I was on the run facing a year in jail ...because I telephoned my wife

Andy Kershaw was one of BBC Radio's most admired DJs until his marriage and life spectacularly imploded.Now, with unflinching honesty  -  and a great deal of regret  -  he tells his turbulent story

When I was about five, I had a recurring bad dream. I was lost and frightened. Not in a dark wood, but in a street of respectable prewar semis. It looked like Rochdale  -  but it wasn't my childhood home town. At some point, I was always approached by a concerned stranger. They spoke to me kindly but only to confirm that I was in Ludlow, Shropshire. Subconsciously, I must have picked up the town's name on the news.

In the autumn of 2008, I really did find myself in Ludlow, on that street. I don't know why I was there or how I got there. I was exhausted, hungry, anxious, hung-over, lonely and missing my children and my home. And, though I'd never harmed a soul, I was on the run from the police. A nationwide warrant had been issued for my arrest. I was the subject of a manhunt.

In April 2006, my partner Juliette and our children Sonny, then eight, and Dolly, seven, began what was to be a new, better life in the fishing port of Peel on the Isle of Man. It had been my job to bring our car on to the ferry, loaded with breakables, the children's hamster and their aquarium fish in buckets. As I pulled up on Peel promenade, I saw Juliette in my wing mirror run towards the car, her face alight with joy and excitement.

Smiling again: Andy back on the Isle of man with his dog Buster

Smiling again: Andy back on the Isle of man with his dog Buster

Juliette and I had met in 1989. I was a DJ on Radio 1, having gone from that long-established springboard into the music business, university entertainments secretary, to the BBC. Within two years Juliette had opened a bar and restaurant in North London: it was an overnight success. Among her many attributes - sweet-natured, down to earth, beautiful - the one for which I admired her most was her dedication to her business. I was very proud of her.

After 17 years together in London we'd decided to move to the Isle of Man. Juliette already had a holiday cottage there, plus it had good schools and community spirit, and hosted the closest thing I have to a religion: the TT races.

I helped the removal men with the boxes, then took them to a pub on the promenade to buy drinks. Juliette joined us. After half a lager she left to return to the house. She had a thousand domestic jobs to do and looked thrilled to be nest-making. Our domestic phone line was not yet connected, she said. Her mobile battery was flat. Could she borrow my mobile? I didn't give it a second thought as I bought the men another beer.

Half an hour later, I came home to find the house empty. On the kitchen table was my mobile displaying a text message. At first, I didn't recognise it. Then I remembered. It was from a woman with whom I'd had a one-night stand at the Womad Festival almost a year before. I had not gone to the trouble of deleting it. I had compounded the insult of an infidelity with arrogance and carelessness.

I found Juliette on the promeinnade, staring out to sea, her face a mixture of grief and anger. For the next few months we staggered along, Juliette in a state of understandable and unrelenting bitterness. There was much about my past behaviour that was wrong; I had hoped the Isle of Man would be a fresh start for us. But she was not to be convinced of my fidelity, not even by my eager move away from my old life and my old ways in London.

Betrayed: Andy with Juliette, his former partner and the mother of his children, pictured here at the funeral of John Peel in 2004

Betrayed: Andy with Juliette, his former partner and the mother of his children, pictured here at the funeral of John Peel in 2004

It was entirely my fault, a culpability to which I consistently pleaded guilty. I did everything I could to atone and repent, including trying to lose my beer belly.

But it was all too little, too late. In October 2006, Juliette moved out to the cottage she still owned the next street. For the next few months, she drew up timetables for the children, specifying which home they would be in on which evenings. That civility collapsed when she met a visiting biker at the TT in June 2007.

The arrival of a new boyfriend was agonising. He was only visiting at this stage, but regularly so from Scotland where, a newspaper reported, he was still married with a stepdaughter. Meanwhile, I was sinking into what was later diagnosed as clinical depression.

The children's time was no longer shared equally between parents. A timetable of visits was issued by a firm of lawyers in Douglas. I dropped the letter in the bin, refusing to have contact with my children decreed by faceless lawyers, and carried on phoning Juliette to try to arrange it instead. In return, I got a visit from the police who warned me not to approach again the mother of my children.


Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran performing at a 2007 concert

One night in December 1980 at Leeds University, where I was entertainments secretary for the student union, I listened sympathetically to a tale of penury from a support band's struggling young singer.

'It's like this,' the coiffured youth said. 'A cheque is no use to us. We need cash to pay for our B&B. Tonight. We haven't got any other money. If you can find it for us, somehow, we'd be really grateful.'

Union policy forbade us to pay in cash but I couldn't see these lads humiliated or on the streets. I tore up the cheque and told the singer I'd be back.

I went to the union's cashpoint machine and took out £50 of my own money, knowing, with a receipt, I'd be able to claim it back.

I gave the cash to the singer: he and his band were genuinely grateful and extremely relieved. They called themselves Duran Duran. And the receipt for £50 was signed by a Simon Le Bon, pictured above.

Nice enough lads to deal with on the night and, earlier in the evening, I'd even caught a bit of their set. On the basis of that, I still feel they were slightly overpaid.

I had never harmed anyone, nor was I likely to. Juliette knew from our 17 years together that I have no tendency towards violence. But when she applied to the court in Douglas for a restraining order, it was granted readily. Significantly, it barred my contact not with the children, only their mother and her new partner. I suggested a truce. I would meet the boyfriend, shake him by the hand and buy him a drink. But my text went unanswered.

Unable to cope with the shattering of our Isle of Man dream and withdrawal of the children, drink compounded my misery. Many days in the summer of 2007, I woke up hungover and depressed. There were days too of sobriety, but only as long as needed to compile my weekly shows for Radio 3, fly to London, record and fly home. But in July I had to tell Roger Wright, Radio 3 controller, that I couldn't carry on.

To maintain contact with the kids, I bought them their first mobile phones. Dolly wrote me a thank-you letter saying it was the happiest day of her life. But, unhappy with the texts I was sending them, Juliette took the phones away.

In August, exasperated by my lack of contact, I turned up at her house, demanding to see the children. I was drunk, I admit, but there was no violence. I was arrested and put in a cell overnight. In court I pleaded guilty to breaking the restraining order. I violated it again, by text, within days: I was sent to jail in the first of three spells over the next five months.

Do I regret it? To the extent that I caused further distress to the kids, I do. It would have been better to let the law take its proper course.

But I was unable to talk to my own children as a normal father, though the restraining order was not meant to stop contact with Sonny and Dolly, so the loneliness and, yes, anger got the better of me.

Soon after leaving jail in March 2008, it was reported that a local man was sentenced to 61 days in jail for threatening his partner with a knife. I had never threatened or harmed anyone, but I still got three months.

Jail wasn't too bad, except for a few February days in a cell overrun with vermin and a broken window into which blew a gale. I got a good rest. In my longest stretch, 42 days, I read more than 30 books: history, politics and foreign affairs. It was in a way a custodial bargain break.

One day, an officer came into my cell and started to count my books. He was apologetic. 'I'm afraid I'll have to take some of these away. You've got more than ten.'

'Yes. So what?' I asked.

'If you have more than ten, we have to take some off you. It's a rule, I'm afraid. They say it's a fire risk.'

Released from jail for the last time in February 2008, I left the Isle of Man soon after. I was not told by the court to leave the isle, despite news reports to the contrary.

I spent the first few weeks of recovery with my sister Liz and her family in rural Northamptonshire. I didn't drink. I wrote several times a week to my children, still on the Isle of Man with Juliette and her new partner, now permanently installed.

Almost two months went by. I hadn't had a single letter, email, text or call from Sonny and Dolly. If I were to phone their house, if only to speak to my kids, I'd be violating the order. Any transgression would guarantee me a year in prison.

Supportive: Andy with his sister Liz after leaving prison in Douglas, Isle of Man in 2008

Supportive: Andy with his sister Liz after leaving prison in Douglas, Isle of Man in 2008

Eventually Elizabeth picked up the phone to find out why I had got no response from Sonny and Dolly. She told me Juliette said she would not let them have my letters and didn't think it was a good idea for them to be communicating with me. I hit the roof. And the bottle.

Juliette has since said she read all my letters to the children and claims she never said otherwise. But in April 2008 I was distraught. I broke the order again, calling the house to let rip at both mother and partner. Next morning, knowing the police would soon be round, I became a fugitive.

I stayed with friends in Derby, planning to lie low, get off the booze and show the Manx authorities I was not routinely harassing my ex.

One Sunday in May there was a knock at the door. I was arrested by two officers and taken to the police station.


Liz Kershaw and Carol Vorderman as bandmates in Dawn Chrous and the Bluetits

I have a confession: I am in part to blame for the propulsion of Carol Vorderman into media orbit.

At my first job, on Radio Aire, a radio station in Leeds, I organised a competition for listeners called A Song For Leeds. We got two entries.

The winner, marginally less painful than the runner-up, was performed by the shrill mother and daughter duo of Jean and Carol Vorderman, with Jean at the front-room piano.

It turned out they lived in the next street to me and my sister Liz. Soon, Carol was a regular at our flat. For about three weeks in 1983, we were romantically attached (though I wasn't too good at the romance bit). She also joined my sister for a while in a pop trio, Dawn Chorus and the Blue Tits (above, with Liz centre and Carol right).

Carol soon returned to some rugby-playing specimen but we remained pals. I had, in the meantime, introduced her to the host of Radio Aire's mid-morning programme, Peter Levy.
In a trice, Carol was a regular guest on his show, baffling West Yorkshire with numerical puzzles of her own devising. Before long, she had swapped visits to our scruffy pub behind Radio Aire for trips to the bar of Yorkshire Television.

Within a few months, I watched her, with avuncular pride, presenting something on TV called Countdown. She has since, I gather, gone on to appear in pantomime and to launch her own range of power tools and a DIY colonic irrigation video.

'You've done what on the Isle of Man?' asked the officer at the desk as he typed on a computer.

'Broken a restraining order,' I said. 'I broke it with some phone calls and texts last month.'

More keyboard tapping. His brow began to furrow.

'Oh, dear,' he said. 'It looks like the Manx police haven't filled in this warrant correctly. They'll have to resubmit it.'

Then he looked up at the arresting officers.

'Run him back to where he's staying,' he said. 'I don't know what they have to do on the Isle of Man but we have real crime to deal with.'

He wished me luck. I almost lunged over the counter to hug him.

'The Manx police will probably send a new warrant, properly completed, within a day or two,' said one officer on the way back.

'Me and my mate here will then be obliged to come back here to look for you again.' It seemed pretty obvious to me it was now wisest to move on.

An old friend kindly put me up in Anglesey. I moved on to London, Exmoor, the Somerset Levels and, of course, Ludlow, often exhausted, unshaven and needing a shower.

Sonny's birthday in late August was particularly painful. On the day, Buster  -  our Standard Schnauzer, my constant companion on the run  -  was walking with me around Trearddur Bay, Anglesey. Seeing a boy and girl about the same age as Sonny and Dolly splashing in the low tide, he sprang up and tore off towards them. But when he got within a few yards of the children he stopped. His muscles sagged. He turned and walked back up the beach to rejoin me.

My trigger to return to the Isle of Man came when I learned Juliette intended to leave with the children to live with her partner in Scotland, a cruelty I was determined to contest, warrant or not. I was arrested again within ten minutes of returning there and spent a night in a freezing cell. Next morning, I was taken to court and brought before the High Bailiff, Michael Moyle. I was sure I was on my way to jail for a year.

But the hearing was a turning point. The prosecutor was obliged to confirm there had been no complaint to police for more than seven months. At last it was becoming clear there was no pattern to my behaviour that could be seen as harassment: there never had been.

Because I pleaded guilty, Moyle gave me the minimum he could hand down, a suspended sentence. He seemed to sense that provocation may have played a part in my previous transgressions. I was hugely relieved and grateful.

From court, I got the bus back to Peel. Being on the run until it became unarguable that I was not harassing anyone had been a long, hard journey. But that day, deflating with relief at being a free man, I didn't anticipate that my toughest journey still lay ahead.

That began when I got home and looked around in daylight. I realised the house had been ransacked during my nine months away. Someone who I had counted as enough of a friend to be a key-holder had been helping himself.

Reunited: Andy with his children Dolly and Sonny

Reunited: Andy with his children Dolly and Sonny

Next day was Christmas Eve. I had electricity but no heating oil, coal, gas, food or money. Worst, I had no way to contact my children without certain jail. They were just up the road with Juliette, living at yet another Peel address. Aside from birthday cards they sent care of Liz in November, I'd had no contact since March. I never stopped writing but my letters went unanswered.

Some friends took me in for Christmas. At their hearth, I quietly sweated out my alcohol dependency. Now it all come down to willpower and the breaking of habit. It was a breeze: in securing the future of Sonny and Dolly, I had the strongest incentive.

From January to October 2009 the legal battle over the children's removal from the Isle of Man to Scotland rumbled through the Family Court. Only for the most crucial of the hearings did I hire a lawyer. For the others, for reasons of poverty, I represented myself. On one occasion during that summer of 2009, I walked the ten miles to the Family Court in Douglas.

It was a battle that should never have taken place, and which I lost. Despite having been told I had no job and little money, the judge awarded all costs against me  -  some £60,000.


Music fan: Prince

While a DJ at Radio 1, I went to an after-show bash for Prince (above) in Camden Town and took pity on a forlorn little figure, leaning against a pillar in the shadows.

Many other revellers were staring at the poor guy from a distance. I went over. 'Hello. Fancy a drink, old chap?' I said in the near darkness.

'My name's Andy. What's yours?'

'Prince,' he said. He asked for a half of lager and lime. I didn't expect him to ask for a pint of real ale but, I ask you, lime? We got on famously. He is, of course, not only very bright, but despite his stardom, basically still a music fan.

'Fancy you chatting away with Prince,' one or two people remarked later.

'Why not?' I said. 'No other b***er was.'

I played the long game to be reunited with Sonny and Dolly. I let a few months go by before making my move, turning up to Dolly's school playground at going-home time in March 2009. She stopped in her tracks when she first saw me and burst into tears. She ran into my arms and we hugged and hugged, sobbing. For the next few months, Dolly divided her time between my home and her mum's, staying over with me from the week we were back together.

In September 2009, I went to find Sonny after school. He was playing on some swings in a nearby park. We were instantly and joyously reunited. The next day, a Saturday, we were out in our boat together for the first time in almost three years.

A month later, I made the children one of their favourite meals for lunch, chicken korma. At three o'clock their mother arrived to sit, staring straight ahead, in her car across the promenade. I kissed and hugged both children more powerfully than usual. I watched them climb into the car. Waving until I was out of their sight, they were gone to Scotland. Already I had missed two years of their lives, a lot at their age, and they had missed that time with their dad.

The struggle to survive has been long, a daily humiliation and often terrifying. Some winter nights I would slip out, under cover of darkness, to collect old timber from around Peel or driftwood on the beach.

At other times, I kept going by selling off treasured belongings. I just managed to hold on to my fishing boat, but I relied on friends for petrol. At times, it was a means of survival.

For much of 2009, I lived off what I caught. After one court hearing, I came home hungry. The cupboards were bare. I checked what remained of the catch in my freezer.

'Bloody hell,' I thought, as I sat to eat. 'Not ruddy lobster again.'

In July 2009 I was summoned to London for lunch with Roger Wright, Radio 3 controller. He was, I believe, checking me out. Over a curry (I didn't confide it to him, but this was my first proper meal in weeks), he told me about his plans for a series to be recorded all over the world and called Music Planet. He wanted me as one of the presenters. I dissolved into sobs.

By the following March, I was back on the road. One week, I was on a jungle-covered mountain in the Solomon Islands, teasing music out of farmers whose way of life was still Stone Age. Next, I was in Cambodia, meeting one of the few musicians to survive the madness of Pol Pot. A few weeks later, I was sitting in the derelict stadium in Kinshasa in which Muhammad Ali had fought George Foreman in 1974. Then in May I found myself in Bangkok covering the Red Shirt Revolution.

Four days after getting back to the Isle of Man, I was returning home on a beautiful summer evening from watching the first session of practice for the TT races when my mobile rang. It was Sonny.

'Dad,' said his little voice from Scotland, 'I'm coming home.' To me it came as no surprise. I don't believe that either child had wanted to leave the Isle of Man.

Before the end of TT race week, he was back to live with me on the island permanently and with his mother's written consent. We watched the main TT event together - the first time in four years we'd enjoyed the races as father and son.

Dolly came over for the races too, but she is still living in Scotland, understandably feeling the attachment of a little girl to her mum. She visits us as often as her mother allows and joined Sonny and me for Christmas, the first one that the three of us have had together in four years. I have not seen Dolly since January but we speak on her mobile every night.

Sonny and Dolly were as tough and as determined as me. Their judgment is the only one which matters to me. They gave me strength, tenacity and certainty to battle through a judicial nightmare. We stuck together to get through it and are closer than ever now. I am so proud of them.

No Off Switch, by Andy Kershaw, is published by Profile, priced £16.99. To order your copy at the special price of £12.99, please call the Review Bookstore on 083 382 1111 or visit MailLife.co.uk/Books. 


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