Ex wife of fallen City guru Neil Woodford who is facing the fury of investors after shutting them out of their savings tells how he dumped her for his younger secretary while they were out walking their dogs
- Neil Woodford was Britain’s best-known fall manager but has fallen from grace
- Though they divorced years ago, Jo Woodford still has money invested in his firm
- Woodford left his wife for a 6ft blonde secretary 17 years younger than Jo
- He also set up home with his new love just 70 yards from the home where Jo lived
- The fund manager is battling to save his empire after years of poor performance
Jo Woodford was left high and dry by her ex husband Neil who abruptly ended their marriage and left her for a younger secretary
Like the tens of thousands who placed their savings in her ex-husband’s failing investment fund, Jo Woodford knows exactly how it feels to be left high and dry.
Before Neil Woodford abruptly ended their marriage – ‘ripping my world from beneath me’ – the couple were happy, or so she thought.
Her husband was Britain’s best-known fund manager and his Midas touch was credited with ‘making Middle England rich’. He was even feted by the Queen.
Last week, the reports of his fall from grace, as dramatic as his overnight rise, left Jo riveted. Even though they divorced many years ago, she still has money invested in his firm.
It emerged that after his stock picks tanked, Woodford stopped customers taking their money out of his flagship Woodford Equity Income Fund, prompting nationwide fury.
The fund – whose assets have fallen by almost £6 billion in just two years – is now expected to be closed for many months.
When customers learned that Woodford creamed off huge bonuses, they grew angrier still. In the space of a few days, the former City darling became public enemy number one.
Jo’s own life-altering loss at his hands came one Sunday morning in February 2007 while the couple were walking their four German Shepherd dogs in the ten-acre grounds of their manor house near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. ‘He said he was leaving,’ Jo recalls, her voice trembling.
There was someone else and it couldn’t have been more humiliating. The other woman was his secretary, a 6ft blonde who was 17 years younger than Jo.
To add further insult, her husband, now 59, set up home with his new love in the gamekeeper’s cottage – just 70 yards from the main house where Jo remained, alone.
On several occasions over the next few months her rival would pull up her horse alongside her and looking down, remark haughtily: ‘Isn’t it time you left?’
Britain’s best-known fund manager has suffered a fall from grace after he stopped customers taking their money out of his flagship Woodford Equity Income Fund, prompting nationwide fury
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Jo recalls how ‘the whole of Henley knew of the affair’ before her, and says she believes her failure to bear children contributed, in part, to the break-up.
She survived a rare cancer in her 20s – at one point she was given six months to live – and believes the chemotherapy left her infertile.
Jo is also critical of Woodford’s decision to remove money from his business – as much as £63 million – and says she still has a ‘substantial’ sum of her own invested with him. Perhaps surprisingly, she predicts he will be able to turn his affairs around.
Their life together wasn’t always so gilded – they first met at the Trustee Savings Bank in the mid-1980s. She was a 30-year-old working-class girl from East London who worked as PA to the chief executive, while he, at 25, was a junior analyst. They married in 1987 and lived in a modest house in suburban Maidenhead.
Their fortunes, however, transformed overnight in 2000 when Woodford made millions of pounds by avoiding the dotcom stock market crash. He had stubbornly stuck to his guns – and against the wishes of his bosses – by refusing to invest in the bubble around technology companies.
With their new-found wealth, they bought Fingest Manor, a Grade II listed property with a team of household staff. They also bought a picturesque farm on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. Exotic holidays and Ferraris followed. But 20 years later the dream turned sour.
Jo recalls: ‘We went out for a walk on a Sunday morning. Neil seemed out of sorts and I said to him, ‘What’s up? You seem very down and low, and I can’t seem to do the right thing.’
Horse-mad Neil Woodford with Madelaine, the 6ft blonde secretary he left wife Jo for in 2007
He said, ‘I’m leaving.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, you’re leaving?’ He said he had spoken to an estate agent and already had a flat lined up that he was moving in to.
‘My world was just ripped away from beneath me, it was just unbelievable. I was shocked, and remained shocked for a long time.’
Looking back, Jo said there were ‘signs’ that she hadn’t noticed at the time. ‘He wanted to do his hair differently and clothes were going out of the wardrobe – ‘I don’t like this any more’ – and I thought it was a bit of a mid-life crisis. But it was much worse than that.’
He revealed to Jo that he was leaving for his secretary Madelaine White, who was 12 years younger than him. She said: ‘This all came out of nowhere, all I had said was, ‘How are you’ on a Sunday morning walk. I couldn’t grasp what he was telling me. I ran all the way from the top of the fields where we were right down to the house, with the dogs chasing after me.
‘I arrived at the house and he followed me in. That’s when I said, ‘Who might it be then?’ He wouldn’t tell me at first. I said, ‘Come on, is it so and so and he said no. I said, is it Madelaine? Then he said, ‘Yes, and we’ve been together for six months.’ It turned out all of Henley knew about it, the office knew because they made it quite open at the Christmas party.’
Madelaine, then 35, had been Woodford’s secretary at Invesco Perpetual, based in Henley-on-Thames, for several years before the affair began. Jo said: ‘I found out they had a little love nest in Henley where they would get together. I said to Neil, “Couldn’t you have gone any further than the end of your desk if you weren’t happy?”‘
In truth, cracks in the marriage had surfaced a few years earlier. Jo said: ‘He moved out for three months but soon came crawling back. I know it sounds bad but I took him back because I felt like I was partly to blame. I had been spending more time away from him at the house in Devon. I escaped there really because I was going through a horrible early menopause and I was not in a good place.’
After that, Jo said their marriage was ‘better than ever,’ but the shock revelation that he was in a relationship with Madelaine was the final curtain. If being jilted for a younger woman was not bad enough, Neil then announced to Jo’s dismay that he intended to move Madelaine into the marital home at Fingest Manor. First they made do with the gatekeeper’s cottage. He bought Madelaine several horses and a brand new £95,000 horse box.
The ‘poisonous atmosphere’ during this period still makes Jo shudder. ‘While I was walking the dogs, Madelaine would ride up to me and say: ‘Isn’t it time you left?’
‘I got that many times, believe it or not I kept my dignity. It was a very unnecessary year, it didn’t have to be like that. It took me a good seven years to get over it. Why would you do that to someone? I will never be able to forgive him for that year, what he put me through.’
Jo said she had to fight through the courts to get a decent divorce settlement which eventually had to be decided by a High Court judge. She said: ‘The divorce battle was acrimonious but I felt I was in court against her rather than him.’ Jo claimed Madelaine ‘completely changed’ Neil and that he seemed ‘scared’ of her. She added: ‘He is no longer the man I knew but then again, did I ever really know him?’
She said they had to hurriedly divide up all of their possessions in one day because Neil was worried about upsetting Madelaine.
Jo said: ‘He said, ‘I can only do it this weekend because Madelaine is away riding.’ He was so nervous about upsetting Madelaine, that she would be cross that we had spent time together…I was finding it all very bizarre and depressing about him. I thought, ‘Where is your backbone? Where is the man I thought I knew? Madelaine is an insecure lady, even until this day. After the divorce was over and done with, and we were happy with the settlement, me and Neil would keep in touch once or twice a year.
‘I had a very good outcome from the divorce and was happy. I’ve known him since he was 25 so why would I not keep in touch with him? I am not vindictive, I want to move on. I would text him a couple of times a year to see how he was but Madelaine put a stop to it.’ One of Neil’s employees messaged her three years ago to say that Neil was ‘really sorry’ but she was not to contact him any more.
‘Neil did not have the balls to call me or text me himself,’ she said.
Jo believes one of the factors in her divorce from Neil was that she failed to give him children. She had survived the rare cancer in her 20s and believes the chemotherapy and radiotherapy left her infertile. But she claims that Neil and his late mother Pamela were shockingly insensitive to her about it.
Jo said: ‘He used to say, ‘Who am I going to leave all this to?’ I thought, ‘Well, I don’t mean to have all these miscarriages.’ I did my best. I lost two sets of twins, I had about seven miscarriages in all.
‘It was not for the want of trying. Then I had a stillborn boy and that was the end of it for me. I had a bout of depression. I think I realised I was 39, I’ve got to stop this. I thought I’ve got to be grateful for what I have rather than chasing what I can’t have.
‘He is quite a selfish man, quite like his mum. When I was a child I was taught to offer my last sweet – if you have one left you offer it and if they take it, then tough luck.
‘But what he was taught by his mum was, ‘He who gets there first, gets most.’ That’s how he was brought up, and really I should have seen it as a warning sign.
‘The first thing she said to me when I came out of the hospital having lost the little boy, after many years of miscarriages, was not, ‘How are you?’. She said to me, ‘Well I’m never going to be a grandmother now.’ ‘
Jo admitted it was painful to discover eight years ago that Madelaine had given birth to a boy with Neil. The couple also now have a five-year-old daughter. She said: ‘It hurt, but also I am happy for Neil because that is what he wanted.’
Neil and Madelaine now live in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, in a house bought for £13.7 million in 2013. They built a state-of-the-art equestrian centre and Neil has taken to competing in amateur three-day eventing.
Jo said: ‘Madelaine is obsessed with horses so Neil has got in to it. We had some ponies in Devon which we adored but it’s funny to see him on a horse. He was always more interested in bashing up Ferraris around race tracks.
‘An old neighbour of mine told me she used to share stables with Madelaine years ago – before she met Neil – and Madelaine told her that her one aim in life was to find a man who could set her up in the equestrian world. Well, she’s got what she wants in life.’
Despite all that her ex-husband put her through, Jo revealed she still has ‘substantial’ funds invested with him and that she remains optimistic that he ‘will come up smelling of roses’ despite his current financial woes.
Woodford is battling to save his empire after years of poor performance prompted investors to withdraw billions of pounds in recent months. On Monday, he took the drastic step of stopping savers taking money out of the Woodford Equity Income Fund. The move has sparked a backlash from investors and from the wider fund management industry.
Prestigious wealth manager St James’s Place fired Mr Woodford last week from managing £3.5 billion of client funds. Investment firm Omnis also sacked Mr Woodford from running its £330 million Income & Growth fund.
The once-feted fund manager now faces probes by Parliament and City regulators at the Financial Conduct Authority. But he has refused to cut £100,000-a-day management fees he earns for locked-out savers.
Jo revealed: ‘I have lost a lot of money since last March. My financial advisers are saying, ‘Look, enough is enough, Jo’ but I am loath to part with my money. I did move a substantial amount of money out of his fund last year and put it elsewhere, but I kept a substantial amount of money with him.
‘I don’t know the man now, people change or do different things depending on who they are with, maybe, but I can’t help but think when I was with him that his decisions were always made from hard work and that is why I hope he still does that, that he wouldn’t have made those decisions lightly.’
However Jo, like many of Woodford’s investors, has questioned the high sums he has paid himself in recent years. Woodford paid himself and his business partner Craig Newman nearly £37 million in the 2017-18 financial year. In all, he has taken around £63 million out of the business in the past five years, although an undisclosed amount was reinvested or given to charity.
Jo said: ‘Has he lost his marbles? That’s what people are saying. It was disappointing to hear he paid himself such a lot at a time he’s not performing very well. To me that looks like is he going to exit somehow.’
Last night, Woodford and his wife Madelaine declined to comment.
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