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Being banned from my children drove me to the brink of madness

Being banned from my children drove me to the brink of madness - and the truth about me and Gordon Brown"
Daily Mail, June 1 2008)

Any father enduring the anguish of an enforced estrangement from his children will know the grief felt by Robin Gibb.

Having been denied access to his daughter and elder son for six years after his first marriage ended in divorce, the Bee Gee compares the sense of loss to bereavement.

'I felt as if I was on the verge of madness,' he says.

It was distressing and very traumatic because I had no contact whatsoever. There was no response to my calls, no acknowledgement of my gifts, no letters. I felt dejected, rejected, worthless. Nobody was telling me anything about my kids.

'You can achieve great things in life professionally, but if your children are being kept away from you, you feel empty. Emotionally, mentally and spiritually I felt abandoned.

'I had some of my blackest moments during those lost years when my children became strangers to me. I think the bleakness I felt was matched only when my twin brother Maurice died.'

Maurice Gibb, one third of that stupendously successful pop trio the Bee Gees, died prematurely five years ago from complications caused by a burst intestine, leaving Robin and their elder brother Barry custodians of a catalogue of hit songs unrivalled in popularity, except by The Beatles.

But as Robin's musical career burgeoned, his personal life was crumbling. His divorce from first wife Molly Hullis, in 1980, was followed by the painful separation from his son, Spencer, and daughter, Melissa, who were then aged six and four respectively.

Now 58, Robin, is contentedly married to his second wife, Dwina, with whom he has a son, the composer and actor Robin-John.

But today, 18 years after he and his children were eventually reunited, he is exhuming his past grief to give solace and hope to others.

He is also doing so because he was approached directly by the Prime Minister, who has enlisted him to support a government-backed campaign, Parent Know How, aimed at encouraging fathers separated from their children to stay in touch.

'I've had a relationship with Gordon [Brown] for a number of years,' explains Robin. 'He's a big fan of my music and he listens to it every day.'

Is the PM fond of any particular song? 'He likes all our stuff. He says our music is timeless,' he discloses.

'He spoke to me directly about the campaign - we quite often have supper together - and I said as long as I could be positive and useful, I would be happy to use my own experience to help others.

'You don't really understand other people's problems until you've experienced them yourself.

'There is no replacement for a father, and there are so many of them out there in the world who love their children dearly but who are not able to spend the time they should with them.

'All I can say to those who are experiencing a life-changing divorce is: "I got through it."

'You have to think of the children in everything. Their needs are paramount. In the end, they will make everything right. Kids are nature's way of getting us all on the right path.'

Robin's personal trauma began when Molly - whom he met when she was a secretary with Brian Epstein's organisation - filed for divorce.

They had married in 1968 when he was 18 and she 21. In the ensuing years, the Bees Gees became a worldwide phenomenon; creators of the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and pioneers of a new dance music called disco.

But global success had its downside: Robin's rock-star lifestyle and protracted absences from home irked his young wife so much that she began an affair. When she sought a divorce, she also acquired a court order forbidding Robin from seeing their children.

'I felt betrayed,' he says now. 'Molly was unfaithful to me, but it's not as important now as it was then. What is important is my relationship with the children.

'I was absent for six of their formative years. It was terrible. No one would tell me where they were.

'I learned later that they had been spirited off to relatives to Molly's brother's house in the north. My relationship with them just ended. I couldn't understand why Molly didn't want me in the parental loop.

'Twenty-five years ago, the law favoured mothers without question. As a father, I was at a disadvantage. I worked in the music industry; that was perceived as a further weakness because Molly said I was on the road all the time and never at home.

'My lifestyle was seen as rather bohemian. The courts didn't understand it and took a very Victorian view of it.

'I didn't have affairs. But perhaps Molly had too much time on her hands while I was away, because she did have a relationship - which I'm not condemning. What I fail to understand is why the children had to be taken out of my life.

'I went to great lengths to see Melissa and Spencer, but every attempt I made through the courts failed. As the years passed, my sense of urgency increased.

'I knew how important it was to get back with the kids so we could make up for lost time. Molly was, and is, a fine mother but they needed a father's influence, too.

There were black moments of pure misery when I felt I'd go mad, but I never gave up. I marked every Christmas. I sent bikes for their birthdays; letters and cards, but there was never a response. It was very distressing.'

After four years of fruitless applications through the courts, Robin abandoned his attempts to secure a legal rapprochement. He did not, however, relinquish hope.

'And I never stopped loving them,' he says simply.

Finally, Molly relented. 'Maybe my stopping the legal attempts was a factor in persuading her,' he says.

In any event, he prepared for his first meeting with his children, after what he calls 'those six years in the wilderness', with a potent mix of joy and trepidation. A family friend was recruited to act as mediator.

He drove Spencer, then 12, and ten-year-old Melissa, to a pantomime where Robin was waiting for them. He was under no illusion that re-creating a relationship would be easy. He did not indulge in mawkish displays of affection.

'I was too nervous for tears,' he recalls. 'Re-establishing myself as their father was very hard. It was like getting to know two kids who were little strangers to me.'

In time, however, Melissa (now 28) and Spencer (30) were ready to spend their first night with Robin, his second wife, Dwina, and their little half-brother, Robin-John, at their former monastery home in Thame, Oxfordshire.

The place is a child's fantasy; a sprawling medieval mini-village in the mode of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, with flag-stoned corridors, wending staircases and dimly-lit rooms adorned with oil paintings.

Two venerable stone griffins guard the heavy oak front door where Dwina, smiley, blonde and attended by two Irish wolfhounds, welcomes me with a hug.

Robin is less effusive. Thin to the point of gauntness, he speaks in flat, measured Northern tones. (He spent an impoverished boyhood in Manchester before the family decamped to Australia.)

His humour is dry. There is a sense he never exaggerates a point; never over-plays an emotion.

'I remember thinking when the kids first came to stay how incredible it was that they were with me again. It felt strange,' he says. 'To start with, I didn't know if they were accepting me or just play-acting.

'It took a huge investment in time, energy and devotion to become their father again. I think it took five or six years: a year of rebuilding for every one we spent apart.

'At the start, Melissa had a problem with calling me "Dad". She didn't refer to me by name at all, and it hurt a little. But I was much more concerned about how the kids felt than how I was.'

How did he know when Spencer - now a musician in Texas - and Melissa, a London-based translator of Arabic, had finally embraced him as their father?

'There was a landmark moment,' he recalls. 'They just rang out of the blue and said: "We're coming over." Then, as they got older, they just started to show up unannounced. That was when I knew I had them back.'

Around the sitting room, photos of all three children are displayed. Robin and Dwina, an artist, poet and famously, a Druid, have been married for 23 years and they present a picture of easy domestic contentment.

So it is hard to credit that Robin once teased a New York interviewer that Dwina was a 'lipstick lesbian' and that they enjoyed three-in-abed romps with her girlfriends.

He has since admitted that the remarks were a tantalising fiction. But I ask anyway, if he really did enjoy an open marriage?

'When it comes to the test, I don't think any marriage can be open,' he says. 'The suggestion does crop up and you have to quell it.'

So is his marriage monogamous? 'Yes,' he says. Life, he observes, is often far more prosaic than rumour.

'Every man likes an adventurous woman, and people in the film and music industry are often perceived as larger than life,' he says.

'But the reality is pretty boring. 'Most of the time, real life is just sitting at home, as I'm doing now, enjoying a cup of tea.'

Celebrity, fame, spectacular wealth and influential friends may be the products of Robin Gibb's professional success. But he values family and the duties and joys of parenthood beyond them all.

'All that matters now is that they remain close to their mother and me - and that they know I never stopped loving them


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