Author Dame Hilary Mantel reveals how illness broke up her marriage

Dame Hilary Mantel, 67, says crippling endometriosis ‘confiscated her fertility at 27’ and caused the break-down of her marriage at 30 – although she later wed the SAME man again

  • Wolf Hall writer Hilary Mantel told BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Emma Barnett that she had been ill with endometriosis for most of her life 
  • Author, 67, said condition had proved ‘insurmountable’ for a period of her marriage to Gerald McEwan – and the couple decided to separate 
  • They first wed at 19 but split up at 30, only to re-marry two years later 
  • New book The Mirror & the Light is final installment of bestselling Tudor trilogy 
  • Told Harper’s Bazaar in new interview that she’s ‘pleased’ Prince Harry, 35, and Meghan’s, 38, marriage is surviving their split from the royal family

Wolf Hall author Dame Hilary Mantel says she’s been ‘ill for most of my life’ and says the endometriosis she has endured since she was 19 caused the break-up of her marriage. 

The Booker Prize-winning writer, 67, speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Emma Barnett that the condition hampered her life so much that it caused her to separate from husband Gerald McEwan, only to marry him again two years later. 

Mantel, who’s about to pubish the final installment of her bestselling Tudor trilogy, The Mirror & the Light, said that the painful condition, which causes uterine tissue to grow outside of the uterus, ‘confiscated her fertility at 27’ and left her ‘besieged’. 

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In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Emma Barnett, Wolf Hall writer Dame Hilary Mantel said she had been ill for most of her life with chronic pain caused by endometriosis (pictured on Radio 5 Live yesterday)

The author, about to publish a new book The Mirror & the Light, also told the presenter how the condition caused the break-down of her marriage to husband Gerald McEwan, who she’d wed as a 20-year-old but was divorced from at 30, only for the couple to re-unite two years later

Speaking on how endometriosis has affected her, she told the presenter: ‘You have to find a way of living with it and living around it. I have been ill most of my life, certainly since I was 19.’

At 27, she underwent a procedure that ‘confiscated her fertility’. She said the treatments doctors had offered her ‘have done their own damage’ adding: ‘I don’t have a family, I didn’t have a chance at having children but I’ve tried to make my life as full as possible.’

Revealing that she shared her first date with husband Gerald 50 years ago this week, Mantel also told how her illness had contributed to the temporary end of her marriage, saying: ‘We got married when we were very young, we were 19,20 and still students. 

‘Everyone predicted doom, it wasn’t doom, it worked but my illness and the crisis it occasioned was too difficult for us to surmount and we we broke up and divorced for a couple of years.’

The best-selling British writer also revealed that the couple had shared their first date 50 years ago this week, and said she’d learned to live with the condition that has ‘besieged’ her life

Radio 5 Live tweeted the interview, which has now been viewed more than 24,000 times on the radio programme’s Twitter account (Pictured: host Emma Barnett) 

When the couple re-met at 30, they took their vows again and have been together ever since. The writer says her job has helped her to create a full life and she works around the chronic pain that often ‘besieges’ her.  

The writer is also featured in Harper’s Bazaar this month. Photographed for the society magazine at Hampton Court Palace, the author commented on Meghan and Prince Harry’s marriage, saying she was pleased that it had survived the couple’s decision to stand down as senior royals.  

Dame Hilary explained: ‘I’m pleased that it’s the marriage that’s surviving and the connection with the monarchy that has to go because I think almost all of us would have bet that if she [the Duchess of Sussex] left, she’d have to leave alone.’ 

Dame Hilary Mantel, 67, called Meghan Markle, 38, a ‘smiling face in a dull institution’ as she said she feared the Duchess would be forced to leave the royal family alone 

The British Booker Prize-winning author suggested ‘abominable racism’ was involved in the Duchess of Sussex’s decision to leave the UK (pictured, the Duchess on her final royal engagement before announcing her plans to step back from the family in January) 

She added: ‘Though, none of us know the details of how this is going to work out.’

‘I think that Meghan was too good to be true,’ Hilary admitted. ‘She was a smiling face in a dull institution, she cheered the nation up no end, or at least men and women of good will.’ 

Harry and Meghan rocked the Royal Family in January when they announced they would step down as senior royals, less than two years after their marriage. They intend to split their time between the UK and Canada. 

Speaking about the treatment of Meghan, Hilary insisted: ‘I do think abominable racism has been involved. People who say that’s got nothing to do with it – well, they need to check their privilege!’  

The  author (pictured) spoke with Harper’s Bazaar to celebrate the publication of the final instalment of her bestselling Tudor trilogy, The Mirror & the Light

Talking to the BBC this week, Hilary reiterated her belief that racism had played a part in the criticism aimed at the Duchess. 

The author said: ‘I hesitate to call her a victim. But I think there has been an element of racism in the invective against her. I think it’s more deeply embedded in people’s consciousness than any of us are willing to admit.’

She added: ‘There’s an intense concentration on the bodies of royal women. If anyone doubts that, we only have to look at what happens when our royal ladies are pregnant and when they give birth. 

‘They are perceived as public property in the same way that Tudor women were perceived.’

Prince Harry, 35, and Meghan (pictured) rocked the Royal Family in January when they announced they would step down as senior royals, less than two years after their marriage

The treatment of royal women was ‘sad’ and ‘objectionable’, she said, because ‘it is simply turning the individual woman back into a breeder’. 

Asked about the duchess, she said that scrutiny of royal bodies ‘does include the skin’.

In 2016, Harry said media coverage of Meghan had ‘racial undertones’ and novelist Sir Philip Pullman claimed Meghan ‘is attacked by the British press because she’s black’. 

In 2013 Dame Hilary came under fire for likening the Duchess of Cambridge to a ‘shop window mannequin’ who would become a ‘jointed doll on which certain rags are hung’.

The April issue of Harper’s Bazaar (pictured) is on sale from 04 March 2020

The comments were condemned by then prime minister David Cameron as ‘completely misguided’, although she said her words had been taken out of context. 

Despite Hilary winning a Booker Prize for both her first and second novel in her series about Thomas Cromwell, the powerful minister in the court of King Henry VIII, she says it never matters at the time of writing.

She explained to Harper’s Bazaar: ‘I’m keeping my eye on the content of the book, and asking, “Does that succeed with readers?”

‘The whole issue of prizes, bestseller lists and so on is out of my hands. When you’re actually writing day-by-day, I don’t find any of that matters.’ 

She also revealed how it felt writing her protagonist Thomas Cromwell’s death, admitting she broke down into tears.

‘Actually, it’s really embarrassing, this, but when it came into my head how it must go, I was in Sainsbury’s at the checkout,’ she recalled.

‘My hands were packing and tears were falling really, really fast onto my hands. And by the time I got into the car park, I’d done it. It was emotionally processed.’ 

The Mirror & the Light (£25, Fourth Estate) is published on 5 March. The April issue of Harper’s Bazaar is on sale from 04 March 2020.

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