Ruthie: My secret affair with Prince Edward

WEST End star Ruthie Henshall has told of being smuggled into Buckingham Palace by Prince Edward during their five-year relationship.

Andrew Clarke

WEST End star Ruthie Henshall has told of being smuggled into Buckingham Palace by Prince Edward and her “schizophrenic” new lifestyle.

Ruthie, who lives on the Suffolk/Essex border, was Kirsty Young's guest on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio's long-running music and discussion programme yesterday, and also revealed she had come to terms with being sexually abused as a child.

In and open and honest discussion, she said that although she was succeeding professionally for many years she was hurting inside and at one time, while living in New York and playing the role of Velma Kelly in Chicago, she even contemplated suicide.

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She said that this echoed what happened last year to her sister elder Noel who, while suffering from depression, took her own life.

“I was able to reach out and accept help which is something Noel wasn't able to do,” said Ruthie.

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“I miss her every single day and I wouldn't want her suffering from that kind of pain. I am trying to respect her decision but I know there is a way out of the pain but the depression took her down so far that she couldn't see it any more.”

She described theatre as a church - a place for her to escape the rest of her dysfunctional young life; a life which was shaped by the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of an adult who was known to the family.

She said that the abuse happened when she was four-and-half years old and was unable to tell her father, EADT columnist David Henshall, until she was 30.

She said she buried the events and did not resurface until she entered therapy in New York.

She said: “The sexual abuse changed me instantly. I can't explain a lot of things without taking that into consideration. It instantly made me feel alone, instantly made me feel that there isn't a God. It affected every aspect of my life, all my relationships.

“No-one knew. I was warned not to tell parents. I was 30 before I told anyone. I was in so much pain before I finally got to some help, then it all came tumbling out. The most difficult thing I had to do was to tell my father about it and have him write to this person. He told him that could no longer come near any of us.

“It was great to be finally be protected by him (my father) but I didn't tell him earlier so what could he do?”

She said that she was sure that the abuse was the driving force behind her earlier party-going lifestyle. “I had no self worth. I had no time to reflect. I was going out getting drunk, relationships very difficult. I was always running. Awards didn't sink in, nothing was enough or good enough. I was driven person. Life was like an express train - everything was going so fast that I couldn't even enjoy the scenery.”

She said that theatre was her salvation. “Light just came on. It was extraordinary. It was something where I could channel all my feelings.”

It was also something that spelt the end of her long-running relationship with Prince Edward - which continued on-and-off for five years. She said they broke up because she would never have been prepared to give up her career.

“It is something I continue to be passionate about. Your whole day is centred around that two-and-half hours on stage,”

She told Kirsty Young that she had dated Edward Windsor, as he wanted to be known at the time, solidly for a couple of years, but on and off for five.

During their courtship she would be smuggled in to Buckingham Palace because the relationship was not public knowledge.

"It always make me laugh, I'd sort of say 'I'm going to my boyfriend's tonight'. Nobody knew who he was."

When asked about the romantic notion of "the Prince and the showgirl" she said: "It was very exciting, but I genuinely fell in love with him."

Despite her feelings she could not see herself becoming part of the Royal family, she said, because she was aware she would not be able to continue her stage career.

"I think I had hopes that we could walk on in our relationship but really and truthfully I think I was very aware that I wouldn't be able to do what I do for a living if I'd have stayed with him.

"If you think about it I would be in the theatre (doing) eight shows a week, they'd have to check out the theatre every night, check everyone's bags, it would be just impossible, and there was nothing - at that stage - that was more important than what I did."

Ruthie said she frequently met the Royal family and when behind closed doors functioned and acted just like an ordinary family. One of the most surprising sights was Prince Charles turning sausages on a barbecue.

Today, Ruthie, who is currently appearing in Marguerite in London's West End, is happily married to Canadian actor/singer Tim Howar and lives on the Essex/Suffolk border with their two daughters.

She describes life as being rather schizophrenic - performing on stage in the West End, eight performances a week on one hand and scraping porridge off the floor and ferrying children to school on the other.

“It's full on and it's constant. But I wouldn't change it. It keeps you down to earth. I am much more comfortable in own skin at 41, than I was before and I finally have a sense of peace.”

Ruthie's Desert Island Discs were:

1. Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Eva Cassidy

2. Children Will Listen - Stephen Sondheim

3. For Good - Wicked

4. The Lord's Prayer - Ann Christine Lofgren

5. Footprints in the Sand - Leona Lewis

6. Something - Van Tramp

7. This Woman's Work - Kate Bush

8. There Will Come a Day - Faith Hill

Book: The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde

Luxury: A jar of Hellman's mayonnaise

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