My first love still makes me feel giddy… but we’re both married now!
Prince William may have broken up with Kate Middleton, but if my own experience is anything to go by, it won’t be the last time they see each other. First loves never really go away. Ask Prince Charles.
A first love is something iconic, something that stays with you for ever. Ask any woman who her first true love was and she will be able to name him. More so than her first car or the first record she bought – her first love will always remind her of being young and youth’s capacity for passion.
When James, a friend I hadn’t seen for more than 20 years, tracked me down one day after seeing an article I had written, there was only one question I wanted to ask him: Whatever happened to Ed?
Ed was the first love of my life. When I met him, I was 18. It was in the bar of Pucci Pizza on the King’s Road in Chelsea. He was tall, dark, handsome, amusing and had the sexiest grin I had ever seen. That was it: I was besotted with him.
Sadly, the feeling wasn’t mutual. Two years later, nothing had happened, bar a throwaway comment from Ed that if he ever had to get married, he would marry me. Great.
Another year on, we ended up in bed together. But only for a night. Then Ed fell in love with someone else. Obviously, none of this deterred me. I left London to go to university at Durham, but carried a picture of him and always thought about him.
He came to my 21st birthday party and even though I had a boyfriend, I was still mad about him and heartbroken when he sped off back to London in the middle of the night to see his girlfriend.
He was as gorgeous and sexy as ever. With his dark looks and London sophistication, he made Durham’s undergraduates seem like gawky schoolboys.
I can honestly say that until I met my husband, no one came close to Ed. He was my ideal, my Mr Darcy, no one else matched up – in part because our relationship never came to anything, so there was no drudgery to bring it down.
And that’s the secret about first loves – the memories are not encumbered by the trials of mortgages, school fees and post-baby bulges. They are a reminder of a time when life was much more simple.
A few days after the call from James, we were having a family lunch when my mobile phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognise, but somehow I already knew who it was.
‘Hi Helena, it’s Ed,’ said an instantly recognisable voice. ‘James is trying to get us together again.’
We had a ten-minute chat. I could almost see that sexy grin on the other end of the phone. He’s married with three children and, amazingly, living in the same town in Devon as my mum.
But what amazed me more than that was how it felt to be talking to him again.
Suddenly, 20 years counted for nothing, I was 18 again and talking to Ed. It’s odd to think that the last time we spoke, mobile phones hadn’t even been invented.
Obviously, the first thing I did after our conversation was call all my girlfriends. And it seems I am not alone in finding my first love after many years.
My friend Sarah recently looked up on the internet the man she gave up to marry her husband many years ago. ‘It was the most difficult decision of my life at the time,’ she says.
‘I loved them both, but had to make a choice. I’m not unhappy now, but I often do think about what might have been.’ Sarah found her first love’s whereabouts and sent him an e-mail. Now they are in touch on a weekly basis.
Has she told her husband about her internet friend?
‘No,’ she says. ‘I don’t really think it’s worth it. And he’s on the other side of the world, so what on earth could ever happen anyway?’
Another friend, Claire, has been having lunch with her first love for the past four years.
This was a man she met when they were students at medical school. They had a relationship, but once they graduated he decided to go off to Africa to work for two years. By the time he came home, she was engaged to someone else.
‘He tells me now he was heartbroken,’ she says. ‘But at the time he was very stiff upper-lip about it.’
Claire hasn’t told her husband about her lunch dates, even though they are innocent.
‘This is my secret,’ she says. ‘It adds a certain sparkle to my life. It makes it exciting again and I wouldn’t want to be without it.
‘In fact, when I think about my life without it, I almost feel sorry for myself.’
My husband says he has no desire to get in touch with the first love of his life, gorgeous as she was. He says this is very much a sentimental woman thing and teases me when I harp on about Ed.
Maybe it is a woman thing to a certain extent. Perhaps we are overly sentimental. The fact is, none of us ever forget.
I have a friend who lives in Los Angeles who is still in love with a boy she dated when she was 16, and she hasn’t seen him for more than 25 years.
I keep telling her to track him down. But she is still single and terrified she’ll find he’s married with hundreds of children.
I might just track him down for her, because when we do find our first loves again there’s no doubt that they inject a new spark into our life.
We’re suddenly young again and all those overwhelming teenage emotions come flooding back.
A few days after we spoke, I sent Ed a text, telling him I’d booked a holiday with the children to come and stay with my mother in August.
‘If you’re around, it would be fun to meet up,’ I said.
He didn’t respond for two days. Waiting for the phone to beep, I felt like a teenager again.
Then finally: ‘Looking forward to seeing you in August, Ed x.’ Ed and I are both happily married to someone else – and each have three children – so this is certainly not a romance-inwaiting. So what exactly is it? In my view, it is answering questions about yourself – about how well you’ve done, how badly you’ve aged and what would have happened if your life had taken a different course.
It is about how it would have worked out if you’d ended up with your first love.
Ultimately, it is finally finding out whether you made the right choice or if you were a fool in love with an even bigger fool.
And it’s about seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who knew you when you were young and in love.
Would I have been any happier with Ed? Certainly not. I am extremely smug at being married with three gorgeous children.
Besides, Ed was actually totally unsuitable, I’m not sure he’s ever read a book (though somehow at 18 that didn’t seem to matter).
But that doesn’t make my meeting with him this summer seem any less exciting.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019