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Fame & Fortune
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Does her fiction spring from a subconscious sense of nobility?
Celebrity interview

'Woman of Substance' has mysterious past

Not only was best-selling author Barbara Taylor Bradford surprised to learn she had a secret life, she was dumbfounded to discover she'd been writing about it for 30 years in her own novels.

Barbara Taylor was raised in the working-class neighborhood of Upper Armley, Leeds, in Yorkshire, England, the only child of a laborer and a nanny. A model student with a facility for words, she dodged university to pursue journalism, first as a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post and soon after as a rising star on post-war Fleet Street.

On a blind date in 1961, Barbara met American actor and film producer Robert Bradford. Their marriage two years later ultimately led to a most creative and lucrative collaboration.

Barbara hit the best-seller lists with her 1979 debut, "A Woman of Substance," the first novel in her widely popular family saga that centers on Emma Harte, an impoverished shopkeeper who claws her way to become an international department store magnate.

Bob Bradford not only took on the personal management duties for his best-selling wife, but produced a highly successful string of made-for-TV movies based on her novels.

It wasn't until biographer Piers Dudgeon confronted Barbara with research for their collaborative 2006 biography, "The Woman of Substance," that the author learned a shocking family secret: Her mother was apparently the illegitimate daughter of the Marquess of Ripon. In British peerage, a marquess ranks below a duke and above an earl. It is Dudgeon's opinion that Barbara's secret noble lineage subconsciously manifested itself in Emma Harte's story.

The energetic Barbara remains constantly at work in her Manhattan home, crafting intricate family sagas and dedicating each to her husband. Her latest novel, "The Ravenscar Dynasty," ushers in a whole new family, no doubt filled with secrets and intrigues worthy of the master storyteller.

Bradford took a break from a book tour stop in Chicago to chat with Bankrate about fame, fortune -- and unexpected surprises.

Bankrate: Much of your fiction comes from your life, yes?

Barbara Taylor Bradford: Yes, it's mostly about the influence of my mother and my childhood and wanting to be a writer and journalist and selling a short story when I was 10 years old and keeping going with all those ambitions. Looking back, I think, my God, I must really have had a lot of guts when I was 15 and got a job on a newspaper, even though it was only as a typist. I was a reporter a year later, so what does that tell you?

Bankrate: You came to Fleet Street shortly after World War II.

Barbara Taylor Bradford: Yes, I was there in the 1950s, actually. I started working on the Yorkshire Evening Post and then I moved to London, where I was on a women's magazine, which I loathed because all the women went in hats, you know. So for a while I wore a hat when I went to work. But I wanted my dirty trench coat back! (laughs) So I soon got a job on the London Evening News; I got myself back into newspapers.

Next: "I always wanted to be a novelist. ..."
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