The first thing you notice about Jane Hawking is that she talks dead posh, writes Ted Sullivan.
The first wife of the famous Stephen and author of Travelling to Infinity which inspired the smash hit movie about their lives ‘The Theory of Everything‘ speaks in the rounded vowels and grammatically perfect cadences of the well educated and well connected. (She has a PhD in medieval Spanish poetry from Cambridge).
And this is the Jane Hawking (now Hellyer Jones) who came to Oundle in late January to converse about her life with the world’s most famous scientist and her new career as a novelist (her first work of fiction Silent Music was published in 2016).
“It was a long time before I could reconcile my life with Stephen Hawking,” she explained to the capacity audience at Oundle School’s Great Hall. “Whether I wanted it or not, Stephen’s reputation had brought our life into the public arena and I had little option but to write it down.”
She feels that even Stephen Hawking himself, restricted to a wheelchair for most of his adult life because of Motor Neurone Disease, would not have known as much as she did about the situation that faced them and their three children.
She spoke in measured tones from a prepared script and was politely received, as if addressing a church congregation. The uncharitable observer might say her lecture contained minimal amounts of humour, but perhaps it would be fairer to say that such jokes as there were might have had currency at a vicarage fete, but would not have gone down well as stand up. Jo Brand she definitely ain’t.
No one who has read her book or seen the film (starring Oscar winning Eddie Redmayne as Stephen and Felicity Jones as Jane) would be in any doubt that she went through a considerable amount of shit over decades to keep their lives afloat.
Although she never says so explicitly, it’s also abundantly clear that without Jane, her severely disabled husband would probably not have survived or been able to achieve his remarkable career success. Bolstered by her Christian faith, she took on this burden willingly, knowing what to expect: acting as her husband’s sole carer, raising their three children, looking after their home and acting as chauffeur and travel organiser for their many trips around the world.
“I wanted to reveal the stark horrors of motor neurone disease, particularly for the families and carers of the victims and their exhausted families.”
Also beyond question is the fact that the film, and the subsequent ice bucket challenge, have helped raise awareness and millions in funding for MND research. (£7 million according to Jane) Eddie Redmayne has now joined Stephen Hawking as a patron of the MND Association.
Jane and Stephen divorced in 1995 but have maintained amicable relations. She recently attended his 75th birthday celebrations in Cambridge complete with fireworks. What’s her final judgement on that relationship?
“There were four partners to our marriage. Stephen, me, motor neurone disease and the goddess of physics.”
Now that’s a dead posh way to end a literary evening.