Dubai: Jane Hawking, the ex-wife of world-renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, would have every reason to feel bitter after sticking by him through his battle with Motor Neuron Disease (MND) only to be left for one of his caregivers.
However, approaching the first anniversary of Stephen’s death next week (March 14) and speaking to Gulf News at this week’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, the author of Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, said she felt no resentment.
“We were at peace before he died, we reflected a lot and I said to him I think it was MND that had driven us apart and he agreed,” said Jane, who met Stephen in 1962, a year before he was diagnosed with the incurable neurological wasting disease at the age of 21.
Given just two years to live he defied the odds to survive another 55 years, passing away last spring aged 76 and buried between Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin at Westminster Abbey.
“It was such a horrendous illness for him to deal with and for me to cope with and of course then there was the whole side of his fame and fortune, and fortune attracted the wrong sort of people.
“I know that MND was behind all the things that happened [between us]. Obviously it was the reason he became so disabled and the reason we had to have carers and nurses, the majority of whom were not nearly as honourable and well-motivated as we would have hoped.
“There were a core of people who really were very devoted and unscrupulous, but we had so many unscrupulous characters in our lives, and that was very wearing.”
The pair divorced after 30 years of marriage in 1995 when Stephen began a relationship and married his then-carer Elaine Mason, who was later investigated for physically abusing the scientist, but never charged.
After divorcing Mason in 2006, Stephen then re-established closer ties with Jane and their three children Robert, Lucy and Timothy.
“We had time and that was the great thing before he died to look back and reflect on the happiest days of the past.”
Of his legacy, she said: “On one hand he is remembered for his scientific achievements which were so extraordinary, especially considering that from the mid-seventies he was no longer able to use a pen or paper, so had to master the complexities of the universe in his head.
“And on the other hand he is immortalised for his heroic battle against MND.”
Jane said Stephen readily admitted that if it wasn’t for MND he wouldn’t have been nearly as determined to make the discoveries he did. But would he also have done it without her support?
“If other people decide that, then that’s up to them, but I don’t think about that. If it weren’t for Stephen I wouldn’t be here now. It was a long period of my life, but on the other hand I have this degree of success now and three wonderful children and grandchildren [because of him]. I didn’t do this for Stephen for recognition, I did it because I loved him.”
Now from the woman who used to trail behind his wheelchair and get pushed aside by press, Jane Hawking is finally getting some of the recognition she deserved through the success of her 2007 memoir Travelling to Infinity, which was turned into the Oscar winning film The Theory of Everything in 2014. Getting that off her chest, she says, was essential for moving on, but it also opened the door to her recent novels Silent Music and Cry to Dream Again. “It’s something I always wanted to do but never had the time or opportunity.”