He'd had two unsuccessful marriages, countless glamorous girlfriends and had wondered whether he would ever find true love. Then rock star rebel Rod Stewart met Penny Lancaster, 27 years his junior and knew he'd found the girl of his dreams.
In his 50s, he knew what he wanted in a partner and Penny had it all. Then a few weeks later the dream of love turned into a nightmare. Penny walked out.
I was absolutely shattered, 68-year-old Rod remembers. "I had a picture of Penny by the bed and it was the last thing I saw when I went to sleep and the first when I woke up. I just prayed that she would come home again... The memories of what turned out to be only a two-week separation have inspired the song Picture In A Frame which Rod sings on his new album, Time.
Today, Penny plays down the incident which has had a lasting effect on Rod. "I just stopped seeing him for a while," she said. "I just wanted things to cool down a bit...
"Rod has told me it was his wake-up moment — kind of 'What am I doing letting her go?' He bombarded me with flowers and phonecalls and so I came back — and we've been blissfully happy for the last 13 years.
Rod is hugely romantic — champagne, flowers candle-lit dinners. We're so fortunate we can do lovely family stuff together (they have two young sons).
"Then if my mum or the nanny is around we can have time together — we recently had a romantic few days in Portofino, where we got married. People often say that if you have to work hard at a marriage then it's not naturally good but I think that's totally wrong. Rod and I are naturally in love and that's what binds us together. But to keep the spark alive in a relationship you have to work at it."
"You have to make sure you are still listening to each other and understanding each other's needs because they do change throughout the years. Our relationship is different now that we've got children and as we get older it will change again. Communication, trust and honesty are vital, but so is running off and having a romantic weekend together!"
Friends remember that for years, Rod had been a hell-raiser both on and off the stage with a reputation for loving and leaving ladies. He's had eight children with five partners including three wives and friends wondered if anyone would ever tame him. Then Penny came along. His was an unlikely route to pop stardom — he was desperate to be a professional footballer and had a trial with Brentford, then in the Third Division, but was turned down. After that came numerous casual jobs, including working as a grave-digger, busking and putting up fences. He went to Spain but was expelled for vagrancy. Music seemed an easier life than being a footballer so I went for that, he remembered. He joined a blues band as a harmonica player and moved to the Jeff Beck group which included another unknown named Ronnie Wood...
Then came the iconic rock group the Faces, and years of hits which have netted him a fortune of over $120 million. In between marrying his first two wives, Alana Hamilton and Rachel Hunter, Rod was constantly linked with a succession of beautiful women. They included socialite Sabrina Guinness, model Jilly Johnson, Britt Ekland, Susan George and Kelly Emberg.
Earlier, a relationship when he was 18 resulted in a daughter, now 50, of whom Rod says: "I'm very much in touch with her. We now call each other father and daughter. Penny is quite OK with it. After all, it all happened before she was born!"
Today, Rod, Penny and their children live a luxury life in their three homes on two continents, as well as a yacht and a private plane. Of the past, Penny says: "It has nothing to do with the way we are now. Rod is a very different person from when he was young — as we all are. We are just having a lovely time as a close-knit and happy family."
Rod nods his agreement. "In the past I took a lot of risks when it came to relationships. I have always loved women — won some lost some. But those days are over now. If I had a relationship rule it would probably be: Don't argue after a drink. Leave talking about tricky problems until the cold light of morning!
Being a good husband is about being a better person and a good listener. I met Penny in my 50s. If I hadn't learned my lesson by then, I was never going to...