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SAS MATING GAMES.

Frances Nicholson was 28 when she became SAS soldier Andy McNab's third wife.

Ten years later she tells the remarkable story of how she fell in - and out - of love with the man who became a millionaire with his best-selling books about the elite force.

I t was just before midnight on a cold December evening when I first set eyes on the SAS man who would make me his third wife.

He was standing alone in a Hereford army base nightclub, nursing a pint of lager.

One of my girlfriends approached him. She knew he'd just got back from a mission and thought he should have been spending time with his wife.

"Why aren't you at home?" she asked.

"I fancied a few more pints " he explained.

"But you've only been back a couple of hours," she said.

"Yeah, I know but I needed a few of these first," he said, grinning.

The bravado didn't impress me.

"What a pig!" I remarked.

"That's Andy McNab." My friend said. "He thinks he's God's gift to women. Whatever you do, Fran, stay clear of him."

I should have heeded the warning - I had seen all the danger signals. But he was a striking young man. Andy was 26, with long hair, a deep suntan and piercing blue eyes.

I was interested in spite of myself. I remember telling the friend: "With those eyes he could have any woman he wants."

The club was called The Paludrine after an anti-malaria pill but Andy's infectious looks had started a fever in me.

A week later, I bumped into him in town. He came straight up to me.

"Hi," he said. "We met last week at the club. Do you remember? I was having a quiet beer and you kept staring at me. Fancy a brew and sticky bun?"

As he tucked into a ham sandwich, I began to feel that I had got him wrong. Under all the bravado he was rather a nice bloke and more shy than he first appeared.

That evening, after drinking Bacardi and Cokes in a Hereford pub, I went with three friends to Oliver's, a nightclub-cocktail bar which was popular with the SAS.

They'd hang out in groups of ten or twelve, huddled round their drinks kitty - and after starting on beer, they'd move on to spirits. It was always the same.

But a girlfriend had told me: "If you want to catch an SAS fella, the golden rule is: You buy the first drink. It's their code. They all think they're God's gift.'

As I ordered drinks for my girlfriends, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

"While you're there, get us a pint of lager," said a voice behind me. I turned to find Andy with a big grin on his face.

Cheeky bastard, I thought - but I couldn't help finding him rather cute.

"I'll get you one," I said, "just for your cheek."

And when I walked over to the group Andy was drinking with, I heard him say: "This is how you train them, fellas!"

I was livid. He winked, trying to be friendly, but I decided that that was the last time I bought the little runt a drink. Yet an hour later, I was amazed when he walked over and planted a Jack Daniels in my hand with the words: "I think I owe you a drink."

W hen the smoochy music started, I found myself dancing happily with him. He held me close and made me laugh.

When we left Oliver's, one of his friends - known as Johnny Two Combs - came over and said: "Where's my Jack Daniels?"

Andy merely smiled, knowing he'd been caught out! But he shrugged it off and when we left we couldn't find a cab so decided to walk home together. It was cold and soon began to rain buckets.

Forty minutes later, soaked through, we arrived at my house and I invited him in to dry off. I made him a sandwich and cup of tea and we sat in front of the fire and talked.

He looked out of the window at the dreadful weather and asked: "Can I stay the night in the spare room?"

I agreed and we sat up talking a while. When it was time for bed he kissed me briefly before I showed him to the spare room. I went to undress in mine. Within a couple of minutes there was a tap at the door.

"Come in," I called, and he pushed open the door and stood there with a pleading look in his eyes - like a Spaniel wanting a walk.

"Yes?" I said, smiling.

"I just wanted a goodnight kiss," he begged.

"Just one?" I asked. He walked in, closed the door and began to kiss me.

The following morning I burst into tears at the sight of him lying beside me. I was furious with myself - for allowing him to stay.

When he left I watched him walk down the path, determined that that was the last I'd see of him.

Of course, it wasn't. In fact, he strolled back up it the following day. It turned out he had bought the house next door!

Now I was hooked. I went upstairs, brought down my double duvet and we made love for hours in front of the gas fire. As we lay together, Andy talked about his plans for the future. Our future.

The following day he moved most of his things into my house.

That weekend, we went to his married quarters on "The Patch" where he'd lived with Debbie. We cleared out everything.

While Andy was upstairs the doorbell went and my good friend, Lisa, was on the doorstep.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, aghast. "You're not... you're not seeing him are you? He's been married twice, he's had God knows how many affairs. You need your head examined, Fran, you really do."

I stood up for Andy, and Lisa stormed off.

But most of the time life was wonderful and the longer Andy and I spent together, the better and deeper our relationship became.

Andy had often hinted at wanting a baby and I, too, began to want one. When I became pregnant, Andy said he was determined to establish the exact moment of conception.

We were convinced it was after one of our games of 'strip chess'.

Whenever a piece was removed from the board, the other 'player' had to remove an article of clothing.

T he first time we played Andy, wearing nothing but his socks, padded out to the kitchen for another bottle.

I followed him into the kitchen in a similar state of undress. As I put my arms around his waist, he opened the fridge and took out a can of cream and squirted the contents over my body.

"Don't move," he insisted, and licked the cream off me. "I've always wanted to do this to you."

It was fantastic.

Joanna was born on February 23rd 1987, two years after we met - and two hours after Andy had left for Nepal on a seven-week tour of duty.

By the summer, I decided it was time to test the water - and see if Andy was serious about marriage.

I told him I'd seen a diamond ring in a shop in Hereford. He went straight out and bought it - and a bunch of flowers. He got down on one knee and proposed.

I was thrilled - but when we visited his parents in Kent to tell them of our forthcoming marriage, his mother's parting comment stuck in my mind.

"I hope this is your last marriage, Andy, because three daughters-in- law are more than enough for any mother," she said.

The reception was held on a Saturday at my father's pub in Gosport - and it was a fantastic day. Andy had such a wonderful time that he had all but passed out by 8pm.

In fact, it wasn't until we returned to Hereford on the Sunday night that we finally consummated our marriage.

But far from being the most wonderful night of my life, something was troubling me. I felt there was something missing in our relationship and that concerned me.

It seemed we had become almost strangers to each other and that by getting married we had somehow disrupted our good relationship.

Married To The SAS by Frances Nicholson (Blake, pounds 15.99). Available at bookshops or direct on 0171 381 0666. Blake, 1997.

BITCHY SIDE OF LIFE ON 'THE PATCH'

The families of SAS soldiers lived on the infamous 'Patch' - the military base's married quarters.

It's a warren of Fifties-style, flat-roofed terrace houses - with one or two bedrooms, living room and dining room - the Hereford NAAFI, a play school and a kids' play area.

On the surface, the Patch seemed tranquil. But behind the net curtains it was a cauldron of gossip and intrigue, brought on by high pressure, close-quarter living.

Patch wives were bitches and formed cliques. When a new wife arrived, they would check her out to see if she measured up.

If she didn't, she wouldn't be invited to their coffee mornings, which were spent trying to predict which SAS marriages would fail - and how quickly.

For some reason gossiping Patch wives never thought their own rekationships were at risk - it was always other people's.

Wives assumed their husbands' ranks and expected those married to lower officers to show deference. Some would even expect junior wives to stand up and offer them their chairs when they walked in the room.

Others would expect to be heard on any subject and would demand they were heard over "inferior" women.

This, of course, led to tremendous rivalry and jealousy .

They also delighted in categorising the other SAS wives as 'snobs' or 'slobs'.

Those women who bought new furniture for their homes were 'snobs'.

But those who could not afford new furniture and relied on property supplied by the Army were labelled 'slobs'.

It was impossible to win.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 21, 1997
Words:1672
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