Andrew Lloyd Webber couldn’t have been unaware of the parallels between his second marriage and the most opulently romantic of his musicals, The Phantom of the Opera. A less-than-hand-some maestro woos a young, unknown singer—Sarah Brightman was 20 when she entranced the composer with her sweet, slightly brittle soprano—and sets about transforming her into a star. He writes an ambitious Requiem, giving his new bride one of his most melting melodies. Then he casts her in a magnum opus, Phantom, and won’t allow his musical to come to America unless Actors’ Equity relents and lets his leading lady sing and act the part he has written especially—only—for her. The Phantom would have applauded such romantic hubris.
But the Phantom would never have torn himself away from his organ arpeggios to do what Lloyd Webber recently did—have his publicist fax a separation announcement to the British press and declare that he has developed a relationship with a woman whose great passion, it turns out, is…horses?
Phantom? Pffft! The 42-year-old Lloyd Webber is not so much a demented genius as he is the Donald Trump of the musical theater, with daily royalties of $175,500, real estate that includes a 1,200-acre estate near Newbury, Berkshire, and a Trump Tower duplex, an unrivaled collection of Pre-Raphaelite art and a net worth that has been estimated as high as $526 million. Speculation in Britain has Brightman, 29, ending up with a settlement ranging from half his net worth to as little as $9 million.
At this point none of the principals are singing, except to make one or two official statements. Regarding his newly revealed relationship with Madeleine Gurdon, 27, a top-notch equestrian who rides in Princess Anne’s set, Lloyd Webber said, “We have become great friends in recent months,” As for his wife, “My admiration for her as an artist is undimmed.” Brightman, sounding somewhat dimmed, said that the end of their six-year duet “is not something I either wish for or have sought.” adding, “I believe I can continue to have a professional association with Andrew.” That’s a belief worth keeping, since Brightman may figure prominently in plans for the movie of Phantom, which its composer will reportedly produce.
Gurdon admits, officially, that she is indeed Lloyd Webber’s “friend,” but is otherwise keeping mum, if not altogether out of the public eye. Her principal statement so far: “My solicitor has told me not to say anything.” One day after Lloyd Webber’s announcement, the couple made a conspicuous appearance outside his office in London’s Palace Theatre—which he partially owns—where Les Miserables is playing. Luckily, Lloyd Webber didn’t write Les Miz, because there seem to be no parallels between the downtrodden of that epic and “Gurtie” Gurdon. The convent-educated daughter of a retired brigadier, she has been a high-profile three-day event rider for almost a decade. Some bad news: She lost her favorite horse, Midnight Monarch, last year in the trials at Badminton, when he broke his leg at the water jump. Some good news: She is as chic as she is swift, designing an exclusive line of leather-and-suede clothes. Princess Anne, reportedly, is a customer.
Not to slight Gurtie’s many talents, but no one has yet quite managed to define the strawberry blond’s mystique. A source in London’s Daily Mail offered a suggestion: “Gurtie isn’t particularly pretty, but it’s a case of these horsey women somehow being able to drive men wild.”
One theory behind the breakup is that Brightman lacked this horse sensuality; she joined Lloyd Webber in the world of parties and first nights but didn’t share his growing fondness for the country squire life-style. Another is that she wasn’t willing to provide him with a family—although he has two children, Imogen, 13, and Nicholas, 10, by his first wife, also named Sarah.
Since the announcement, Sarah II has been staying at her parents’ home in Bournemouth, Dorset. Life there, 100 miles southwest of London, is considerably less noisy than it must have been with Lloyd Webber. “Nothing is ever bottled up,” Brightman once said of her marriage. “If we feel something, we’ll say it. It’s wonderful because you always know where you are with Andrew.” One source close to the couple thinks Brightman didn’t quite know where she was with Andrew this time out: “I don’t think Sarah was expecting the whole thing to be over. From what I understand, there have been lots of problems, and she thought Andrew would issue a statement acknowledging that. She didn’t realize he would publicly humiliate her in the way he did. She’s behaving very well, but it is anybody’s guess as to what is going on.”
A clue might be found in Lloyd Webber’s latest Broadway offering, Aspects of Love. As many of the characters whirl in and out of bed, one song in particular cycles through the score. It’s called “Love Changes Everything.”
—Tom Gliatto, Laura Sanderson Healy in London