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My 4-year affair with SAM: When she was drunk her face would contort and she'd get aggressive. We had terrible fights; EXCLUSIVE: GAY EX-LOVER REVEALS MODEL'S BOOZE RAGES.

Byline: SUE CARROLL

PRETTY Australian Cris Bonacci read Sam Fox's verdict on their love affair, spread across the pages of a magazine, and wept.

For four-and-a-half years she had shared a passionate and clandestine lesbian relationship with the former Page Three girl, but now it was dismissed in one cruel sentence.

"I didn't love Cris," Sam said last week. "We've all slept with people we don't love. We worked together and it was more a case of 'Wow, you're talented', than love."

For Cris, a quietly-spoken musician, it was a devastating betrayal of a tempestuous relationship which started with a drunken kiss and ended with Sam's foot through a TV screen.

Sam, now happy to talk about the sexuality she kept secret from the world, had both outed and dismissed Cris in one callous blow.

"I'm angry, very angry about what Sam has said and done to me and now I want to speak out," says Cris, 36, a former member of female heavy metal band, Girlschool.

"I'm hurt and disappointed. I didn't just love Sam, I was her wife in every sense. I protected her.

"I decorated her home. I dressed her, I picked her up when she was drunk. I helped write her music, I was her chauffeur, mentor, counsellor and obviously lover. Foolishly, I even turned down a job with Stone Roses because she couldn't bear us to be apart. She'd say: 'You're everything to me.'

"And I was.

"No one knew about our affair, not even my family. Now, thanks to Sam, I'm placed in a position where there's no choice but to tell my mother I'm gay.

"Yet for years I bent over backwards to hide the truth about me and Sam. I always had her best interests at heart, I was so careful not to take risks which might have exposed Sam Fox, the great British sex icon, as a lesbian.

"I was adamant that even a romantic weekend away was too much of a risk. I was so afraid we'd be spotted checking into a hotel together. Even candlelit dinners in smart restaurants were out of the question. Imagine the fuss if photographers had caught us holding hands across the table?

"But there was plenty of romance."

Clearly there was. Touchingly Cris has kept every card Sam sent her, every letter and even the messages written hastily on scraps of paper and left beside her pillow.

"Crissy, I'm gonna miss you so much," wrote Sam on the eve of her lover's trip to Australia. "I'll be thinking of you night and day. Love you more than words can say. Don't worry about anything. I love you too much to ever hurt you again. Love, your Sam."

The loving sentiments are echoed throughout all the notes... but so are the abject apologies. Cris was to discover a darker side to the cheerful, chirpy Sam Fox featured on a Channel 4 documentary, Our Sam, screened earlier this week.

Viewers, perhaps charmed by her exuberance, would be surprised to learn that Sam is not all sweetness and light.

Cris was appalled to witness her ex-lover weeping on TV over the memory of Pat, her dead father and ex-manager, from whom she was estranged.

"Crocodile tears," she says. "When he died she offered her sister Vanessa - who has two children and lives in a council flat - pounds 80 towards the cost of the funeral."

Sam and her sister no longer speak, and after years of sharing her chaotic life Cris understands why people would want to keep their distance.

She paints a picture of an immature, sexually-driven diva who spent hours watching videos of herself, is prone to temper tantrums and goes through frequent and worrying bouts of heavy drinking. "I was forever being told by Sam that she was giving up drink," says Cris. "And it's what drove us apart. In the end the choice was between me and her drinking binges - and she chose those.

"I just couldn't live with the Jekyll and Hyde personality and the mood swings. We'd have terrible fights, really bad bust-ups.

"In drink, she became grotesque. Her face would contort and she'd grow aggressive. Everyone around her lived in dread of those moments. At Christmas - spent with her family - the relatives would leave when she started drinking.

"I'd plead with her to have treatment. So did her management, but she baulked at suggestions of a stay at The Priory. Sam believed all the counselling she needed was from her mum Carol or her friends.

"The sad thing about Sam is that she's incapable of facing up to her problems or inadequacies and will go on the attack like a child if she's criticised or told a few home truths.

"It became a constant nightmare for me and her management to cover up her excesses and sometimes it was impossible."

Predictably, after every calamitous drinking bout would come remorse and contrition.

"This person I became yesterday," Sam wrote in one telling note to Cris, "is not the True Sam and I swear on my mother's life it will never happen again. I know I've said this before, but I never believed me - this strong person - could ever have a weakness or problem, but I have and I'm gonna admit it."

"I fell for it every time," says Cris. "I always believed she was genuinely sorry. I'd leave her and then go back, we'd have a passionate reunion and she'd ask me to marry her. She was always wanting to have a ceremony in the garden, but I didn't. You're married in your heart, not in words.

"What Sam really wants is a 'Yesperson', telling her constantly she's talented and beautiful."

Cris believes Sam's current girlfriend and manager, Myra Stratton, is exactly that person.

"When we split, I told Myra that Sam needed help with her drink problem. 'She doesn't have one,' she told me. Myra is not the most beautiful or charming woman in the world and the last person I'd expect Sam to end up with, but obviously she's prepared to put up with a lot. I wasn't."

Sam had another problem too. Her drug taking has been well documented but, says Cris, it went hand-in-hand with heavy drinking binges.

"She'd wake up almost every day and smoke a joint. It meant that she was stoned, so when she hit the vodka or champagne in the evening she'd be out of it very quickly. It made travelling a nightmare - trying to cope with a drunk Sam on a plane was no joke.

"She'd scream and shout incoherently at me for no reason, it's a wonder no one ever told the newspapers.

"I was quite good at calming her down, but I've lost count of the number of times she'd go on stage out of her mind on drugs and drink."

Sam and Cris first met eight years ago backstage at a gig in St Petersburg.

They weren't exactly compatible professionally. Cris, a respected guitarist, was plucked from obscurity in Australia by Mike Oldfield to work in Britain.

What Sam knew about the industry would have barely filled her 34DD bra cup, but Cris admits she was impressed enough by the bright and bubbly blonde to agree to help her musically.

"It wasn't exactly cool to be seen working with a former Page Three girl," she says. "There was this feeling in the business that Sam was a bit naff. But once I got to know her I realised we liked the same bands.

"She actually had quite good taste in music and there was something else, a sense of vibrancy and confidence. Star quality, if you like.

"There was no hint that she was gay initially, though I discovered later she'd always been interested in girls.

"At that time, the early Nineties' she was still seeing Peter Foster intermittently. She told me later that she never loved him and dreaded going to bed with him. She said there were other ways to please him sexually.

"I think it was very much a case of what he could do for her. He'd say he'd get her into movies, buy her a huge diamond or a house. She'd loved all that, but of course it was bulls***.

"Anyway, I had a girlfriend. I've never had any confusion about my sexuality. I've never been promiscuous and I don't like the gay scene, but I knew from my teens where I stood.

"Crucially, I didn't really fancy her. She was too flirtatious for me. She was often very drunk when she turned up in the early hours and, looking back, the warning signs were clear, the strange behaviour.

"It wasn't unusual to find Sam at two in the morning, totally maudlin and playing old videos of herself. She particularly liked to talk about how famous she was and was forever recalling how, on one occasion, she'd played in front of 60,000 people in India.

"Sam is excellent when it comes to re-writing history. In 1995 she was telling people her records sold 12million. By 1999 the figure was 20million, and I notice that this year it's risen to 30million. Miraculous!"

The seduction was, to Cris's astonishment, initiated by Sam. "It was hardly romantic," she recalls. "I was quite vulnerable at the time. My girlfriend had met someone else and Sam and I were together at a gig in Estonia. As usual she got drunk and needed help going to the toilet. She turned to me and said 'Kiss me'. There was an instant spark and although we didn't sleep together that night, we both knew it was inevitable.

"Sex, when it happened with Sam, was like a light being turned on. It was pure lust and that never changed in all the time we were together. It was a very passionate relationship."

Even so, Sam was less than faithful.

"She was a hopeless liar, " says Cris. "And I'd always know when she'd cheated. She once even seduced an ex-girlfriend of mine who told me long afterwards that the only way to describe her sex drive was animalistic."

Bizarrely, Cris was able to forgive the infidelities. "It was just another symptom of when she drank," she says. "But conversely Sam could be extremely possessive and jealous. I didn't enjoy having every minute of my day accounted for or being owned, but Sam's vulnerability and neediness appealed to me.

"At the beginning there was a lot to like about Sam. We moved in together very quickly and the best times were when we were together in her flat, massaging one another's feet and watching TV over a meal she'd cooked.

"When she's sober, Sam is brilliant, funny and affectionate. Her mum and nan were totally aware of our relationship and liked me. It's comforting when your own family is so far away to have that support.

"I enjoyed my wifely role too, doing Sam's admin, selling her flat and finding a new home where we planned to live together forever."

It is the memories of domestic bliss that obviously pain Cris. She reiterates constantly how much she loved Sam and would never, she insists, have laid bare her soul had she not been provoked by Sam's casual dismissal of their relationship.

"Ironically it was because I loved Sam that I left her," she says. "I had to be cruel to be kind. The final straw came when I'd just had an operation to remove a non-malignant lump from my breast.

IT WAS April and I agreed to take our first weekend away to celebrate Sam's birthday. The plan was to drive down to a country hotel.

"Sam started drinking in grand style and by nine o'clock was comatose. I went to bed... the weekend was clearly a non-starter. When she woke, she was livid, ranting and raving at me because I'd cancelled the hotel.

"You can take the girl out of the East End, but you can't take the East End out of the girl. She hurled herself across the room and then gave the TV a karate kick. The screen was smashed to smithereens.

"This was the Sam I couldn't take any longer. I thought 'That's it! I've got to love myself more than I love her.' The highs were too high and the lows are too low, so I moved out.

"She rang - and kept ringing. But it was too late. At the bottom of my heart I wanted to give it another go, but by then Myra was on the scene. Here was a woman who was happy to take Sam as she was... needy, demanding and excessive."

Last night a spokesman for Sam said: "These are obviously the rantings of a bitter and twisted woman."

Cris adds: "I don't see her anymore, which is sad because I'd like to have remained her friend. But looking at her on TV I know that would be impossible.

"The nice, sparky person I met and fell in love with was gone. I wish her all the luck in the world. She needs it."

CAPTION(S):

REMORSE: After her binges Sam would apologise to Cris; ANGRY: Cris today; LOVE LETTERS: A card from Sam; FURY: When Sam had been drinking she became 'grotesque' says Cris
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:30SOU
Date:Feb 8, 2003
Words:2210
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