked women in Shooting Sex: The Definitive Guide to Undressing Beautiful Strangers had brought him worldwide acclaim - committed suicide.
He walked out of the Priory, favoured "rehab centre" of the well-heeled and famous, went to the White Hart Lane crossing in nearby Barnes, climbed over the barrier and at 11.33am threw himself in front of the 10.53 from Windsor to Waterloo.
Now, as the anniversary of his death looms, his presence still inhabits the Chelsea town house he shared with Lindsey. The walls are a shrine to his work and his books are stacked up on the coffee table.
Lindsey, 53, the 1970s Sunsilk girl and a Page 3 model from an era when it was populated by "nice gals" from the middle classes, is a fascinating mix of girlish effervescence and stainless-steel backbone.
In rock-chick T-shirt and filly-limbed in leggings ("It's a diet of Champagne and toffees; I hate exercise"), she is like a coiled spring.
Her husband may have been perceived as a charming and witty raconteur, but Lindsey believes that few ever comprehended his inner torment - his utter terror at the prospect of getting old, or how the desire to kill himself invaded his life and their 30-year relationship. Now, it is as if she is uncorking a lifetime of thoughts and emotions. "I don't think anybody realised he was like an iceberg and there was a much bigger piece that I was holding up."
Traumatised by the death of his great friend and fellow photographer, Patrick Lichfield, six months earlier, Bob's mental health had been deteriorating for a considerable time before he went into the Priory at the beginning of March. By then he was so detached that Lindsey was terrified.
"He couldn't drive, but I'd find him sitting in the van, and he would look at a newspaper but not turn the pages."
For the first week at the Priory he was put on suicide watch and declared psychotic. The last time she saw him, three weeks after admission, he seemed to have improved. "The psychiatrist said he had a journey to travel but that he had turned the corner."
He hadn't. At 3pm the following day she was pottering in the house with their 14-year-old daughter, Scarlett, when there was a knock at the door. "I thought it was the fish man but when I opened the door there were two policemen and a WPc. As soon as the woman said, 'What relation are you to Robert Carlos Clarke?', I knew. "
The officers stayed until her close friend Geraldine arrived and Lindsey dispatched Scarlett off to supper with her former nanny. Then, extraordinarily, she somehow dragged herself off to a drinks party. "I know that sounds surreal but I was in such a strange space. I had such a desire to be normal. I can't explain, I don't remember who I saw or what I said but, for an hour, I needed to feel that the world was still there."
Later she heard that Bob had made a phone call to his agent, Ghislain Pascal, at 11.17 that morning chivvying him about royalties. Would a man who intended to jump in front of a train 16 minutes later have made that call? "I've no idea," she says, shaking her head. She accepts that she'll never know the answer. Later that night, Scarlett crawled into her mother's bed and they cuddled up and went through old family photos together. At this memory, Lindsey's face crumples and the tears begin. Fiercely protective of her daughter, her primary anger is that Bob left Scarlett. But all she will say is: "Scarlett must always feel that I'm there for her, but one day she might have a much more interesting story to tell."
As neither she nor Bob were religious, Lindsey opted for a humanist funeral, with a black coffin and a "wonderful eulogy" followed by Bob's favourite song, the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil. Afterwards, the mourners adjourned to Frankie's in Knightsbridge, the restaurant co-owned by chef Marco Pierre White, a family friend.
It was many weeks before Lindsey could bring herself to visit the crossing where he died. Does she believe that the Priory failed in fulfilling its duty of care? "I thought that he would be safe, but I can't blame them. It was deeply cast in stone."
Lindsey and Bob were both married when they first met and embarked on a two-year affair before leaving their spouses. It was an obsessive relationship, bringing the highest of highs but sometimes depths of cruelty.
Bob, Irish, wild and bohemian but also Wellington-educated and terribly proper ("a bizarre cross between a teenage boy and Victorian father. He was magical, mercurial, charismatic and cruel," she says) was consumed with his art. And Lindsey was consumed with the man who called her his soulmate, prepared to do whatever it took to help him succeed. "I gave my all because I believed in him - although I used to say I'm the person who has to run ahead with the lamp and also sweep up behind.''
Convinced that he was a failure, he would wake Lindsey in the middle of the night and she would have to reassure him otherwise. "He said years ago, 'I'm never going to be as famous as I really want to be, so the only way to do it is to die.' He'd say, 'If this exhibition isn't a success, I don't know what I'll do.' I'd say to him, 'Unless you're thinking of becoming the Pope, Mother Teresa or Madonna, what do you expect?'"
Fearful about money, Bob had no idea where they banked or how much they had in their account (plenty), and Lindsey took care of every practicality. If he was not fixated by any particular model, Bob would disappear at 1am to scour nightclubs to find another.
"It would be a lie to say that I wasn't aware that he might do something with someone else," she says reluctantly. "And I think occasionally things might have happened, but most of the time the obsession was photographic and that was more difficult to deal with, because then there was no room for me at all."
Bob never wanted children, because he wanted to be the centre of attention, but when Scarlett was born he was besotted. Although neither he nor Lindsey had ever thought they would marry, when Scarlett was six they flew to Mustique, grabbed Lichfield and a couple of friends who were holidaying there, and married on the nearby island of St Vincent's.
It was a glamorous jet-set life. In one photograph, there is a regal, stern-looking Princess Margaret in a sarong and Lindsey sits beside her in a leopard-print swimsuit. "I had to curtsey in that! It was like being with the Queen, but she was amazingly good fun."
Lindsey's sense of humour has done much to keep her afloat. Other people's reactions to her since Bob's death have veered from the supportive to the clumsy and outrageous. One man walked up to her in a restaurant recently as she was lunching with a girlfriend and bitingly commented: "Oh what's this, the Merry Widow?"
In an unexpected twist, Lindsey has become involved with a man 15 years her junior, whom she describes as someone "very special". He is the antithesis of Bob: a solid, reassuring chap. She still lives in that raw, heightened state where the wafer-thin line between laughter and tears can blur in an instant and she dissolves, her lips quivering.
"I know Bob loved me, but he had such a difficult time giving back because he was so damaged. He couldn't be there for me because he could hardly be there for himself. He had become something so complex and so difficult that I had begun to mourn for him before he was dead. To be with somebody who is there for me is amazing."
The emotional exhaustion is palpable. "I say to Scarlett, 'You've got to understand, I will never love anybody like I loved your father, but you can't go back and there has to be a door that allows things to come through.' " What is the overwhelming emotion Lindsey now has about his death? Her voice drops to a whisper. It is a courageously candid answer. "It's set me free."