September 24, 2008

Jan Seeks Man

By Fiona MacGregor

THE revelation that former newsreader, I'm A Celebrity... contestant and serial-bride Jan Leeming has posted an advert on a relationships website looking for new love at the age of 66 has provoked a polar split in responses between derision and admiration.

Her fans, those who remember her in her heyday as a glamorous newscaster, and others who were impressed by her dogged determination and gutsy performances tackling various rodents and creepy crawlies in the reality TV show, have praised her "go-for- it" attitude. They say she's a good-looking women displaying self- confidence and a youthful attitude by using the internet as a tool for finding romance.

However to those of a more conservative nature she is - to put it bluntly - "desperate". She has five marriages behind her and the nickname "screaming Leeming" from her days at the BBC, where she earned a reputation as a self-obsessed drama-queen. Certainly, she made a very public display in the pressure-cooker climate of the rainforest of how easily she can alienate herself by diva-ish, demanding and intolerant behaviour towards others. If she really wants to find love, it's her own soul she should be searching, not the world wide web, her critics suggest.

Janet Atkins, as she was named then, was just seven when she came home one day to find a removal van parked outside the family home in South London and the news that her mother was leaving and taking Jan's little sister with her. As the elder daughter, Jan was to stay with her father. She may have, as she's says in her biography, "adored" him, but it doesn't take a psychoanalyst to see from where some of her difficulties in forming stable relationships stem.

Given her difficult childhood, her escape into early marriage to 33-year-old John Staple at the age of 19 seems very understandable. The marriage ended seven months later, after an argument with her new husband ended, she has written, in violence.

She fell immediately into the arms of a BBC colleague, radio producer Owen Leeming, whose name she took - and kept - though she never married him. Her next marriage, in 1972 to estate agent Jeremy Gilchrist, lasted just eight months, when he left her for another woman.

In 1980, at the age of 38, Leeming married Radio 2 announcer Patrick Lunt and their son, Jonathan, was born the following year. The marriage ended in controversial fashion, amid lurid allegations of "wife-swapping".

Leeming had left Hunt for Red Arrows pilot Eric Steetson, who along with his wife Robin had been a longstanding friend of the newsreader and her husband. While Leeming's decision to leave Lunt for her pilot lover certainly raised eyebrows, what really set tongues wagging was the fact that Lunt then married Steetson's wife Robin - the couple are still together.

In 1988 Leeming eventually married Steetson in a union which would last for seven years, but her fourth marriage was also fated to end badly. Her fifth, and latest, husband, was headmaster Chris Russell, whom she wed in 1997. Leeming described him as "the big love of my life", but he walked out on her in 2001.

"I have loved not wisely, but too much," she has previously declared of her relationship history, so is it likely she will have any better luck this time? And, after so much heartache, why does she still feel a need to find a man? Others might give in gracefully and get a cat.

According to her blog her decision to join the Kindred Spirits website was because: "Every week I get invitations to events in London and around the country... My lovely son Jonathan often acts as my escort, but he has his own life to lead ... So when a friend suggested I look at Kindred Spirits I thought it might be fun and could widen my circle of friends. I'm not looking for anything serious, although over the years I've learnt never to say never, so watch this space."

While she may play down her intent, her online ad states she's seeking a "long and loving relationship". So which should we believe? Her post is made under the username "Cheetahgirl". This refers to her conservation work with the big cat, but given she's lied about her age on the site, she appears to be misleading either her blog readers or prospective dates about the kind of relationship she's looking for.

She would not be the first person to gloss over certain details on a dating site.

But the real danger for Leeming appears to lie, less in any deception of others, but in her self-deception.

Her posting declares she is looking for a man aged 58 to 65, attractive and 6ft to 6ft 5in. It is, she declares, "decidedly important" that he should have an athletic body.

"I would like a person who is kind, loving, adventurous - with a love of animals, nature and the performing arts," the advert continues. "And he must be of a generous nature. I am not looking for wealth but cannot tolerate meanness."

That at 66 Leeming still believes that such a perfect human exists at all, let alone is out there and ready to fall into her arms, seems tragically naive.

After all her experiences, she still seems to genuinely believe that somewhere out there a fantasy relationship of family perfection exists, if only she could just find the right man. Yet, who could live up to her expectations?

It would be lovely, of course, if the internet really could help her find love and allow her to be sixth time lucky. But whether this particular Cheetah is able to change her spots, seems sadly unlikely.


You must be a younger man, at least 6ft tall, with a "toned athletic body". You will, of course, be kind, adventurous, generous, good with animals and interested in cultural pursuits - and, well I hardly need to say it, faithful. In return you will get me Jan Leeming. Yes, I've been married five times, am closer to seventy than sixty, am renowned for screaming, and am described by those who know me as "self-indulgent", "neurotic and needy", Oh and I called my autobiography Addicted to Love. But hey nobody's perfect - well apart from my ideal man - obviously.

The Eligibles


AT 47 he's a decade shy of Jan's stipulated age range - but you wouldn't kick him out of bed for that, would you? The Sexiest Man Alive -TM- is single again, having split from his girlfriend Sarah Larson, 29, in May. Perhaps with a mature woman like Jan - who clearly entertains high standards, having seen off five unsatisfactory husbands - George may find a challenge. Like her he is an animal lover, having owned a pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig called Max for 18 years (now deceased).

Being a tireless, high-profile campaigner for a resolution to the Darfur conflict, it might be said that compassion is George's USP - although Jan may have to spend a few Saturday nights alone watching Strictly Come Dancing and dining on chicken jalfrezi for one while her man goes off tub-thumping in Chad.


COULD he be any nicer? Braver? Fitter? Posher? More bonkers? Bruce sounds perfect for the well-bred and eccentric Jan, although we harbour suspicions (motivated purely by jealousy) that the 39- year-old former public schoolboy and ex-Royal Marines officer is actually far too good for her. Now known as the people's anthropologist, fearless explorer and dazzling presenter of Amazon on BBC2, Bruce Almighty knows no fear. If he can happily bed down with llama herders in the Andes, slice through rapids with a champion Peruvian kayaker and wear a poncho in a manly fashion, he's clearly a catch for adventure-seeking Jan. And, unlike her fellow I'm A Celebrity... contestant Dean Gaffney, we suspect Bruce would not scream like a girl and flap his hands hysterically if made to eat a kangaroo's testicle.


IF JAN is a Strictly Come Dancing fan, then she cannot have failed to notice the buff 6ft 5in (195cm) physique of the current series' favourite, Mark Foster - pretty nimble on his feet for a longshanks and dresses up well, so he's perfect arm-candy for all those swanky events to which Jan gets invited. Again, he's relatively young at 39, but his greying hair lends the Olympic swimmer a distinguished air.

He also knows his way round the kitchen and can talk reality TV, having previously competed in Celebrity Masterchef.


SHARED floor space with Jan in the jungle during series six of I'm A Celebrity... so why did these two not get it together? (Maybe he was too busy admiring Myleene Klass's wet bikini.) The 55-year- old Californian TV producer proved surprisingly popular as a contestant and remained admirably laid-back among the insects, snakes and washed-up soap stars, but is he too much of a clown for Jan, whose sense of humour failed her at times? As the ex-Mr Liza Minnelli you'd think he'd be good at handling a diva - but clearly there was a reason for that short-lived marriage.

Jackie Hunter

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