It's been a difficult year for Barbara Taylor Bradford. In July, she lost her husband of 55 years, Bob Bradford – not only a partner in her personal life, but her professional partner too. Bob was her business manager, and as a movie producer, created mini-series and films of many of her books.
But as she sits in The Dorchester – the London abode she shared with Bob whenever they travelled to the UK – Barbara reveals it hasn't been as bad as she thought it might be, returning to their place in London, alone.
Barabara on returning to Woman of Substance and more
"I was a little bit worried about it to tell you the truth, because we have stayed at this hotel for thirty years and it was like home," Barbara explains. "On the other hand I was coming for the first time alone but much to my surprise, when I arrived on the Tuesday morning having flown all night, and my publicist from Harper Collins was waiting for me and a lady from the hotel, we went up to the suite which Bob and I had had for the last few years and within minutes I really felt at home.
Barbara and Bob, pictured here in 1991, were married for 55 years
"There were no tears. I just thought, 'Oh, I know where everything is.' You know, the cupboards and the wardrobes and things like that and so it was fine. And it's been fine because everybody's been very sweet. Of course I've teared up a bit when they give me their condolences but Bob always said if anything happens to me first - and he was sure it would because he was a few years older than me - he said I want you to just carry on as if nothing happened. Don't give up your career, you love writing, keep going. Your writing will give you solace."
And it's a landmark year for Barbara in terms of her writing. Forty years ago, in 1979, her book, A Woman of Substance, was first published – her first blockbusting best-seller; a rags-to-riches tale of a servant girl who becomes a business tycoon. And as she sat frantically by Bob's hospital bedside in the final hours of his life after he had suffered a stroke, her most famous novel not only offered her solace, but also a plan for exactly how she would manage to carry on in the way she knew her husband would want.
"I was sitting in the hospital with Bob who's in this deep sleep and unlikely to come out of it and when you're knowing that, and it's the person you love you really can only concentrate on that person in the bed and not to read a book or look at a paper," she says. "So there I was, holding his hand and drifting with my thoughts, and I started worrying that I couldn't write the next Falconer book. I'd written In the Lion's Den, the book out now, but the thought of all that Edwardian research felt too monumental a task."
Bob sadly passed away in July 2019
While she sat with Bob, her mind kept wandering to what work she would be able to manage, whilst struggling with the grief she could tell lay ahead. "I knew I'd have to do a book because that's how the contract reads," she explains. And then the idea of revising A Woman of Substance sprung to mind. "I wasn't ready for another Emma book," she says, of her novel's heroine, Emma Harte, played by Jenny Seagrove in the much-loved mini-series. "So I suddenly fell on Blackie. Blackie O'Neill. Her sidekick for years, her best friend. We never saw his story, and I realised all I had to do was use my imagination. It was in the hospital that I thought of the idea. My editor said to me, ‘That's Bob's gift to you Barbara'."
Watch the video above to hear more from Barbara – her thoughts on being a workaholic, on how she crafts her novels and what she thinks about the royal family’s new Woman of Substance, Meghan Markle.
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