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Anthea Turner’s sister tells how she and her husband went from TV’s golden couple to living in a car

Two hotels will be forever etched in the memories of Nineties Minder star Gary Webster (left) and his wife, former prime-time TV presenter Wendy Turner (right)

Two hotels will be forever etched in the memories of Nineties Minder star Gary Webster and his wife, former prime-time TV presenter Wendy Turner.

The first is London’s luxurious Ritz hotel, where they exchanged wedding vows before a lavish party with ‘250 of their closest friends and family’ some 20 years ago.

The second is a far less salubrious Travelodge in South-West London, where the couple, with their two children, were forced to camp out for ten months after becoming homeless.

‘Knowing we were the price of one night in a hotel room away from finding ourselves on the streets has been unimaginably awful, to the point I’ve felt life is not worth living,’ says Wendy, whose sister is former breakfast TV presenter Anthea Turner.

‘I have a husband and two sons, all of whom I love dearly, so never thought I’d get to a point in my life where I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up the following day. But that’s what happened.

‘I remember sitting alone in our room at the Travelodge, not daring to go out because of what I might do to myself. ‘

Wendy, 52, trails off, sobbing.

The first is London's luxurious Ritz hotel, where they exchanged wedding vows before a lavish party with '250 of their closest friends and family' some 20 years ago. (Pictured: Wendy Turner (left) and Anthea Turner (right) at the wedding in 1999

The first is London’s luxurious Ritz hotel, where they exchanged wedding vows before a lavish party with ‘250 of their closest friends and family’ some 20 years ago. (Pictured: Wendy Turner (left) and Anthea Turner (right) at the wedding in 1999

Today, thankfully, the family has finally found an understanding landlord who has rented them a three-bedroom terraced house, in South-West London.

Having at last achieved the relative security of a short-term tenancy agreement, Gary, 55, now concedes that, while the couple have faced many challenges during their two decades together — including bankruptcy and ill health — they all pale into insignificance compared with the ‘unrelenting horror’ of the past year.

So how did the couple go from small-screen fame, with all the comforts that accompany it, to homelessness?

Indeed, back in March 1999, celebrity magazine OK! paid the couple, who met in 1997, tens of thousands of pounds for exclusive rights to cover their wedding.

At the time, Gary was landing regular TV roles — as well as a stint on EastEnders and Channel 5 soap Family Affairs, he famously took over the role of George Cole’s Minder from Dennis Waterman in 1991 — while Wendy presented Channel 4’s afternoon show Pet Rescue.

But while their money was seemingly easily earned, it was easier spent. Close friends and family say they made foolish business decisions — including one scheme with a West African government which, rather appropriately, sounds like something from a bad TV script.

It’s also clear they were poor at managing their finances. Bad luck, too, certainly played a part.

At the time of the wedding, Gary (left) was landing regular TV roles — as well as a stint on EastEnders and Channel 5 soap Family Affairs, he famously took over the role of George Cole's (right) Minder from Dennis Waterman in 1991 — while Wendy presented Channel 4's afternoon show Pet Rescue

At the time of the wedding, Gary (left) was landing regular TV roles — as well as a stint on EastEnders and Channel 5 soap Family Affairs, he famously took over the role of George Cole’s (right) Minder from Dennis Waterman in 1991 — while Wendy presented Channel 4’s afternoon show Pet Rescue

While there were many debts that took their toll, perhaps the worst is the sizeable £150,000 they borrowed from loved ones — among them Anthea — on the strength of £1.4 million they were expecting from that West African business deal. It led to an estrangement from Anthea and other relatives two years ago.

You might imagine they would be humbled, shamed even. Not a bit. Gary is defiant: ‘We can’t wait to say to friends, and family on both sides: ‘If you want the money, here it is — but don’t expect to have us back in your lives, that ain’t ever going to happen.’ For some, the money seems to be more important than our wellbeing.’

Wendy, however, admits their friendship circle is now ‘very small’, and recognises Anthea, despite their estrangement, has helped them ‘a huge amount’ over the years. ‘Nothing would give me more pleasure than to get Anthea some money back,’ she says.

While there were many debts that took their toll, perhaps the worst is the sizeable £150,000 they borrowed from loved ones — among them Anthea — on the strength of £1.4 million they were expecting from that West African business deal. It led to an estrangement from Anthea and other relatives two years ago

While there were many debts that took their toll, perhaps the worst is the sizeable £150,000 they borrowed from loved ones — among them Anthea — on the strength of £1.4 million they were expecting from that West African business deal. It led to an estrangement from Anthea and other relatives two years ago

Indeed, many of their lifelines, famous and otherwise, had been exhausted last autumn when things came to a head and they were unable to pay their sizeable £2,000-a-month rent on their home in West London. Forced to move out, they were officially homeless.

Hence their move into the Teddington Travelodge, originally meant to be for just a few of nights.

But the days rapidly became months — and still the Turner-Websters struggled to do more than scrape together the nightly funds to pay for two rooms, one for Wendy and Gary, the other for their sons, Freddie, 16, and Jack, 19. Each night that passed meant a bill between £78 and £130 — a considerable burden, given their circumstances.

The hotel fee was scraped together from a mixture of earnings — Wendy produces and presents Crafty Beggars, a creative show on a small satellite channel for a meagre fee, while Gary recently filmed episodes for the Dumping Ground, a BBC children’s programme and still gets the occasional royalty cheque for Minder — as well as loans from patient family and friends still willing to help.

But there were terrible nights when ends would just not meet, and the couple had to sleep in their car, while their sons stayed with friends. ‘That really was rock bottom,’ says Wendy. ‘It took a few seconds after waking in the morning to realise it hadn’t been a nightmare, that we were homeless.’

Despite this humiliation, extraordinarily, they don’t look back on their early carefree days and wish they’d been thriftier.

After meeting while performing in pantomimes, they married with considerable fanfare at the Ritz. ‘The magazine was paying us, so we were able to invite everyone we’d ever known,’ recalls Gary.

Despite being self-employed, neither had been putting away enough money to pay tax bills. So, in 2005 (pictured together that year), when Gary couldn't come up with the £25,000 he owed, HMRC made him bankrupt

Despite being self-employed, neither had been putting away enough money to pay tax bills. So, in 2005 (pictured together that year), when Gary couldn’t come up with the £25,000 he owed, HMRC made him bankrupt

‘We just wanted a lovely celebration and spent every penny. Our guests still remember it to this day.’

‘As do we,’ chips in Wendy. ‘So, looking back, I don’t think: ‘Oh I wish we’d done that differently.’ ‘

Jack was born in 1999, followed by Freddie three years later.

Then, in 2003, Pet Rescue was axed — and their easy-come, easy-go attitude to money began to take a very serious toll.

Despite being self-employed, neither had been putting away enough money to pay tax bills. So, in 2005, when Gary couldn’t come up with the £25,000 he owed, HMRC made him bankrupt.

Then, within a few months, Wendy, without the funds to cover her own vast £100,000 tax liability, was also declared bankrupt.

Their trouble deepened when Family Affairs was shelved by Channel 5. They went ‘two or three months’ into arrears with their repayments on their four-bedroom terrace home in Twickenham.

The mortgage company acted swiftly to repossess the £210,000 house — gallingly, in an area where homes now sell for over £1 million. No allowances were made, they say, because the building society, aware of their bankruptcy status, had concerns other debtors would attempt to make claims on any remaining equity. In the event, there was none to be had. With two bankruptcies and a house repossession under their belts, the couple had little hope of getting another mortgage so, for the next 12 years, they paid high rents — up to £2,000 a month — for a home in West London.

Despite such pressure, they also — some might say foolishly — sent their sons to private secondary schools, shelling out joint fees of up to £35,000 a year. Their earnings from TV work barely covered their outgoings, so they pursued other employment.

Wendy borrowed £12,000 from Anthea to pay for a course in compiling home condition reports, which were to replace the services of chartered surveyors, under a scheme introduced by the Labour government under Tony Blair.

Then, just as she qualified in 2010, David Cameron became Prime Minister. Within weeks, the scheme was scrapped, leaving her redundant, her ambitions of earning an £80,000-plus annual salary dashed. Later that year, after being introduced to the writer of a film script which was, he says, ‘in the Shakespeare in Love vein’, Gary decided to produce the film. Over the next 18 months, he claims he pulled together an impressive cast, including Imelda Staunton, Joseph Fiennes and Albert Finney.

Wendy (left) borrowed £12,000 from Anthea (right) to pay for a course in compiling home condition reports, which were to replace the services of chartered surveyors, under a scheme introduced by the Labour government under Tony Blair

Wendy (left) borrowed £12,000 from Anthea (right) to pay for a course in compiling home condition reports, which were to replace the services of chartered surveyors, under a scheme introduced by the Labour government under Tony Blair

Additionally, or so he thought, he secured three investors, merchant bankers and financiers, who ‘promised’ to plough £15 million into production. So convinced was Gary that the money would materialise, during the course of that year he borrowed £40,000 from people he knew to keep the family afloat, no longer having access to bank loans due to his poor credit rating.

However, in another major blow, the investors backed out, without explanation, in 2011. One assistant producer, who had only agreed to get involved in the project if payment was guaranteed, irrespective of funding, insisted on having her agreed fee of £14,000. When it wasn’t forthcoming, she sent debt collectors to Gary’s door.

‘I had a major heart attack and needed stent surgery in the very same week we discovered we weren’t getting the funding for the film,’ says Gary. ‘I don’t know if the two things were linked but, if it was brought on by stress, I’m amazed I haven’t had another heart attack this year.’

Undeterred, in 2013, Gary found himself involved in another ‘deal’. This time, surprising though it may sound given that nothing in his resume to date appeared to qualify him for this role, he was to act as a consultant in negotiations between a global aviation company and a West African government.

To fulfil a United Nations mandate, the country was obliged to purchase a ‘medevac aircraft’, to be used to evacuate the sick and wounded and deliver emergency supplies, in the event of a war.

Then, just as she qualified in 2010, David Cameron became Prime Minister. Within weeks, the scheme was scrapped, leaving her redundant, her ambitions of earning an £80,000-plus annual salary dashed

Then, just as she qualified in 2010, David Cameron became Prime Minister. Within weeks, the scheme was scrapped, leaving her redundant, her ambitions of earning an £80,000-plus annual salary dashed

‘I worked as an official consultant on this deal for three years, until 2016,’ says Gary.

‘My business partners had brokered two previous deals. They got me involved, introduced me to some of the most senior figures in government in Africa.

‘We were borrowing from family and friends because, as negotiations proceeded, it got more and more likely that the deal would be finalised. I stood to make over £1.4 million for my role in it.’

However, although Gary says the deal went ahead as planned in 2016, the aviation company has refused to pay him a penny, even claiming at one stage it had no idea who he was, despite him producing emails proving his involvement.

By this time, the Turner-Websters were in debt to the tune of £150,000 to family and friends, with no means of repaying them.

All the while, their sons were still at fee-paying schools.

‘If we’d known the things we were doing wouldn’t come to fruition, we would never have sent them to private schools,’ says Wendy.

‘We didn’t want to pull them out three years ago, at the crucial stages they were at in their studies. Fortunately Freddie’s school has been very understanding.’

But by September last year, when the 18-month lease on their home came up for renewal, the couple had to concede they no longer had the means to pay the rent.

In February this year, just as they thought things couldn’t get any worse, Wendy slipped on ice, while walking their dog, breaking her leg in two places. She needed surgery and spent three weeks on crutches, all while spending nights sleeping in their car. ‘We did our best to shield our sons, but it was very hard,’ says Wendy. ‘Going to school when you don’t have a home cannot have been easy.’

The biggest hurdle they faced trying to find a home was that estate agents insisted on up to six months’ rent upfront on top of a deposit, because of their poor credit score. In desperation, they approached Richmond Borough Council, which offered bed and breakfast accommodation, but couldn’t guarantee the family would be placed in the same one.

The second is a far less salubrious Travelodge in South-West London (pictured), where the couple, with their two children, were forced to camp out for ten months after becoming homeless

The second is a far less salubrious Travelodge in South-West London (pictured), where the couple, with their two children, were forced to camp out for ten months after becoming homeless

‘It might sound melodramatic, but Gary said he’d rather be dead. I agreed with him,’ says Wendy.

‘We’re a strong family but I thought it would destroy us,’ says Gary. ‘The thought of my kids having to walk down a corridor alone and encountering God knows who horrified me.’

Mercifully, they were able to house-sit over Christmas for a fortnight. All the while, however, they were being badgered by their creditors — even their family.

This added pressure, coming at their lowest ebb, has left a seriously bitter taste. ‘Sometimes those closest to you are not the most understanding,’ says Gary.

‘Wendy has a propensity genetically to depression so I’m always aware of that and trying to come up with problem-solving strategies.

‘But that’s hard when people are ringing up and saying ‘When are you going to pay this?’ Or when relatives write emails saying: ‘I want my £2,500 back now.’ On those days, all we could do was cry.’

However he does add: ‘Many friends have been supportive, and we’re so grateful to them. It’s just a few, including close family, who have been judgemental.’

So what of the future?

Wendy plans to launch several businesses — one selling craft materials online and another linked to veganism (she has eaten a plant-based diet for 27 years) as well as continuing TV work.

Gary, meanwhile, says, in true Only Fools And Horses style: ‘I think this time next year we will be millionaires. Everyone will be paid back and we will have an Indian takeaway on a Saturday night without worrying about the expense or feeling guilty the next day.

‘I’m serious. There has to be a happy ending to this whole experience. We have to be able to inspire people — and look back and laugh.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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