By Barbara Davies
PUBLISHED: 16:11 EST, 30 November 2012 | UPDATED: 06:08 EST, 1 December 2012
At first glance, it would be easy to assume that the vibrant blonde in the backless wedding dress and the handsome man resting his hand on her waist had just become husband and wife.
In fact, this photograph, taken two years ago at the wedding of BBC News presenter Sophie Long, shows her gazing into the eyes, not of her groom, but of her colleague, Tim Willcox.
The image, snapped by a guest at 35-year-old Sophie’s 2010 nuptials in Cornwall, came to light this week after it emerged she and 49-year-old Tim, also a presenter on BBC News, have left their respective spouses and set up home together.
Hands-on: Bride Sophie Long with colleague Tim Wilcox, and his wife Sarah (behind him), on her wedding day in 2010
Sophie’s cuckolded husband, yacht salesman Will Green, has been left devastated by his wife’s betrayal, as has Tim’s wife of 17 years, Sarah, the mother of his three children and a devout Catholic.
Incidentally, dark-haired Mrs Willcox, 49, a retired Brigadier’s daughter, can also be seen in the photograph, standing to the right of her husband — blissfully unaware that the bride she was beaming at would one day snatch her husband away.
‘Sarah knew Sophie was Tim’s friend, but considered this entirely normal,’ says a friend. ‘There was no reason to suspect anything was going on. This made news of the relationship even more horrendous.’
Sources say that in recent weeks, Sarah Willcox has been torturing herself over how long her husband’s infidelity has been going on.
The friend who spoke to the Mail this week said: ‘Sarah is an extremely traditional wife and mother — this has absolutely devastated her. She just didn’t see it coming.
Newlywed: Sophie Long on her wedding day to Will Green in 2010
‘Tim always seemed to be working — or at least was meant to be working. Sarah didn’t give it a second thought.
‘Now she’s working out all the dates in her mind — all the excuses, all the broken appointments, all the days when he said he was doing his TV work, but could easily have been with Sophie instead.’
News of the affair became public this week after sources at the BBC said Sophie and Tim, who previously co-presented on the BBC News channel, will no longer appear on screen together.
Those who know Tim describe his feelings towards Sophie as a ‘genuine coup de foudre’.
‘He is a very honourable man,’ said one, ‘and this has played heavily on his conscience.’
others in his social circle paint a picture of a man living a double
life, dividing his time between the family’s idyllic £700,000 riverside
home in Oxfordshire and his London flat.
just as Tim has spent periods apart from his wife, Sophie has also been
frequently apart from her 36-year-old husband, Will.
several years she has kept a small flat in Hammersmith, West London,
while her husband has remained at the couple’s Georgian cottage in
Plymouth, where he works as sales director for a luxury yacht company.
who know Tim and Sophie say it was inevitable they would have been
thrown together, as they were both totally immersed in London’s
fast-paced media lifestyle.
Yet, on the surface, Tim appeared to be the archetypal family man.
in Wellington, Somerset, he was educated privately at Taunton School,
where he became head boy. He studied Spanish at Durham University and
played the trumpet so well he was selected to become a member of the
British Youth Symphony Orchestra. His brother, Reuben Willcox, is a
world-class baritone opera singer.
Tim’s professional beginnings as a newspaper reporter in the early
Nineties revealed a slightly wilder side to his character.
Lovebirds: Tim Willcox and Sophie Long have allegedly told their partners about the affair and are smitten
While making a living reporting on the love lives of the likes of Princess Diana and Andrew Lloyd Webber, he was part of a hard-working, hard-drinking group of Fleet Street journalists, many of whom were much older than him.
He was a regular sight in some of the capital’s trendiest bars and private clubs, dressed immaculately in Savile Row pinstripe suits and shiny brogues.
‘Tim had natural tabloid instincts combined with a raffish, upper-class charm,’ says one former colleague. ‘He could turn his hand to any story. He became a royal correspondent in his 20s, mixing very well with lords and ladies.
‘He would arrange lunches with friends and the drinking would go on all afternoon and then well into the night. These sessions were always raucous occasions and Tim was in his element.’
Tim and Sophie together this week as they left her London flat
It was while working at the Sunday Mirror that Tim met his wife, Sarah, a sub editor at Mirror Group Newspapers.
‘Tim was at the height of his wild partying days when he met Sarah,’ says the source who spoke to the Mail.
‘She taught him how to calm down — to
spend a few nights at home each week.
‘Tim is intelligent and well- educated but needed someone to sort out his wild streak. This is what Sarah did.’
The pair wed in September 1995 at the 13th century parish church in Dry Sandford in Oxfordshire, close to Sarah’s parents.
After setting up home in Islington, North London, where the first two of their children were born, they moved to Oxfordshire, first to the idyllic village of Combe and then to Wootton.
As Tim’s career blossomed, first on newspapers and then with the BBC — where highlights included being the only journalist to be granted an interview with President Pinera of Chile after the miners’ rescue in August 2010 — so the family’s lifestyle became more glamorous.
They have a stunning family home on the edge of the River Glyme and their children attend top private schools. One son is being educated at one of Britain’s most expensive schools with fees of £31,000 a year.
Having given up work to raise her family, Sarah Willcox immersed herself in the life of an upper-middle-class mother, even becoming a member of her local parish council. But financing this lifestyle has become a heavy burden for Tim, according to the friend who spoke to the Mail.
‘While Tim’s profile has increased
massively over the past few years, he is still not one of the BBC’s big
money earners. He has stretched himself massively when it comes to his
paid a heavy price for the very middle-class trappings they’ve acquired
in recent years, and the irony is that in attempting to sustain this
idyllic lifestyle, the family has ended up being pulled apart.’
for a time Tim commuted between Oxfordshire and London on a motorbike,
he also rented a bachelor pad in Westminster — which allowed him to keep
up his ‘man-about-town’ image.
Colleagues: The pair apparently became close while working alongside each other on the BBC news channel
Following the revelations about the pair leaving their respective partners for each other they were told they would no longer work alongside each other on the channel
‘He gallivanted around on a motor scooter,’ says the source, ‘popping into parties and pubs. He said he loved having a place in London because it allowed him freedom from the family during the week, before returning to domestic life at the weekend.’
Sophie Long clearly found herself in
much the same position. The daughter of a solicitor, she was born in
Devon in 1976 and raised in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset.
She'd removed her ring by the end of the week
After school, she graduated from King’s College, London, with a degree in war studies and worked as an election monitor in Cambodia before returning to the UK, where she worked as a newsroom assistant for ITN.
In 2000, at the age of 23, she became the first recipient of the Jill Dando BBC bursary which she used to finance her broadcast journalism course at Falmouth College of Arts.
Much of her early career was spent in the south-west, where she began working for BBC Radio Cornwall. It was during this period she is believed to have met retired optometrist’s son Will Green.
A lengthy engagement ensued, while Sophie moved around the country pursuing her career, working for Midlands Today and BBC Radio Shropshire, before returning to Plymouth, where she presented the regional news programme Spotlight and the south-west edition of The Politics Show.
The couple bought a house together six years ago, but when Sophie was offered the chance to work on the BBC News Channel, London beckoned.
At the same time, her fiancé Will’s career with Princess International took him to boat launches all over the world.
Country home: The family home of Sarah and Tim Willcox inWootton by Woodstock, Oxfordshire
Closed gates: Sarah and Tim Willcox live with their four children in the Oxfordshire countryside. Mrs Willcox is the clerk to the parish council
While their busy schedules may not
have been the ideal foundation upon which to build a marriage, those who
attended their romantic wedding at St Winnow church on the banks of the
Fowey estuary in June 2010 did not suspect for a moment that the
relationship would fall apart so quickly.
according to one guest at the wedding, where Tim serenaded the bride
and groom on his trumpet: ‘Tim wasn’t just there as another colleague.
It was obvious at this early stage that he and Sophie had a very close
bond. He spent a lot of time talking to her at the wedding. They really
were very good friends.’
Will is said to have been ‘devastated’ after his wife broke the news of her affair with Tim several weeks ago.
City crash pad: The West London flat belonging to BBC presenter Sophie Long. The family home she was sharing with her husband is in Plymouth
Retired priest John Halkes, who
officiated at the couple’s wedding and is a close friend of Will’s
mother, Lesley, said: ‘They were absolutely lovely. It is all very sad,
as it is when any marriage ends.’
Exactly when Sophie and Tim began their affair is not clear.
Despite falling head-over-heels in love with his younger colleague, Tim is said to have agonised over his decision to walk out on his family, going on a make-or-break holiday with them in September while he tried to make up his mind whether to stay or leave.
A family photograph taken during the holiday shows his smiling wife, unaware of the crisis ahead. Tim is thought to have broken the news of his affair soon afterwards.
The source said: ‘You can’t keep something like this quiet if you’re a household-name newsreader. Tim knew it would get out, so he took the decision to tell each member of his family what was happening.
‘The children took it like anybody of their age who is told their family life is never going to be the same again — they were distraught. Nothing can prepare children for this kind of shock.’
Now the two families pulled apart by the romance between Tim and Sophie are deciding how best to move on with their lives. Sophie and Will’s Plymouth home is up for sale for £335,000, and she and Tim are sharing her small flat close to the BBC’s studios.
This week, while Sarah Willcox was seen still wearing a ring on her wedding finger, Tim and Sophie were seen walking hand in hand near their shared home.
Wrapped up against the cold in scarves and coats, they paused at a nearby pub for a post-work drink before returning to Sophie’s flat. Those who saw them said there was little doubt they are in love.
Presenting onscreen this week, Sophie was accompanied, not by Tim, but by Jon Sopel, another presenter who was a guest at her wedding.
She began the week wearing her wedding ring but had removed it by the end, and at times seemed flustered as she broke news of the devastating floods that have swamped parts of Wales — which is perhaps no surprise, given the stormy events she’s been battling off-screen.