When Jane took up with her ex, Linda felt upstaged by her lookalike. So how are they now friends? 

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It was Christmas Eve. The tradition for more than 20 years, thanks to my German husband, had been a European-style clan gathering at home. Real candles on the tree, at least 20 feasting around the table and opening presents the night before Christmas rather than on the day itself.

This year was going to be different, though. My husband, Christian, and I had been separated for close to three years and I’d had a new man in my life for two. But now my ex had a new, younger woman. This year she was going to be the hostess, in her apartment, and — civilised folk that we were trying to be — my new partner, Ronny, and I were going along with Thomas, the son my ex and I shared.

The plan — my plan, at least — was to get drunk as fast as possible. And, no matter how lovely the new man in my life, to do so while looking so good that the old one might feel a stab of regret at what he had left behind.

Creating a mini tornado in my dressing room, I settled on a sleeveless, figure-hugging, knee-length red dress and vertiginous black patent heels. A cliche, perhaps, but with a strong message. I’d show him — and her — that at 58 I was still a force to be reckoned with.

I told Ronny I’d chosen the dress on the grounds of red being a Christmassy colour; he merely raised an eyebrow.

I rang Jane’s bell and, as she opened the door, I wanted to turn on those heels. Tall, slim, dark and glamorous, with a mass of hair compared to my meagre locks, she was wearing an almost identical dress and heels. I gasped. She gasped. At least it broke the ice.

I thought of Jane when I saw the recent pictures of Jerry Hall, 66, enjoying a cosy lunch with her ex Mick Jagger, 79, their daughter Georgia May, 30, and Mick’s current squeeze and mother to his eighth child, Melanie Hamrick, 35. It was all smiles.

When Jane took up with her ex, Linda felt upstaged by her lookalike. So how are they now friends? 

Linda Kelsey (left) with her ex-husband’s partner Jane, who is eight years her junior. Despite the unusual circumstances, the pair have become close friends  

I thought of Jane when I saw the recent pictures of Jerry Hall, 66, enjoying a cosy lunch with her ex Mick Jagger, 79, their daughter Georgia May, 30, and Mick’s current squeeze and mother to his eighth child, Melanie Hamrick, 35

I thought of Jane when I saw the recent pictures of Jerry Hall, 66, enjoying a cosy lunch with her ex Mick Jagger, 79, their daughter Georgia May, 30, and Mick’s current squeeze and mother to his eighth child, Melanie Hamrick, 35

I understood Jerry said of her ex’s subsequent partners that, ‘I’m close with the mothers. It’s really important to me that there’s not conflict in the family’. But I’d bet the generosity behind those words and that big beam came at a price.

Though there are only eight years between Jane and me, I spent that wretched evening in 2011 sneaking glances at her toned arms, thinking how poorly mine measured up, and bitterly wishing I’d taken a cardigan.

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She seemed so confident and in charge; I felt myself shrinking. When she and Christian exchanged presents and showered Thomas with gifts, I felt physically sick. Christmas Eve was supposed to be our thing, not this interloper’s.

Theoretically, mine and Jane’s situation was much simpler than that of Jerry and Jagger’s other partners, especially as the seventh of Mick’s mighty brood was conceived while he and Jerry were still together.

My husband left after 23 years and I met Ronny soon after, a good while before Christian met Jane. No other parties were involved, life just moved on.

But feelings do not always run along rational lines, as any psychotherapist would be quick to point out. The presence of this new person in my ex’s life still hurt on a number of levels and the feelings took years to navigate.

First, I nursed the sense my husband had left to get away not only from me, but from the predictable life we were living.

Our ideas for the future diverged. He dreamt of travel, maybe living abroad, to the point of obsession.

Money became an issue. We lost the ability to back one another up, became cold and stopped communicating. It was as though he was in search of the free-spirited young man he had once been and our life together was holding him back.

Why, then, after he had roamed the world for some time, did he come back and get together with this woman who, if not a doppelganger, certainly seemed to have an uncanny amount in common with me?

Not only was Jane on the fringes of our shared social circle, with a number of mutual friends, and living in a neighbouring postcode, she also worked in a creative profession (she a successful film producer, me a successful editor and writer) and is Jewish — as am I — when he is not.

If Christian had been looking for a new way of being, I asked myself, why recreate an uncannily similar, parallel life with this younger, fresher, sparkier version of me?

It hurt far more than if he’d got together with my opposite. What’s more, Jane had a young daughter to whom he had become quite close. I had not been able to conceive a second child — was Jane’s daughter the little girl I couldn’t provide him with?

Then I started to hear through the grapevine that Christian and Jane had been out for dinner with this couple, or on short breaks with that one; all friends who had featured in my previous life.

On one occasion, my closest friend announced she was meeting up with the two of them and was that OK?

‘No!’ I said. ‘I don’t mind you meeting him — I don’t own him and you’ve been mates for years — but not her. I’m not ready for that.’ When she went anyway, it hurt, hugely, and I burst into tears, which shocked me as much as it did her.

It was as if I’d become a small child again, usurped by the new girl at school.

Did I feel sorry for myself and abandoned? You bet. I found myself withdrawing from certain people I had been fond of — or did they withdraw from me?

And Jane, however blameless, was at the centre of it.

There was the time my son mentioned he was ‘doing Friday night at Jane’s’. For secular Jews, Friday night dinner is a ritual that involves nothing more sacred than a quick prayer over the Sabbath candles, the breaking of challah bread and then on to the real business of chicken soup, roast chicken and convivial chat.

But it took me the entire weekend to get over that image of them all around her table.

When Thomas graduated from university, Christian and I drove up the M1 to attend the ceremony together. He and Jane had been a couple for a few years by now. While we were sitting and waiting for the proceedings to commence, a WhatsApp message pinged on his phone. I don’t remember the exact words, but they ran along the lines of: ‘Good morning, darling. A proud day for you. My love to Thomas…’

It was a sweet gesture. But maybe she was also reminding him who he was with now. For something else had occurred to me that Christmas Eve: perhaps the message behind Jane’s red dress was much the same as mine.

I mentioned this occasion to her the other day when we were at an art exhibition she had invited me to, and we laughed over the fact that, once again, we were in matching outfits — this time jeans, chunky black ankle boots and blazers with colourful sweaters underneath. Because the ironic thing is that, these days, Jane and I are good pals. From the ashes of my failed marriage rose the phoenix of an unexpected friendship that took off after she and Christian realised their own relationship wasn’t going to go the distance.

For all my misgivings, I had also noted, when we all met together in her apartment, that her warmth towards my son seemed genuine.

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And I had to concede I’d rather Christian be with someone smart and generous-spirited than someone I couldn’t respect.

However much I had hated that first evening from start to finish, the curious truth is, I had never hated Jane. Almost the opposite. I would still bump into her every now and again after she and Christian broke up, and a shift from politeness to something more meaningful began to take place.

If we met at a party, we would find ourselves chatting and inevitably end up in a corner talking about our main mutual interest — the ex.

She opened up about certain elements of their relationship and we ended up analysing this essentially good man who had got rather lost along the way for several reasons.

I suppose neither of us ever quite managed to work him out, but our feelings for him remained warm. For Jane’s part, she never seemed to have any particular issues with me because I was already with Ronny and it seemed clear to her that Christian and I weren’t going to get back together.

I didn’t pose a threat and, she has told me, she didn’t agonise.

We had met at various times over the years so I wasn’t this mysterious, scary or threatening figure and we didn’t need to be involved over Thomas because he was already an adult.

In other words, I was no big deal for her, while, for me, a sense of insecurity and unfinished business had hung in the air.

Maybe it will always be unfinished, but once Jane and Christian’s relationship was done, mine and Jane’s continued to develop.

We started arranging to meet for walks on our local heath. Over lockdown we played ping pong together outdoors. I enjoyed getting together with her and Twiggy, her adorable Cavapoo.

We seemed able to talk about most things — art, relationships, our kids, work, politics, clothes, ailments, movies, people we know, all the stuff of proper friendship.

More recently we’ve been in even closer contact, helping each other with all the red tape and tricky situations associated with sponsoring Ukrainian refugees we were planning to host.

Sometimes we don’t even mention Christian. I like having this strong, smart, resourceful woman in my life and suppose I should thank my ex-husband for making that possible.

Would I be friends with Jane today if she and he were still together? I do not know.

Because while you can bring your ex’s new partner into your life, I’m not sure you can ever bring her into your heart while she is firmly embedded in his.

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