Phillip Hodson: A chimp’s appetite for having your banana and eating it

Published in The Independent 26th May 2011

At least Gordon Ramsay’s father-in-law has been caught out in good company. After being exposed yesterday as the progenitor of a second, secret family, Chris Hutcheson has joined a French President, the billionaire Gordon Getty and OJ Simpson’s dead lawyer, not to mention Charles Dickens.

The phenomenon of begetting a secret family appears to be almost exclusively male. Notorious women bigamists exist, of course, but most draw the line at despatching their first set of children to the woods while serving tea to the second. It’s men like President Mitterrand whose funerals are touchingly attended by wife and mistress.

Mitterrand kept his secret – to the shame of the French media – not just because he cheated, but also because he was using taxpayers’ money to finance the operation. Getty got away with it by schmoozing the media until the penny dropped when three young girls changed their surnames from Beck to Getty.

For years, the “trial by TV” lawyer Johnny Cochrane courted personal publicity except where his second family was concerned, including a son, of whom his wife was oblivious until their divorce.

Years earlier in Britain, writer and editor Joe Ackerley remained similarly in the dark until his father, Roger, died of syphilis in 1929. He would go away “on business” and sometimes simply “to walk the dog” as a means of popping round to see Family Two, where the children knew him, somewhat irreverently, as “Uncle Bodger”.

How did these men get away with it? Here’s some satirical advice from the Los Angeles Weekly World News: “Tell both your spouses you work for the CIA and choose women with different first names so you don’t blurt out on the phone: ‘Yes, but which Jane?'”

As a practising therapist, I’d also suggest you need a container ship’s ability to compartmentalise your inner cargo while fostering an Alpha chimpanzee’s sense of entitlement to having your banana and eating it. As for why they do it, we’re staring at the unresolved problem of the deficits of cultural monogamy.

Listen to tycoon Brian Myerson during his 2009 London divorce case: “Like many men, I’ve had a number of affairs. But since 1998, Clare and I have [also] been together – effectively as common-law man and wife – in a relationship that existed in parallel with my marriage. I never told Ingrid about Clare, but I was an extremely good and caring husband, providing her with a wonderful lifestyle. I never wanted a divorce and I had hoped Ingrid would turn a blind eye.”

Perhaps we should recognise some men and women require new marital arrangements. Formalisation might mitigate some of the hurts and pains. And it would at least obviate the need to take out a super-injunction.

The writer is a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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