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'A love that is doomed'.

Byline: By Jane Hall

These are the pictures that prove love can cross the age barrier ( all 25 years of it.

For Lady Elizabeth Devonport is a 58-year-old mother of two grown-up daughters while her beau, Mark Foxsmith, is a 33-year-old comprehensive schoolteacher from Bristol.

The pair have been "dating" each other since last summer when they were thrown together on the set of Channel 4's reality television programme, Regency House Party.

Despite attempts by the programme's production team to separate them, their love blossomed and has even overcome the 300 miles separating Bristol and Elizabeth's home in Riding Mill, Northumberland.

The pair's liaison has set tongues wagging in Tynedale, where they are often seen horseriding together and walking hand-in-hand. But they are revelling in their notoriety.

And they are adamant the age difference doesn't matter ( for now.

Because while Elizabeth and Mark are deeply in love, they know their romance is ultimately doomed. Mark would like to have children ( the one thing Elizabeth cannot give him.

"We are very good-humoured that we are in an impossible romance that can't possibly last," says Mark.

"It is doomed," Elizabeth agrees. "I don't want to be the person who stops Mark from having a family. Being so close makes all this the more tragic because it will be so much harder when we do finally part.

"We said our goodbyes at the end of the programme and said we would never see each other again, but within three days Mark had come north. We couldn't bear to be apart.

"This thing is bigger than the both of us. But I am trying to be realistic. The passionate part of any relationship only lasts for a couple of years and we have only had one year of it.

"Perhaps if we give it another year, we may think it is not so bad to part. We are currently in the middle of the mad, bad part of it all. But I can't deny that I cry at night when I think about it."

Mark is spending Easter at Elizabeth's large hilltop home. They are sitting in the kitchen which overlooks the Tyne Valley, each nursing a cup of coffee.

In the adjoining living room scores of photographs of Mark and Elizabeth laughing and hugging each other like a typical pair of lovers jostle for space with others of family and friends.

As he caresses Elizabeth's right hand, Mark says: "I want to get married and have children and be relatively normal, and I emphasise relatively normal. `Normal' would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me.

"But one thing Lady D said to me was, `I've had my life, now it's time for you to have yours'. When she was my age, she had two daughters aged one and four, so I feel my biological clock is ticking."

"I did say I would be godmother to his children," Elizabeth laughs. "I'm two-thirds of the way through my life, but that doesn't mean we don't love each other. It is just really bad timing." Mark says: "It is really rotten timing. I have finally met someone I could spend the rest of my life with. She really complements me and is the person I want. We think the same, we both hate boarding schools and are the middle child [ETH] We have a huge amount of love for one another. What could we do?"

Elizabeth, dressed in a smart red, military-style jacket, jeans and high heeled boots, and with her hair cut in a flattering, feathery short style, certainly doesn't look like a woman nearing 60.

She is full of vitality, which attracted Mark's attention from day one of Regency House Party, in which he played the part of Mr Foxsmith, a gentleman cleric and tutor.

A real-life titled woman ( Elizabeth was married to Viscount Devonport for 11 years and bore him two children, Velvet, 28, and Idonia, 26 ( she was a `noble' chaperone on the programme at Kentchurch Court in Herefordshire which saw 10 men and women transported back 200 years.

Regency House Party recreated, down to the smallest detail life in 1811. At the heart of the experiment were the dating rituals of the day.

Etiquette did not allow for an older woman to fall for a much younger man. Hardly surprising then that Mark and Elizabeth's romance has raised eyebrows in two centuries ( the early 1800s as recreated by Channel 4 and the modern day, where a liaison between an older woman and younger man is still frowned upon.

Their growing attachment in the artificially re-created world of Regency England was not at first welcomed by the production crew. But once it became apparent Mark and Elizabeth could not be torn asunder, they were left to get on with their affair, not always as discreetly as they might. In one episode, Elizabeth was seen reclining in a hammock while Mark told her he would sleep with her before the end of the show.

Elizabeth recalls with glee one day when the maid came into her room and found Mark in her bed, then carried on her duties as normal. "When I left the house the Countess, whose room had been next to mine, said, `Goodbye, naughty neighbour'."

Mark and Elizabeth describe their relationship over the nine weeks of the series as like a holiday romance.

"It was very intense," Elizabeth says. In the formal climate of the house, where first names were never used and there was little opportunity for men and women to meet, they would retire to the library so they could be together.

One evening they engineered a ghost watch in the stables so they could spend the night in each other's company.

It is easy to see why Mark has fallen for Elizabeth, a former model at designer Mary Quant's London studios in the 1960s. She has an immense love of life and is compassionate and understanding, a lesson she has learned the hard way.

Idonia has cerebral palsy and lives at the Percy Hedley special school in North Tyneside. She lived with her mother until five years ago, when it became impossible for Elizabeth to continue looking after her alone. She visits Idonia at least three or four times a week.

Elizabeth also has a counselling diploma and for many years had organised country holidays for underprivileged children.

Mark says: "It is impossible not to like LD. She has so much energy and life." Even though they live at opposite ends of the country, they talk each day. Indeed, the first thing Mark does when he heads into work is to call Elizabeth on his mobile. "I get to the school at about 8.10am and as I walk across the grass I call her and we chat for about 20 minutes."

The couple say both their families and friends have accepted the situation. "My family has been very nice about it all, as has Mark's. They have all been very non-judgmental," says Elizabeth.

Mark broke the news in stages to his family in letters he wrote from Kentchurch Court last summer. "In the first I said I'd met someone in the Regency house who was very special, then in the next I said, `Oh, by the way, she's Lady Devonport'. Eventually I said, `Oh yes, she's a little bit older than me, with daughters who are my age'.

"I said I was so pleased I had met her, knowing that as soon as everyone else met her they would absolutely love her. She has met my parents and they all got on extremely well, as they would as LD is their age," Mark adds with an impish grin. "They are only sad that there is no future for us."

Elizabeth says: "We will just have to put a stop to it. I think we will have to have some time when we don't contact each other and then hopefully a friendship will come out of it all.

"The hard part of it all is that Mark is the same age as my son-in-law and I keep wondering, `What is his mother thinking?' Is she thinking, `Thank God she's not having an affair with my son'? [ETH]

"I absolutely adore Mark, but I love him too much to hold him back. He deserves to have children; he will make a good father and who am I to stop that happening?"
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Title Annotation:News Local
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 10, 2004
Words:1406
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