'Richard wasn't perfect'

Kathryn Apanowicz talks about how she has coped since the death of her beloved partner, Countdown host Richard Whiteley, as her book on his life, Richard By Kathryn, is published.

More than a year has passed since the death of Countdown host Richard Whiteley, but the pain of losing him is still horribly raw for his long-term partner, actress and radio presenter Kathryn Apanowicz.

Not a day goes by without her shedding some tears for the man jokingly nicknamed 'Twice Nightly' Whiteley, whose dreadful dress sense and terrible jokes made him a teatime TV favourite.

Neither has she been able to watch Countdown since his death.

"I just can't watch anybody else sitting in that chair, I'm afraid," she says frankly.

Kathryn has remained in the home she created with him in the Yorkshire Dales and has no intention of moving. She doesn`t want to leave somewhere she loves, and which holds so many happy memories.

His clothes still hang in the wardrobe and all his other bits and pieces are in their usual place.

"This is our house. I'm not going to start throwing things out - that's madness. I've left things as they are. It's awful going in and removing everything of the person.

"Eventually his shoes and his clothes will go, but not yet," she says.

Richard left some 4 million in his will, with substantial bequests to Kathryn and to James, his son from a previous relationship. But no amount of money can make up for his loss.

Kathryn admits she couldn't have coped without the support of her friends, who have been there for her since Richard's death, aged 61, after a heart operation.

"Friends and family have been fantastic. Somebody rings every day. People I wasn't particularly close to prior to his death have just turned up trumps."

Sundays are particularly difficult, Kathryn says. With Richard they were always great fun - having people round for lunch or visiting friends. It was sociable, busy and there was always laughter.

Thankfully, Kathryn's friends now rally round to help fill her Sundays, but she still finds it difficult: "I'm just waiting for that day when there isn't something to do."

She keeps in touch with Countdown co-presenter Carol Vorderman – dubbed his "second wife". They are doing the Great North Run together later this year to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care, one of Richard's favourite charities.

Today, Kathryn doesn't want to talk about how she's going to move on, although she knows she will have to. She has just completed her own tribute to Richard in a book, Richard By Kathryn, which charts his life and all the happy memories.

"I wrote it because Richard had got stuff to do another book. He'd always said he'd write part two of his memoirs. And when somebody dies you want to keep their memory alive."

It was a painful process to go through all the old photographs, some of which are featured in the book, but then Kathryn realised that most of them were happy, smiling pictures.

"They bring back happy memories," she reflects. "Of course I've wept. There's not a day goes by when I don't have a tear or a little bit of a weep but that's just part of my way of getting through it."

What she never realised, she says, was Richard's immense popularity. When he was in hospital after his heart operation, it would take Kathryn several hours each day to read the cards and letters from well-wishers, she recalls.

"I had to resort to using a letter opener because my fingers were so sore from opening the envelopes. They came from all sorts of people, from mums in Ireland to Alan Whicker and David Jason. When he died, one of the first bouquets of flowers I got was from the Duchess of York. It was quite extraordinary the way he touched people's lives. There were a quarter of a million emails sent, which is extraordinary. Some of the letters were so touching, I just cried and cried."

The huge turnout at Richard's memorial at York Minster last November further proved how he had touched the nation.

"I thought we'd have the memorial at Giggleswick School (where Richard was a pupil) and I was told we'd need somewhere bigger than that.

"York Minster very kindly agreed to hold it there and I can remember thinking, oh my God, it's enormous! It's going to be really embarrassing if nobody turns up. Well, they had to put extra seating in."

Nearly 2,500 packed into the cathedral and many more spilled outside.

"The pavement was packed with people who couldn`t get in. It was quite unbelievable."

Kathryn has her own theories about why the portly presenter with the striped suits and loud ties was so popular with the public.

"He'd come into your home every night at teatime and there was no side to him. What you saw was what you got. He didn't put on a 'Mr Happy, I'm A Comedian' act and then go home and weep into his soup. That's what he was.

"Also, he wasn't perfect, he made mistakes, he did things wrong, and people liked that. He wasn't Mr Slick. In an age where people are very slick and very clever, it was quite refreshing. I'm not saying he was dumb because he was far from it. He was a very intelligent man, very bright and clever."

Kathryn, 46, had known Richard for almost 30 years. Born in Bradford, the daughter of a Polish RAF pilot, she first met Richard when she was a teenager doing a children's programme for Yorkshire Television. He was a reporter and anchorman on the news programme Calendar.

"He was always with politicians and I thought he was a bit pompous," she laughs. "I was doing things with pop groups.

"He became a friend first, then after about six months, he came over and said he had two tickets for the theatre. I just said, oh thanks, and took them and walked off. Then I thought, oh blimey, did he want to go with me? He was a bit dumbstruck, but that was the first date we had."

The romance began when she was 18 and he was 34 and had already been married and divorced. It was initially shortlived because Kathryn went to London to pursue an acting career - later gaining parts in the nurse drama Angels, EastEnders and Coronation Street - but they always kept in touch. When Kathryn returned to Yorkshire when her father fell ill, their relationship resumed.

Kathryn stopped working to become the homemaker, but didn't resent that at all as she'd worked from such a young age. "I enjoyed looking after him, being with him, and he liked me to be there for him. He wasn't difficult or pernickety."

There have been times in the last year when Kathryn really hasn't wanted to get out of bed in the morning, but she does manage to fill her days and is hoping to throw herself into more work.

"I've always been a person who can keep busy. I get on with things and work at Radio York as well. I'd like to throw myself back into work now I've finished the book.

"And Richard would be keen for me to do that. He'd say, 'Come on, get out and do something'."