She was 28. He was 51. Writer Rachel Rounds reveals the abuse she endured when she fell for a MUCH older man

  • Rachel Reeves, 44, and Tom, 67, met through a friend and fell in love
  • She has been mistaken for a call girl and he's been called a sugar daddy
  • Rachel worries that Tom will pass away, leaving her to raise her son alone

As my husband and son walked along our High Street in the Wiltshire town of Chippenham, two ladies asked him if they could give our toddler a promotional balloon. He returned their kindness with a beatific smile.

'What a gorgeous boy,' one smiled. 'He's made my day. Are you his granddad?'

It's not the first time Tom has had to tell a stranger he is actually our son's father. He laughs it off - he's used to it.

Rachel Rounds was 28 and working as a political correspondent for GMTV when she met Tom

Rachel Rounds was 28 and working as a political correspondent for GMTV when she met Tom

I have my wobbles about the age gap (he is now 67 and I'm 44) and know that, one day, I may end up on my own with a young boy. But Tom's maturity is part of the attraction.

He knows his own mind, yet isn't afraid to show his emotions, is utterly dependable and has a wealth of knowledge and experience that never fails to surprise me.

After more than a decade together, he is the same man I fell in love with.

The first time I saw Tom, I thought he looked like Omar Sharif.

He was an RAF senior officer, who was born in the South Pacific and arrived here in 1965, aged 17, after the RAF came to recruit young men in what were then British colonies. He has since fought in the Falklands and first Iraq war.

When I met him, he was working for the Ministry of Defence, and I couldn’t resist asking him if he was a spy. It certainly broke the ice. He laughed and said he was nothing more than the mutual friend of a journalist I worked with.

I was 28, a political correspondent at GMTV, and had tagged along with my colleague to ‘meet a great contact’.

Rachel asked Tom, who worked at the Ministry of Defense, to dance - but she was rebuffed, bruising her ego

Rachel asked Tom, who worked at the Ministry of Defense, to dance - but she was rebuffed, bruising her ego

It was the summer of 1999, and I certainly wasn't expecting a quick drink to change the course of my life - but it did. Tom had dark brown eyes, black hair and a military-looking moustache.

His voice was also deep and mellifluous. I found myself wanting to simply sit and listen to him talk all night.

The problem was my age. One glance at his 'lived-in' face told me he was quite a bit older.

I felt I was transgressing society's unwritten rule: young girls don't date old men. It didn't help that I discovered he was 51 - when I was born, in 1971, he would have been 23. The age gap was just too great. I decided I couldn't bear the sniping.

I certainly wasn’t expecting a quick drink to change the course of my life - but it did

Then, six months later, I was invited out with my friend and Tom again. He'd been in the back of my mind and I had confessed to a close friend the day after I met him that, if I decided to date an older man, he would be it.

We ended up at a posh West End club and, after a few drinks, I plucked up the courage to ask him to dance.

I assumed he'd say yes, but he just stood at the bar with a single malt whisky in his hand and politely declined.

I was flabbergasted. Here I was: young, slim, blonde and eager to dance - and there was he: a divorcee, the wrong side of 50, refusing me.

My ego took a severe bruising, but it just made him more of a challenge.

A year later, panicking over a work assignment, Rachel asked Tom for a drink, unaware of where it would lead

A year later, panicking over a work assignment, Rachel asked Tom for a drink, unaware of where it would lead

We finally got together a few days after 9/11, a year after he had rebuffed me. I was preparing a broadcast about the government’s response to the crisis, but realised I knew very little about the military situation.

In a panic, I called Tom. I offered to take him for a drink, hoping he might let me know what the response might be.

Far from sounding keen, he told me he didn’t drink on Mondays, but he supposed he could make an exception as it sounded like I needed help.

Rachel and Tom when they first met in 2004, in Fiji. Rachel says she felt Tom looked like actor Omar Sharif

Rachel and Tom when they first met in 2004, in Fiji. Rachel says she felt Tom looked like actor Omar Sharif

I certainly wasn’t thinking our meeting would be the start of a serious relationship. But that’s exactly what happened.

Somehow, we ended up at an expensive Indian restaurant in Westminster. By the time dinner arrived, I had put all thoughts of Afghanistan to the back of my mind as I laughed at his jokes and flirted outrageously.

Tom, on the other hand, did a very good impression of man who’d rather be somewhere else.

After a few glasses of wine, Dutch courage kicked in and I uttered the words: ‘Give us a kiss.’ To this day, I can’t believe I said it. Here I was, trying to impress an older man who’d been involved in the Falklands War and the invasion of Kuwait, and I could only utter words better suited to a fish wife.

Tom told Rachel he thought she was mad to be interested in him, given the vast age gap between the couple

Tom told Rachel he thought she was mad to be interested in him, given the vast age gap between the couple

He looked stunned, peered at me and said: 'What...here?'

So I kissed him.

Months later, Tom admitted that, far from being uninterested, he just thought I was mad. He couldn't understand why I would want to date (in his words) 'a knackered old man' like him. Weirdly, that is why our relationship worked.

I was convinced I was too young and skittish for him; he was sure he was far too boring, dependable and old for me

Neither of us thought it had a future. I was convinced I was too young and skittish for him; he was sure he was far too boring, dependable and old for me.

But he was far from being any of these things. Somehow, the younger men I had dated were less self-possessed and passionate - but Tom, precisely because he was older, exuded a confidence and ardour when we were together. So we took it day by day and enjoyed each other's company, convinced it wouldn't last.

The reaction of family and friends was as expected. They were horrified. My mother is only ten years older than him and told me she wanted a son-in-law who was the right age to be a son - not a brother or, God forbid, a husband.

One of my closest friends simply said, 'Ew yuk,' when I told her I had kissed Tom for the first time.

Then there were Tom's children. He has two girls and a boy from his first marriage, which ended before I met him. His oldest is only eight years younger than me.

Rachel was terrified to meet Tom's children, the oldest of which is only eight years younger than her

Rachel was terrified to meet Tom's children, the oldest of which is only eight years younger than her

I was terrified the first time he took me to his house in Wiltshire to meet them, as I thought one of them would take me aside and tell me to leave their dad alone.

But they were all terribly sweet and kind, and have always said whatever makes their dad happy makes them happy. I don't think I would have been so understanding.

Today, we still get on well. Both the girls have had their own children. This officially makes me a grandma - but I have told them I refuse to answer to any name that sounds like 'nanna', 'granny' or 'gran'.

It was, and still is, the reaction of strangers that is hardest to deal with. On one of our early dates, we were having a lovely dinner until I noticed two women at the next table whispering and sneering at me, while their husbands leered.

Rachel has had to suffer being mistaken for a call girl, and strangers calling her husband her 'sugar daddy', yet she was serious about marrying Tom and the couple  split briefly before he finally proposed

Rachel has had to suffer being mistaken for a call girl, and strangers calling her husband her 'sugar daddy', yet she was serious about marrying Tom and the couple split briefly before he finally proposed

After a while, I mentioned it to Tom. He'd noticed, too.

Suddenly, one of them turned to look at me with such an expression of disdain that I realised she thought I was a call girl - how else would you explain a young, attractive blonde being wined and dined by a man old enough to be her father? Their reactions upset me more than I let on. I felt I had been judged by two people who knew nothing about me, but who clearly couldn't comprehend that it was possible for two people of different ages to be happy and in love.

I felt I had been judged by two people who knew nothing about me, but who clearly couldn't comprehend that it was possible for two people of different ages to be happy and in love

Months later, we were in a wine bar when Tom had to head back to work. I stayed to finish my drink and was accosted by a man sitting with two women.

The man asked if I would settle a bet: they were trying to guess whether Tom was my father, sugar daddy or work colleague. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but admitted Tom was my boyfriend.

He punched the air and shouted: ‘Yes! He's her sugar daddy.' He'd apparently won a glass of champagne for correctly guessing Tom and I were together.

What annoyed me most was the assumption Tom was rich and I was only after him for his cash. He had assumed I was a gold digger because he also couldn't understand what a young girl would be doing with a much older man.

Despite all the stares and the comments, 14 years later we are still together. We married in 2011 and had a little boy called Tanoa, a Fijian name, who is nearly three and is already an uncle to his half-sisters' children.

Most people mistake Tom for Tanoa's granddad
Rachel finds herself worrying about when Tom will pass away

Tom wasn't keen on the idea of changing nappies, but eventually the pair also had a son they named Tanoa

Although married life has been better than we imagined, getting wed and having a child was a sticking point. In 2005, we split up because I wanted to tie the knot and have a baby, but Tom didn't. He had done sleepless nights and nappies. At 55, he didn't want the hassle.

For me, it was a deal-breaker. I told him the price of being with a younger woman was that many of us would want children, if not marriage as well. After a year apart, where we both dated other people, we got back together. I still loved him and couldn't live without him. He told me he had also missed me and loved me too much to let me go. He finally proposed in 2010.

I know he didn't want to get married again, but he did it because he loved me and understood it mattered to me. I love him for that.

The birth of our son has brought its own challenges. Aside from the fact that most people think Tom is Tanoa's granddad, I constantly worry that if Tom does die before me, Tanoa and I will be left on our own and history will repeat itself. My father died when I was 13 and my mother brought me up alone.

I comfort myself with the fact that none of us knows when our time will come. My dad was only 48 when he died, and I could easily pass away before Tom.

Tom reminds me in many ways of my own father, who was quite dour. He even looks similar and I am self-aware enough to realise that I was looking for a father figure. I don't think that's wrong. He has given me stability and he is, and always has been, incredibly loyal to me.

That's why I love him, and who has the right to tell me I shouldn't? Love comes in many forms. Ours may be unusual, but it works and that is all that matters to me.