Author who made his ex-fiancée the heroine of his spy thrillers after she left him because her father thought he was ‘too working class’ reveals how they’ve rekindled their love and finally married 40 years later
- Brian and Liz Landers, of Vauxhall, fell in love in the 1970s but married in 2015
- Pair was once engaged but split because father thought Brian ‘too working class’
- But the couple reunited in the early 2000s and eventually tied the knot in 2015
- Now 71, Brian revealed how Liz, 69, inspired his new novel’s central character
A thriller writer who made his first love the central character in his spy novels has revealed how they married more than 40 years after she ended their engagement – because her father claimed he was ‘too working class.’
Brian and Liz Landers, of Vauxhall, south west London, were first betrothed in the 1970s, after falling in love as students at Devon’s Exeter University.
Third year politics student Brian, 71, now an OBE, was besotted by history student Liz’s beauty and confidence, and was left devastated when she ended their relationship – fearing she would be cut off by her family if she did not.
With marriages and successful careers under their belts, they have now rekindled their love and have been living happily together as husband and wife since 2015.
Brian and Liz Landers got married in 2015. The pair, now 71 and 69, met in 1970s as students at the university of Exeter. Brian, an another, wrote the main character of his spyting thriller series after his beloved Liz
Pictured in 1971. Brian said Liz and him were inseparable upon meeting. However, her family pressures her into breaking the relationship, because they thought he was ‘too working class’
Brian said: ‘It’s magical. I’m in love with my best friend and always will be. Liz is so beautiful and we are so comfortable together.’
Now 69, Liz says life has made sense since meeting Brian again.
‘When he came back into my life, it was like a vital part of the puzzle had been missing and from that point everything just made sense,’ she said.
From the moment Liz – then Liz Maguire-Denlegh-Maxwell – set eyes on Brian back in 1970, she was smitten.
The pair in Paris in 1971. The pair went their separate ways after Liz broke off their engagement, and Brian went on to marry three times
Liza and Brian, pictured in May of this year, eventually met after years apart in 2008 and rekindled their romance
‘I admired him from afar,’ she said. ‘I just thought he was lovely, so interesting and different. He was quick-witted and good fun to be with, yet, funnily enough neither of us can remember our first date.’
Calling her ‘a groupie’ Brian admired Liz’s intelligence. He recalled: ‘I remember how incredibly beautiful she was and still is.
‘She really stood out and had a confidence about her. She is incredibly bright.
‘She challenged Jack Straw, the former Home Secretary, who at that time was president of the NUS when he gave a speech. She was wearing these amazing paisley hot pants.
Brian, pictured with Liz, said the pair ‘took it for granted’ they’d soent the rest of their life together after meeting as students
‘From September 1970 we were inseparable and lived together for a couple of years, which was unusual then. We took it for granted that we would spend the rest of our lives together.
‘I was hoping to work in government intelligence at GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, so we were going to move there.
‘We made plans to get married. I even bought her a jade engagement ring from a shop in London’s Hatton Garden.’
But their bubble of love was burst by Liz’s father, Fr Neill, also known as Sandy, who died in 1980, an authoritarian figure, who disapproved of the match.
Liz revealed her father, a naval officer and a priest, disapproved of her relationship with Brian and pressured her into breaking it up, saying she would be shunned by the family if she married him. Pictured: The couple during a holiday
Brian revealed he secretly wished for years that Liz would have a change of heart and contact him (pictured enjoying cocktails in Cuba)
Liz recalled: ‘Class was a big issue back then. He kept saying, “Oil and water do not mix”. He was a naval officer and a priest. I’d been to a boarding school, while Brian was a grammar school boy, whose father was a social worker.
‘I remember there was a postal strike, but Daddy managed to get a letter to the chaplain at Exeter University, who passed it on to me. It said that we really must break up and if we married I would never speak to, let alone see my parents, again.
‘He was such a powerful, authoritarian figure, I believed him. It was a very different time.’
Devastated, the couple parted and cut off contact, with Liz believing Brian would never want to hear from her again.
‘I was secretly hoping she’d realise the error of her ways and get in touch, but she didn’t,’ Brian said.
Brian and Liz pictured in Cuba. Liz was married for 35 years to an army officer she had two children with. Brian was married three times
The couple in Lanzarote last year. 37 years after their split, in 2008, Brian and Liz got in touch again
Then, 37 years later, their paths crossed again.
‘A couple of years after we split up, I was having lunch with a friend who told me Liz was getting married. Gutted, I felt sick and couldn’t eat the rest of the meal.
‘Years later, I was on the radio for something and still hoped Liz would hear it and get in touch.’
Strangely, Liz did hear the broadcast, in 1995. She said: ‘I remember it well because I was driving. Life was very busy and I suppose I didn’t really know how I would get in touch with him, so I left it.’
During their time apart, Liz was married for 35 years to an army officer and had two children Sophie, 40, and Hugh, 39, as well as three grandchildren.
Brain admitted he never stopped thinking about Liz throughout their time apart. The pair have been travelling the world in recent years: pictured in Madeira this year
She became a teacher at the prestigious Wycombe Abbey Independent School in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, then a housemistress, eventually rising to a deputy head role, which she held for 17 years.
She said: ‘I had a fulfilling career and two amazing children who brought me such joy.’
When they met again, both Liz and Brian had reached a crossroads, wondering how they would face retirement after such busy careers.
Liz continued: ‘I had been thinking for years, “How will I manage this when I retire?” I hadn’t been particularly happy.’
Meanwhile, despite his ‘working class’ origins, Brian had excelled – moving abroad and working for an insurance company in South America after university, before working all over the world as a company director, serving on the boards of charities and publishers including Waterstones and Penguin Books.
Brian revealed he used the phrase ‘the love of my life’ while reminiscing about Liz. He ven basd off the main character of a novel series he was working on after her (pictured on a holiday)
He helped establish a political intelligence unit in London, became director of HM Prison Service and eventually chairman of Companies House and, in 2018, he was awarded an OBE for services to the economy.
Married three times, he had three children – Joseph, 34, with his second wife and Alexandra, 26, and Catherine, 22, with his third wife.
And, after splitting up with Liz and moving to Argentina, South America, in the 1970s he started writing a spy thriller series, basing the main character on her and continuing to use her as inspiration for his female characters in other novels he wrote.
‘I was always thinking about Liz,’ he said. ‘I would always use the phrase “love of my life” when talking about her.
Brian and Liz got back in touch after he sent her a copy of another book he had been working on, about Russia and America (pictured after their engagement in Kefaloniain, Greece
‘And I had the same trepidation as Liz about approaching retirement.’
While Brian kept his novels unpublished, in 2009 he published a non-fiction book called Empires Apart, about power in Russia and America – which he had discussed writing with Liz when they were students.
In 2008, just before the book was due to be published, at an event at the House of Lords, he bumped into an old friend who told him where Liz was working.
‘I thought I’d send her a flyer about the book. I thought it would be a good way of getting back in contact with her,’ Brian said.
When the envelope landed in her post box in the school staff room, Liz recognised the hand writing immediately.
Brian was awarded an OBE for services to the economy at Buckimgham Palace in 2018. Here he is pictured with Liz on the day of the event
She said: ‘I flew down the corridor to my room so I could open it.
‘I read it very carefully, including the sign off, “with the fondest regards,” which I took as meaning it would be okay for me to contact him.
‘I was so happy and decided to get him to give a lecture to our sixth form girls.’
Liz wrote to Brian, inviting him to lunch, which he accepted, before pulling out, because he feared her telling him she was happily married.
In May 2009, they finally met on a Tuesday lunchtime at Joe Allen’s restaurant in London’s Covent Garden.
Liz recalled: ‘I recognised him straight away. Although his hair was very grey, his hand gestures and the way he spoke were exactly the same.’
Enjoying a night walk together. Brian said that the pair reunited naturally, ‘as if they had lunch every weel’
And Brian immediately recognised her distinctive gait.
He said: ‘She had a natural authority and enthusiasm for everything.
‘Within five minutes we were chatting away as if we had lunch every week. It was really extraordinary.’
At their second meeting the following month, Liz had brought the jade engagement ring Brian had given her all those years ago.
‘Just before I got to the restaurant, I took it off, because I thought it was a bit presumptuous,’ Liz said.
‘But he asked about it, so I showed him I still had it. I’d kept it all those years and often wore it.’
Seeing the ring made Brian’s day. He said: ‘It was a big sign for me, I was chuffed that she had kept it.’
The couple on their wedding day in December 2015. The pair moved in together in Vauxhall in 2012 before getting married three years later
As the spark between them ignited, they realised they had to end their marriages and be together again – an incredibly difficult decision, as they knew that people would be hurt.
Liz said: ‘We tried to do it as sensitively as we could. We were always thinking of the children and our families. It was not what we would have chosen, but we had to do it.’
At the beginning of 2012, Liz and Brian moved in together in Vauxhall, going on to travel around Europe for the next few years together, while he completed research to finish the spy thrillers he began when they first parted.
‘When we got back together I found a first draft of the book and had it typed up properly and printed, before giving it to Liz, who was really enthusiastic,’ he said.
‘But it was terribly dated, so with her encouragement, I started to rewrite it.
‘The main character, Julia Dylan, a spy, is based on Liz.’
Then, in October 2015, during a holiday in Kefalonia, Greece, Brian proposed at a seaside restaurant, not knowing Liz had also brought a ring and planned to propose that very same night.
‘It just felt like the right moment,’ Brian said, ‘As they were showing us to our table I just asked her, “Will you marry me?” We were half way between sitting and standing.
‘Liz didn’t reply, but was burrowing in her handbag for ages, then she nearly fell into the water and produced this ring.’
Liz had been determined to propose to make up for breaking off their engagement before.
She laughed: ‘I had the ring in my bag. Brian knew nothing about it so we both proposed to each other.’
Then, on December 19 2015, thanks to a cancellation, the pair tied the knot at London’s Chelsea Town Hall – this time with the blessing of her mother, Anna, who has since passed away – followed by a reception at Brunswick House, in Vauxhall, with 25 close family and friends, including Liz’s three grandchildren.
Liz, who wore a red dress, said: ‘It was a beautiful day. My son-in-law sang lots of songs including The Beatles’ Long and Winding Road, which felt apt.’
Liz said the pair were happy as ever together, and had both lived ‘rich and fulfilling lives.’ Pictured on her wedding day with Brian in 2015
But, on their honeymoon in Grenada in the Caribbean, Liz picked up a bug, and after a trip to the doctor blood tests discovered she had leukaemia – cancer of the blood tissue.
‘It’s not on the extreme end. It does give a bit of bite to life, but I’ve been living with it for a few years and it’s not stopped us enjoying ourselves. I’ve still been able to travel,’ she said.
‘I had six months of chemotherapy, which put it into remission, so it’s likely I’ll need further medication in the future.
‘But we are very happy. We both lived rich and fulfilling lives and have five wonderful children between us, which we celebrate. They are the most important thing to us.’
Brian and Liz taking in the sights during a recent holiday. Brian said she hoped to grow old and enjoy Liz’s company for as long as he could
Brian is looking forward to spending his dotage with ‘the love of his life.’ He has completed four spy thrillers in The Dylan Series.
He said: ‘We just want to grow old together and enjoy each other’s company for as long as we can.’
Awakening of Spies – the first of Brian’s four spy thrillers, is being published in June by Red Door Press, with a second following in July.
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