Former Page 3 LINDA LUSARDI reveals her devastation at losing her father to dementia

Linda Lusardi couldn’t really care less about how she looks in a bikini. ‘Of course I was chuffed,’ she says when she discovered recently that she could still fit into a sparkly little number she’d last worn during her glamour model days in the Eighties. 

And who wouldn’t be?

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The former Page 3 Girl, who has had two children — Lucy now 22, and Jack, 19 — and celebrated her 60th birthday since that original iconic shot was taken, looked… well, let’s just say, most 20-year-olds would give up gel nails for life for a surfer babe flat tummy like hers. 

So is her tummy really that flat? ‘I’d show you,’ she laughs. ‘But I’m wearing my Spanx, but I’d never have confessed to that a few years ago.

Former Page 3 Girl Linda Lusardi, 60, has revealed her devastation at losing her father to dementia

‘That girl in the sequin bikini is a stranger to me,’ Linda continues. ‘She was so superficial and so insecure. As women, we only look at our faults.

‘I always thought my thighs were too fat, I was too short, too this, too that. My hair was too fuzzy…’ she laughs.

‘I see it with my daughter all the time. She’s got a bum that doesn’t move when she runs — just a completely perfect body. She doesn’t think she’s perfect. I certainly didn’t think I was at the time.

‘The one good thing that comes with age is you don’t care so much. My husband (actor Sam Kane) is ten years younger than me, but he still adores me and we’ve both aged.

‘We’re just going to get really old together as long as, fingers crossed, I don’t get my dad’s …’ She pauses and her eyes well up.

‘Gosh,’ she says, ‘I thought we’d be talking about how I use face cream at night. Now you’re getting heart and soul.’

And just like that, the conversation is diverted from sparkly bikinis and support knickers to a subject that can still reduce the affable and unrelentingly cheery Linda to tears in an instant.

Linda's much-loved father, Nello, (pictured together) suffered with Alzheimer's. She is in no doubt that had he lived longer, they would have joined the many families who have had to sell their homes to fund their care

Linda’s much-loved father, Nello, (pictured together) suffered with Alzheimer’s. She is in no doubt that had he lived longer, they would have joined the many families who have had to sell their homes to fund their care

The subject of her father’s descent into dementia and her poor elderly mother’s daily struggle to cope and care for the man she loved.

In the end, her father was in a care home for only a few short weeks before his death, but those weeks cost thousands her elderly parents could ill afford. 

Linda is in no doubt that had he lived longer, they would have joined the many families who have had to sell their homes to fund their care.

For these reasons, she understandably wholly supports the Daily Mail’s Dementia Care campaign, which is calling for the Government to end its neglect of families living with the burden of this terrible disease.

Coincidentally, it turns out we are meeting in Linda’s immaculate Hertfordshire home two years to the day since she received a devastating call from her mother, Lila, who is now 86.

She recalls that conversation, word for harrowing word: ‘Mum said: ‘I’m in the car. He’s hitting the car with a watering can. I’m afraid he’s going to break the windscreen.’ I said: ‘Have you phoned the police?’ She had. They were on their way. She was crying.’

Linda’s much-loved father, Nello, who was, she says, the ‘life and soul’ of any party, was suffering with Alzheimer’s.

In the last few years, his condition had worsened terribly, leaving him prone to acts of frightening violence, but her elderly mother was left to care with no support from her local authority. 

‘The doctor knew but said there was nothing he could do. It’s appalling,’ says Linda. ‘It’s unthinkable that we leave people like my mum — someone who needed help herself because she could no longer drive or walk for long — to care for their loved ones with no state support.

‘I don’t know how she’d have coped at all if my sister and I hadn’t been here. I can only pray the Government will take notice of the Daily Mail petition. So many families are suffering.

‘My mum had to use their savings to pay for Dad’s care. They never went on holiday. They were constantly saving for their old age. The home we eventually put him in was very expensive — £1,200 a week.’ 

Linda said that the change in her father (pictured with her mother Lila) broke her heart and thinking about it still reduces her to tears

Linda said that the change in her father (pictured with her mother Lila) broke her heart and thinking about it still reduces her to tears

Her father’s Alzheimer’s first became apparent when he was 82 and began to forget names. Linda drew him a family tree.

‘Then he started to ask the same question. First it would be ten minutes, then two minutes, then a minute. I remember Lucy coming into the kitchen about five years ago in tears because ‘Grandad just asked who I was’.

‘Another time he didn’t know who I was. You kind of get used to that, but then, out of the blue, he’d go: ‘You’re my Linda.’

‘He started to get angry about everything then he got possessive of things. He wanted everything locked. He thought people were breaking in.

‘They say you’ve got to play along with it, but when you’ve been married to someone for 65 years, that’s very difficult. It was only towards the end that Mum stopped correcting him because he got really nasty.’

The change in her dad wrought by this dreadful disease broke Linda’s heart. Her father, a proud Italian who worked as a master carpenter who oversaw the refurbishment of Harrod’s Food Hall, was a proud, but fair, man who was devoted to his wife and family.

‘Mum hid the violence from me until towards the end,’ says Linda. ‘He’d wake her up by shaking her and she’d be scared. Finally, I noticed she had a pillow and blanket in her car. I asked her why. She said: ‘He gets so angry then he throws me out.’

‘I said: ‘Mum you can’t do that. Next time it happens phone me.’ A week later her terrified mother made that call from the car.

‘We lived half an hour away. I got over there as quickly as I could.’

The police were already there, and agreed to take Nello to hospital. Linda is still haunted by the memory of her father leaving the house.

‘It was the last time he went out through that front door. He was saying: ‘Where are we going?’ It was horrible, horrible.

‘He went to an assessment unit where they drugged him so he wasn’t dangerous. They asked: ‘Can he feed himself?’ Yes. ‘Can he dress himself?’ Yes. They said: ‘We can’t section him so you’re going to have to find a home.’ ‘

Linda and her family found what they believed to be a ‘nice’ home.

‘Two weeks after being in there he banged his head,’ she says. ‘They said he must have fallen, but I don’t know. I will never know. When he was taken to hospital they said he had a bladder infection, which we had no idea about.’

Again, Linda pauses to wipe her eyes. ‘He had gloves taped to his hands so he couldn’t pull his catheter out. He pleaded with me to take them off. He was just left in bed all day.

‘I’d get him up and say: ‘Pretend you’re marching like in the army.’ But he was in a ward where, basically, they couldn’t have cared less. I hate to say this because we do have a wonderful NHS but, when you go in there as an old person, they just want your bed. They did nothing to help him.

‘In two weeks, I watched him go down to half his body weight. He was just so upset and begging for help. It was horrible.

‘He got an infection, got sepsis, was put on palliative care, which I thought would be a peaceful death. Far from it. I watched him gasp for breath for 24 hours before his heart gave out.’

Hers is one of many thousands of distressing stories that have come to light since this newspaper launched its Dementia Care campaign two months ago, petitioning the Government to support those families who are forced to sell their homes to pay for their care bills.

Linda’s mother put her house on the market soon after her father’s death. ‘She lives in the next road to me now. My dad was a hoarder. They lived in a big house and it took six months to clear. He’d kept every paper I’d ever been in.’

Among that collection was a picture of 24-year-old Linda in that sequinned bikini. And suddenly, Linda is smiling again. Her dad was so proud of her.

‘I remember buying it in a shop in Camden,’ she says. ‘In those days you didn’t see sequinned bikinis. It was £30, which was a lot of money, but when I saw it I thought: ‘I’m having it.’

Trying it on, some 40 years later, brought back many memories for Linda of life as a ‘Page 3 girl’ — the female glamour models whose topless images once appeared on Page 3 of the Sun newspaper.

While it feels anachronistic and rather silly nowadays, back then it was a big deal and propelled many young girls, including Samantha Fox and Katie Price, to stardom.

Even back then Linda found it astonishing: ‘For someone to take my picture and pay me what was a week’s wages in the tax office where I used to work, for an hour’s shoot, was just unbelievable.

‘Once you were in that world with the other Page 3 girls, it was like being in a little club. It was amazing. I had great trips, great friends, partying. I could buy a car my school-friends who were in boring jobs couldn’t afford.’

She shrugs. ‘Those were different times — and that was a different person.’

Linda gave up glamour modelling in 1988 to pursue a successful acting career

She now has two children of her own - Lucy,  22, and Jack, 19 - and celebrated her 60th birthday last year

Linda gave up glamour modelling in 1988 to pursue a successful acting career. She now has two children of her own – Lucy, 22, and Jack, 19 – and celebrated her 60th birthday last year

The partying stopped when Linda’s best friend and fellow Page 3 girl Angie Layne died of breast cancer in 1991. Linda was 32 and unhappily married to her first husband, Terry Bailey, a pal of fast-living footballer Paul Gascoigne.

‘We were on a shoot together when Angie told me she’d found a lump. It was malignant. She had a lumpectomy and radiotherapy and was all right for almost five years. Then she started getting a pain in her back. The doctor told her it was in her lymph nodes and that she didn’t have long.

‘It was the first time I experienced losing someone I was really, really close to. I couldn’t accept she was going to go. The last time I saw her we were in her garden.

‘I just thought it was so ironic she died of breast cancer having had a beautiful pair of boobs everyone admired. I’d lost my best friend but two days after her death my ex-husband went away on a trip with Gazza.

‘I knew I needed to clear my life of things that weren’t right because that could have been me — and that included my marriage.’

Four years later Linda, who had given up glamour modelling in 1988 to pursue a successful acting career, met her second husband Sam Kane during the pantomime season in Darlington where she was appearing as Snow White and he as the Prince.

They stayed in touch and ‘fell in love’. Within a few months of dating she fell pregnant with Lucy. She loved the pregnancy. Adored being a mother. Couldn’t wait to have a second child.

‘Since I met Sam, my life is just bliss,’ she says. ‘Your priorities completely turn on their head when you have children.

‘They’ve been the joy of my life and of Sam’s. They just enhanced everything I was doing. I had a purpose for earning money and doing jobs.’

Linda is rightly proud of her children. Lucy, who appeared in The Voice two years ago and signed a contract, is a talented singer/songwriter who will release her first album next year.

While Jack, an actor, recently starred in the latest instalment of the cult fantasy movie franchise Dragonheart, which will be released at Christmas. He is a lovely young man who shares his mother’s warmth and, like his sister, continues to live in the family home.

It’s being surrounded by all this love, she says, that has seen her through all of life’s battles.

‘You do feel ‘life’s s**t’ sometimes but you just take it, don’t you, and get on with it. Life is a wonderful thing despite the sadnesses, isn’t it?

‘When I look at that photograph of me at 24, I much prefer me now.

‘As middle-aged women we’ve got the knowledge of life. We’ve been there. Done it. We’ve been mothers. We’ve been divorcees. We’ve been carers to our parents. We just want to make the most of the time we have left.

‘What does it matter if you’re carrying a little more weight on your hips? Apart from losing my dad — and having experienced first hand the vile way we treat people with Alzheimer’s — every wrinkle, every scar, is part of something that has enriched my life.’