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But we weren’t finished with each other yet. The following night, we finally became lovers. To my eternal regret, I then started taking her for granted — just like all men who are chauvinistic and piggish. It wasn’t until she left me a few months later that I realised just how much I loved her. For some reason I never quite understood, Jill was desperate to become a wife. ‘The minute I’m 21, I’m going to be married,’ she’d told me. ‘I’d like to marry you, Michael.’ ‘I’m far too young to marry,’ I replied. ‘I have no money. I have no prospects. I can’t take that on right now.’ In that case, she told me, she’d marry someone else. Ridiculous, I thought: she didn’t know any other suitable candidates. That year, Jill threw a big 21st birthday party, to which she invited all her film friends. You may find this unbelievable, but I was too shy to go. Instead, I went on holiday with my parents to France. When I got back, I went straight round to Jill’s. In her large living room, a man stood silhouetted at one of the windows. It was David McCallum, a young actor who’d later find fame in the TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That night, I realised that the girl I loved was slipping away from me. Two weeks later, I got up early and bought the Sunday papers. That’s how I learned that Jill had married McCallum at a register office in South London. I leaned against the door of my flat, weeping. A short time later, the telephone rang. It was Jill. ‘Have you seen the newspapers?’ she asked. ‘What do you think?’ ‘It’s ridiculous,’ I said. ‘You wanted to marry me three weeks ago.’ ‘I know it is,’ said Jill. ‘I don’t love him. I still love you. But I told you I was going to get married, and I have.’ Within weeks, she was bombarding me with phone calls, begging me to meet her. I agreed only once.
We lay on Hampstead Heath together, and I fondled her bosoms one last time. Some months later, I was filling up my car with petrol in West London when a man got out of the car behind me and came over. It was McCallum, and I thought he was going to hit me. ‘Michael,’ he said. ‘I want to thank you. I know how many times Jill telephoned you. Thank you for not seeing her.’ Then he got back into his car and drove off. I didn’t speak to Jill again for 14 years. By then she was with her second husband, Charles Bronson. I met him for the first time in 1970, when I tried to get him for a part in the western movie Chato’s Land. Our meeting went well, and he agreed to do the film. Shooting began a few months later in Spain, and it wasn’t long before Jill, Charlie and I got into the habit of dining together every night at our hotel. One night, as Charles had a shower and I stood with Jill on the balcony of their suite, she whispered: ‘I’ve told Charlie we were friends. I didn’t tell him about the rest of it. Whatever you do, don’t tell him.’ ‘Jill,’ I said, ‘my lips are sealed. This is the safest secret in the world.’ By then I knew that Charles was a man capable of taking violent dislike to people. If he knew that I’d made love to his wife, he’d probably have killed her. He’d definitely have killed me. I’m relieved to say that he never did know the full truth about Jill and me. Meanwhile, she remained for me the most outstanding woman I knew. In 1990, when I heard that she’d died of breast cancer at 54, I was utterly stunned. I just sat there, not knowing what to do: the most beautiful person who ever lit up my life had gone. If only I’d been a few years older when we first went out together, I would certainly have married Jill Ireland. A lot of girls followed, of course. Many of them I loved and respected, but I didn’t get married until very recently. Perhaps I deluded myself for most of my life that Jill was the only wife for me."