Stigma of divorce is a thing of the past, says Steadman: TV star's heartfelt lament that broken homes 'are now the norm'

  • Actress suggested couples no longer put enough value on their marriage
  • Hopes the younger generation will 'think again' before ending a marriage
  • When she was at school, there was only one girl in her class whose parents were divorced

By Paul Revoir


Alison Steadman and her partner Michael Elwyn. She has lamented the number of divorces that take place

Alison Steadman and her partner Michael Elwyn. She has lamented the number of divorces that take place

Alison Steadman yesterday suggested couples no longer put enough value on their marriages.

The TV actress said it had become the ‘norm’ for children’s parents to split up and divorce now has no stigma.

Speaking at the launch of her new ITV drama Love and Marriage, in which she plays a retired woman who walks out on her uncommunicative husband, Miss Steadman said she hoped the younger generation would ‘think again’ before ending their marriages.

She recalled how when she was at school, there was only one girl in her class whose parents were divorced.

But the 66-year-old star of Abigail’s Party and Gavin & Stacey, who herself divorced film director Mike Leigh in 2001, said ‘sadly’ it was now commonplace for parents to split up. She said it had become so easy to get divorced it was more or less a case of saying ‘That’s it’.

Miss Steadman, who recently starred in Kay Mellor’s BBC1 lottery drama The Syndicate, married Mike Leigh in 1973 and split up with him in 1995, when she left him for actor Michael Elwyn.

She divorced Mr Leigh, with whom she has two sons, in 2001.

In the ITV drama, which airs next month, she plays Pauline Paradise, who retires from her job as a lollipop lady not long before her father dies. She then walks out on her dour husband and the constant demands of her children.


The drama also stars Celia Imrie, Larry Lamb and Duncan Preston.

Speaking about how frequently marriages now break up, she said: ‘I can remember when I was at school there was one girl in my whole class, her parents were divorced and it was shocking, we as kids felt really sorry for her…her mother had married again and it felt really odd.

‘I think now it seems to be the norm for kids that their parents don’t stay together, sadly.

The Gavin & Stacey star with her on screen husband played by Larry Lamb

The Gavin & Stacey star with her on screen husband played by Larry Lamb

‘But times change and hopefully, maybe my sons’ generation, there will be a switch again, maybe they will think again. Because divorce is so easy now and it wasn’t years ago and you had to go through all sorts of hoops. It was incredibly complicated, now it’s just a question of saying “That’s it”. Perhaps we don’t put the value on it that we did, I don’t know.’

Miss Steadman also praised the fact that TV dramas were finally looking at the lives of older characters.

She said: ‘Up until a few years ago it really felt as though everything on television or indeed films, it seemed like life stopped at 35 and no one carried on living until they were 70, 80, 90 or whatever.

‘So over the last couple of years it’s so nice that people like Stewart [the writer Stewart Harcourt] have suddenly gone “Do you know, people do have an interesting life beyond 35 and it is important to chart that”.

Taking the easy way out: Most Britons think divorce is getting too easy and there are not enough legal hurdles to stop couples from rushing into it

The actress said that she laments the fact that there are so many broken homes nowadays

Talking about her character’s decision to walk out on her unhappy life, she said: ‘I think retiring and death do make us as human beings re-evaluate our lives. And when we do, sometimes we change.’

When asked if in imagined circumstances she could ever do what her character did in the drama, she said: ‘Sometimes life and marriages do just tick along for years and years and years and it takes something to make that person go “I want to change things”. 

‘Also when you get to be a pensioner, as it were, you start to reflect on your life a lot more, I think. You suddenly look forward and think maybe I have only got 20 years at the most, 15 even, so suddenly you see the end in sight.

‘That makes them perhaps say “look I’ve got to do something, before it’s too late” and so it does happen.’ She said she hoped the drama, rather than encouraging unhappily married women to leave their husbands, would rather serve as a ‘wake-up call’ for couples to make more of an effort to ‘appreciate each other’.

The comments below have not been moderated.

it is a career to women now,look at the women on the rich list ,all there not because of ability ,but due to divorce settlements

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OK Alison you sound like an expert, not in my case you are NOT. Go away with your comments please.

Click to rate     Rating   1

As a product of divorce, it was a relief when my parents finally called it quits. The worst years of my childhood were during the "making it work" phase. What should be more stigmatized is marriage and childbearing. If more people put in the effort before they got married, you wouldn't see such high divorce rates. If people looked at children as responsibility instead of a way to keep partner or aid a relationship then at least broken homes would create fewer broken children.

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Oh, how terrible that people no longer have to fight and jump through hoops to get out of unhappy marriages. How terrible that the stigma of choosing happiness over vows has gone. Most people still fight tooth and nail for their marriage, but sometimes it was never meant to be. Now it can be ended, put out its misery rather than dragging on and on to the mutual disadvantage of all involved.

Click to rate     Rating   3

The trouble is, so many (not all) see marriage as a day event- the dress, the venue, the cake, the photos etc, each to be bigger and better than someone else's. Truth is, sometimes it can be really difficult! Life can throw some major curveballs at times, and its how you deal with them as a couple that matters. There have been times when its felt too much- the loss of our daughter, family stresses,redundancy, money worries the list goes on, but we promised to ride out the storms no matter what. My parents divorced when I was 4 and it was awful. I don't want that for my little girl. Yes, there are boundaries as to what is acceptable but it's too easy to walk away sometimes.

Click to rate     Rating   11

family wise we live in a post-apocalyptical age.

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Fix the divorce laws. Make actual hearings and evidencing mandatory. As for family courts and children, it's 20% of personal income or welfare every time a contact order is broken, within 28 days, to an account managed for the child or children concerned and 100 hours community service for 3 strikes, no discussion and residency changes if you do it one more time. Problem sorted. Oh, look, the divorce rate just halved. Amazing. Who'd have thought?

Click to rate     Rating   1

Not to me it doesn't. Bad judgement, and lack of will power results in divorce

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It's really interesting reading all the comments and experiences of the readers (I often find them more interesting than the article). What I would add is that whilst you do need to work at relationships from time to time, a healthy relationship shouldn't routinely be "hard work". If you are constantly having to work at things then I would argue that you aren't really compatible. A strong relationship should really trundle along on it's own without the need to constantly disect and discuss. I guess all you can do is hope that you want the same things at the same time and that can change as you progress through life. My advice is to always keep your girlfriends (you will need each other), keep independent, have your own interests and do not marry a sulker or a jealous and possessive man - they may seem like sweet traits at the start but they turn ugly and will suffocate a relationship. A good sense of humour is a must.

Click to rate     Rating   16

I've been married over 40 years, we have had many ups and downs, screaming rows, loving moments but we can do that because we know and trust each other completely, we don't have to put on a front or pretend, we can be totally relaxed. We intend to stay married till one of us dies, people don't seem to realise that even adult offspring are traumatised by their parents splitting and it breaks my heart to see small children shuffled between 2 families at weekends, where is their security? If you make the decision to become a parent you put yourselves second.

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