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Thriller Writer Who Based His Main Character On His First Love Opens Up After Reuniting With Her Decades Later

Brian and Liz this month (PA Real Life/Collect)

A thriller writer who made his first love the central character in his spy novels told how they married more than 40 years after she ended their engagement.

Brian and Liz Landers got engaged in the 1970s, after falling in love as students at Devon's Exeter University where.

So, Brian was devastated when she ended their relationship, fearing she would be cut off by her family if she did not.

With marriages and successful careers under their belts, they have now rekindled their love and are living happily together as husband and wife.

“It's magical. I'm in love with my best friend and always will be. Liz is so beautiful and we are so comfortable together," he said.

Liz says life has made sense since seeing Brian again.

Brian and Liz in Cuba (PA Real Life/Collect)

“When he came back into my life, it was like a vital part of the puzzle had been missing and from that point everything just made sense," she said.

From the moment Liz set eyes on Brian back in 1970, she was smitten.

“I admired him from afar," she said.

“I just thought he was lovely, so interesting and different. He was quick witted and good fun to be with, yet, funnily enough neither of us can remember our first date!"

Brian and Liz in Cuba (PA Real Life/Collect)

Brian admired Liz's intelligence.

“I remember how incredibly beautiful she was and still is. She really stood out and had a confidence about her. She is incredibly bright," he said.

“She challenged Jack Straw, the former Home Secretary, who at that time was president of the NUS when he gave a speech. She was wearing these amazing paisley hot pants. Everybody was looking at them!"

“From September 1970 we were inseparable and lived together for a couple of years, which was unusual then. We took it for granted that we would spend the rest of our lives together. I was hoping to work in government intelligence at GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, so we were going to move there."

Brian and Liz in Lanzarote last year (PA Real Life/Collect)

“We made plans to get married. I even bought her a jade engagement ring from a shop in London's Hatton Garden," he said.

But their bubble of love was burst by Liz's father, Fr. Neill, who disapproved of the match.

“Class was a big issue back then. He kept saying, 'Oil and water do not mix.' He was a naval officer and a priest. I'd been to a boarding school, while Brian was a grammar school boy, whose father was a social worker," Liz said.

Brian and Liz (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I remember there was a postal strike, but Daddy managed to get a letter to the chaplain at Exeter University, who passed it on to me. It said that we really must break up and if we married I would never speak to, let alone see my parents, again," she added.

“He was such a powerful, authoritarian figure, I believed him. It was a very different time."

Devastated, the couple parted and cut off contact, with Liz believing Brian would never want to hear from her again.

Then, 37 years later, their paths crossed.

“I was secretly hoping she'd realize the error of her ways and get in touch, but she didn't," Brian said.

“A couple of years after we split up, I was having lunch with a friend who told me Liz was getting married. Gutted, I felt sick and couldn't eat the rest of the meal. Years later, I was on the radio for something and still hoped Liz would hear it and get in touch."

Brian and Liz (PA Real Life/Collect)

Strangely, Liz did hear the broadcast in 1995.

“I remember it well because I was driving. Life was very busy and I suppose I didn't really know how I would get in touch with him, so I left it," she said.

During their time apart, Liz was married for 35 years to an army officer and had two children Sophie and Hugh, as well as three grandchildren.

Brian and Liz in Paris in 1971 (PA Real Life/Collect)

She became a teacher at the prestigious Wycombe Abbey Independent School in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, then a housemistress, eventually rising to a deputy head role, which she held for 17 years.

“I had a fulfilling career and two amazing children who brought me such joy," she said.

When they met again, both Liz and Brian had reached a crossroads, wondering how they would face retirement after such busy careers.

“I had been thinking for years, 'How will I manage this when I retire?' I hadn't been particularly happy," he said.

Brian moved abroad and worked for an insurance company in South America after university, before working all over the world as a company director serving on the boards of charities and publishers including Waterstones and Penguin Books.

He helped establish a political intelligence unit in London, became director of HM Prison Service and eventually chairman of Companies House and, in 2018, he was awarded an OBE for services to the economy.

Brian and Liz in Madeira this year (PA Real Life/Collect)

He married three times and had three children, Joseph, Alexandra, and Catherine.

After splitting up with Liz and moving to Argentina, he started writing a spy thriller series, basing the main character on her and continuing to use her as inspiration for his female characters in other novels he wrote.

“I was always thinking about Liz," he said.

“I would always use the phrase 'love of my life' when talking about her. And I had the same trepidation as Liz about approaching retirement."

Brian and Liz (PA Real Life/Collect)

In 2009 he published a non-fiction book called Empires Apart, about power in Russia and America, which he had discussed writing with Liz when they were students.

Just before the book was due to be published in 2008 he bumped into an old friend who told him where Liz was working.

“I thought I'd send her a flyer about the book. I thought it would be a good way of getting back in contact with her," Brian said.

When the envelope landed in her post box in the school staff room, Liz recognized the hand writing immediately.

“I flew down the corridor to my room so I could open it," Liz said.

“I read it very carefully, including the sign off, 'with the fondest regards,' which I took as meaning it would be okay for me to contact him. I was so happy and decided to get him to give a lecture to our sixth form girls."

Brian and Liz (PA Real Life/Collect)

Liz wrote to Brian, inviting him to lunch, which he accepted before canceling because he feared her telling him she was happily married.

In May 2009, they finally met on a Tuesday lunchtime at Joe Allen's restaurant in London's Covent Garden.

“I recognized him straight away. Although his hair was very grey, his hand gestures and the way he spoke were exactly the same," Liz said.

Brian and Liz on their wedding day December 19, 2015 (PA Real Life/Collect)

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And Brian immediately recognized her.

“She had a natural authority and enthusiasm for everything. Within five minutes we were chatting away as if we had lunch every week. It was really extraordinary," he said.

At their second meeting the following month, Liz had brought the jade engagement ring Brian had given her all those years ago.

Brian and Liz on their wedding day December 19, 2015 (PA Real Life/Collect)

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“Just before I got to the restaurant, I took it off, because I thought it was a bit presumptuous," Liz said.

“But he asked about it, so I showed him I still had it. I'd kept it all those years and often wore it."

Seeing the ring made Brian's day.

“It was a big sign for me, I was chuffed that she had kept it," he said.

As the spark between them ignited, they realized they had to end their respective marriages and be together again.

“We tried to do it as sensitively as we could. We were always thinking of the children and our families. It was not what we would have chosen, but we had to do it," Liz said.

At the beginning of 2012, Liz and Brian moved in together in Vauxhall.

Brian and Liz on holiday (PA Real Life/Collect)

“When we got back together I found a first draft of the book and had it typed up properly and printed, before giving it to Liz, who was really enthusiastic," he said.

“But it was terribly dated, so with her encouragement, I started to rewrite it. The main character, Julia Dylan, is based on Liz."

Then, in October 2015, Brian proposed at a seaside restaurant, not knowing Liz had also brought a ring and planned to propose that very same night.

Brian and Liz in 1971 (PA Real Life/Collect)

“It just felt like the right moment," Brian said.

“As they were showing us to our table I just asked her, 'Will you marry me?' We were half way between sitting and standing."

“Liz didn't reply, but was burrowing in her handbag for ages, then she nearly fell into the water and produced this ring."

Liz had been determined to propose to make up for breaking off their engagement before.

“I had the ring in my bag. Brian knew nothing about it so we both proposed to each other," she said.

Then, on December 19 2015, the pair tied the knot at London's Chelsea Town Hall.

“It was a beautiful day. My son-in-law sang lots of songs including The Beatles' 'Long and Winding Road', which felt apt," she said.

Brian and Liz at Buckingham Palace in 2018 when Brian was awarded an OBE for services to the economy (PA Real Life/Collect)

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😐

On their honeymoon in Grenada in the Caribbean, Liz picked up a bug, and after blood tests discovered she had leukemia.

“It's not on the extreme end. It does give a bit of bite to life, but I've been living with it for a few years and it's not stopped us enjoying ourselves. I've still been able to travel," she said.

“I had six months of chemotherapy, which put it into remission, so it's likely I'll need further medication in the future."

Brian and Liz (PA Real Life/Collect)

“But we are very happy. We both lived rich and fulfilling lives and have five wonderful children between us, which we celebrate. They are the most important thing to us," she said.

Brian is looking forward to spending his dotage with “the love of his life."

“We just want to grow old together and enjoy each other's company for as long as we can," he said.

Families of Spies – the first of Brian's four spy thrillers, is being published in June by Red Door Press, with a second following in July. For more information, click here.