Revealed: Why Sir Norman Wisdom's family won't let his friends see himBy KEITH BEABEY and ELIZABETH SANDERSON
Last updated at 22:04 11 August 2007
As Sir Norman Wisdom sits alone in his spartan room in an anonymous nursing home in the Isle of Man, he must wonder how it has come to this.
The floor is covered in lino, the hospital-style bed uncomfortably hard. His furniture consists of two plastic chairs, a plastic wardrobe and a plastic chest of drawers. There are few mementoes, rarely any visitors, and little to break up the monotony of his days.
His own home on the island, named Ballalough ? Gaelic for 'house of laughs' ? is less than 20 miles or a 30-minute drive away.
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Anonymous: The nursing home where Sir Norman Wisdom now lives on the Isle of Man
Filled with memorabilia spanning his 60-year career as one of the nation's best- loved comic actors, famed for his cloth cap and his slapstick humour, it is here that Sir Norman expected to live out his days.
Instead, four weeks ago, his children placed the 92-year-old comedian, who is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's, in the Abbotswood nursing home in Ballasalla. It is a difficult decision for any child to take but in this instance the consequences have been particularly damaging.
For The Mail on Sunday can reveal that there has been a bitter rift between Sir Norman's family and his closest friends.
His neighbours and long-time associates claim that his children, Nicholas, 55, Jacqueline, 52, and daughter-in-law, Kim, 53, have secured full power of attorney over Sir Norman's affairs and are selling off chunks of his estate without his knowledge.
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When life was a laugh: Norman with daughter Jacqueline and son Nicholas in 1987
They also claim that they have been banned from seeing Sir Norman. He is only allowed visits from family members who have been given passwords. Anyone who doesn't have the password cannot enter the nursing home.
Among Sir Norman's closest friends on the island are Malcolm and Enid Watson. Mr Watson ran a garage and he and his wife have known the actor for 27 years.
Speaking from the couple's former mill house home in the village of Greeba, Mrs Watson, said: "I was told by a family member that I had been barred from seeing him. His friends cannot understand why he is being shuffled off to a tiny room from a home he loved so much and where he lived surrounded by his friends and his memorabilia.
"He has left behind his knighthood insignia and the scroll giving him the freedom of the town of Douglas as well as his personal theatrical possessions. We and other friends fear he may think we have deserted him."
It is an extraordinary allegation but a senior nurse at the home confirmed this to be the case.
Leonora Fuentes said: "It has been agreed with the family that only members of the family who know the password are allowed to see him. We cannot let anyone see him without the family's permission and the password. It is a shame."
Sir Norman's children are the product of his second marriage. He was granted full custody of them after he divorced their mother Freda in 1968. Twice-divorced Jacqueline does not work, Nicholas runs a sportswear shop in Haywards Heath, Sussex, and has two children with his wife Kim.
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Sold: Sir Norman's Rolls-Royce with personalised plate
They present a very different picture of the care being given to Norman and say they are acting in his best interests because of his ailing health.
Last night Kim, speaking on behalf of the family, said: "These accusations are so deeply hurtful. No family have cared more than we have for Norman.
"Our sole motivation and allegiance is with Norman and Norman's well-being, not with these people who call themselves his fans. He has vascular dementia of an Alzheimer's type and is getting confused.
"A lot of people in Norman's life have their own agenda. They want to see him and no explanation why they can't is going to change their mind.
"The Watsons have been good friends and have treated him well. However, they have overridden family, they have interfered, they have questioned.
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'He's disappeared': Norman with his PR agent of 38 years, Phil Day
"They are allowed to see Norman but they must give the family the assurance that they will not interfere. Once we have that, we are very happy for them to visit."
At the centre of this controversy is an old man in decline after a colourful career spanning almost 80 years. Born in London just after the outbreak of the First World War, Norman worked as a coal-miner, a waiter and a cabin-boy, before joining the Army and seeing service in India.
He went on to star in 18 films with audiences loving his slapstick style and his theme song, Don't Laugh At Me Cos I'm A Fool. He became a favourite with Royalty and was often asked to give private performances at Windsor Castle.
He always said the most important thing his success had bought him was space and freedom, which he valued above all else after the cramped conditions of his childhood.
Mrs Watson said: "I couldn't believe it when I saw him in his room in the nursing home. It is very small with a hospital-style bed with the hardest mattress you have ever felt.
"There are two plastic chairs, a plastic wardrobe and a plastic chest of drawers. The en suite had a shower head placed over a lavatory-style seat, a loo and a washbasin.
"There was not even a mirror or a shelf for his shaving tackle. I could have wept."
The comedian, who was knighted in 2000, was moved into the home on July 12. Mrs Watson said: 'It has all been done so suddenly. Members of his family came to the island and I showed them just three homes for elderly people but within two days a decision was made to put him in the home where he is now.
"The next day Norman was taken there for an assessment. He was sitting next to me having a cup of coffee when an elderly lady approached us and said she was Bette Davis and that Joan Collins was a regular visitor.
"I told the family we couldn't leave Sir Norman in a place like that but I was told by one of them, 'Don't worry because he will be like that soon.'
"I could see he was very worried and on the way out, he said to me, 'Why are we here? This is like a bad dream.' He does not understand why he is there and there is no need for it.
"I was told in no uncertain terms to keep my nose out of things. I thought that was rich coming from a family who had only visited their father five times as far as we know during the 24 years he's been on the island."
Sir Norman also loved the cars his wealth enabled him to buy ? and these have become another bone of contention. According to Mr Watson, Sir Norman's son sold off his most prized possessions ? a 1987 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit and a top-of-the-range Jaguar S-Type ? 18 months ago while he was away on a cruise.
Mr Watson was asked by the family to handle the sale and says they wanted it done "as quickly as possible".
Kim said: "We did sell the cars because, in September 2005, Norman's physician rang the family and said he was very unhappy about him driving. He reported it to the Department of Transport, and Norman took a test which he failed by several points, so he was banned from driving but the cars remained at the house, and he was always asking to drive them.
"His physician believed the cars were a temptation, so on that advice we sold them.
"We also sold his Epsom home, and his house on the Isle of Man will go on the market soon to pay for his upkeep.
"My husband and Jacqui have power of attorney and it is their duty to do their best by him."
"The house is expected to make up to £800,000. This will be needed in the long term to pay for his care."
The Watsons are not the only friends voicing concerns. Phil Day, Sir Norman's public relations manager for 38 years and one of his oldest friends, said: "If what I hear is right, then he has had everything removed from him including his friends. He's disappeared from sight. I haven't been able to get access to him for some time.
"He would regularly ring me up, just to hear my voice. I haven't spoken to him for the best part of a year.
"His friends on the island have said what's going on is evil. He'd have a much better quality of life, I believe, if he had access to familiar faces around him."
And Joe Higgins, a friend for more than 40 years, said from his home in Dublin: "That guy deserves a lot better."
One of Sir Norman's favourite charities was Manx Mencap and he was president of the group for more than 15 years. Group chairman Edna Ainge has been barred from seeing him and said last night: "It is a tragedy to put him in there and cut him off from his friends."
And her husband John said: "Our fear is he may go downhill very fast if he thinks he has been deserted."
Sir Norman has recently been allowed two easy chairs from his own home and some of his favourite photographs ? including a picture of himself in his famous suit and cloth cap and another with the Queen at a Royal Variety Show.
Kim disputes the Watsons' description of conditions at the home.
She said: "What they say about it is wrong. He has got his two favourite chairs in there. There was not a mirror but we got him one within a couple of days. We actually went around his house and took things to him that he felt he would like, such as paintings.
"He has his own double room, it has an en-suite bathroom, and is in a block with up to 20 other residents."
She described his routine. "He gets breakfast in bed and then likes to get up and have his shower and watch some TV. He then has morning tea with the other residents and the home has three pianos which he plays and they sing along with him.
"That's what he needs, he needs an audience and the adoration. He then has lunch with everybody in the dining room ? good home cooking like shepherd's pie and sausage and mash. He has a nap and then somebody takes him out on a drive before bringing him back for afternoon tea.
"He will then watch a movie, and then they all have supper together. The home love the residents to have interaction with each other. They do a bingo session, which I am told Norman loves. When he doesn't get a number on his card, he blows a raspberry which entertains the others.
"He has made so many friends in the home ? who better to listen to him than people who have little to do? It has been a great success but there is still a period of settling in. He is happy. We were in daily contact with him, now we are in contact with him every other day."
But Sir Norman's friends remain worried. His housekeeper for 30 years Maureen Faragher ? who he called My Mo ? has also been barred from seeing him and said: "I'm just so frightened that he might be forgotten in there."
It is a fear shared by many other friends of the much-loved entertainer.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-474778/Revealed-Why-Sir-Norman-Wisdoms-family-wont-let-friends-him.html#ixzz11Qlpmg8R