A report by Jules Stenson for The Sun.
WHEN Bruce Forsyth fell in love for the last time it came – as it had before – at a beauty contest.
He was 52 and had just gone through an agonising split with second wife Anthea Redfern.
At London’s Royal Albert Hall for the 1980 Miss World pageant, love was the last thing on his mind.
Then he spotted Wilnelia Merced — and was blown away.
“Good heavens,” Bruce thought immediately, “she looks like a South American princess. She’s absolutely gorgeous.”
The former Miss World would turn his life around and help Bruce find lasting happiness.
“I was absolutely besotted with her but I didn’t push it,” Bruce said.
“My philosophy has always been to play it cool. It’s probably hard to think of me as a cool person in that way — but I am.”
At a dinner after the event, Bruce asked her to dance.
Wilnelia, then 21, was a natural on the dancefloor. She didn’t expect much of a “cold Englishman” — but she was in for a surprise.
They danced . . . and danced.
It was just her second trip to Britain — the first was when she won Miss World. She was now working as a model in New York.
They met for dinner a few nights later. Over dinner, Bruce revealed he had been married twice and had five children, three grown up.
Though divorced from Anthea, with no chance of reconciliation, they still shared a home in Surrey.
Winnie, as she insisted he call her, was warned by pals he was a “ladies’ man” with a “bit of a reputation”. But she could see he was genuine. They saw each other every day while she was in the country.
When she returned to her native Puerto Rico, they arranged to meet in New York.
At first they kept their romance secret, holidaying in Antigua.
“Transatlantic affairs are exciting to begin with but they don’t last very long,” Wilnelia said. “One of you has to move eventually.”
They spent Christmas and New Year together in Puerto Rico, where Wilnelia agonised about Bruce meeting her parents.
“I said, ‘Mummy, I’ve found the man of my dreams, the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. I’m in love with him and he’s really special’. I told her how kind and caring he is, likes dancing and all the things I enjoy, that he’s very athletic and amusing, and how much he loves me.
“I said, ‘There’s just one problem.’ I told her he was older. There was a long silence, then she said, ‘How old?’ But she knew he was the first and only man I’ve ever been in love with and that’s what mattered.”
When her mum Delia finally met Bruce, ten years her senior, she was bowled over.
Bruce proposed to Wilnelia the next year at Turnberry in South Ayrshire, where he had been asked to film a golf series. Marriage was a huge step for Wilnelia, still only 22. She said yes — but told him she wanted to have children. She also met Bruce’s kids.
“It could have been the trickiest of situations, the girls meeting a stepmother the same age,” he said.
“They love her, which is wonderful, and they all get on marvellously.”
They tied the knot on a snowy day in New York in January 1983 and began married life at Bruce’s old marital home in Wentworth.
Wilnelia was shocked to find Anthea’s coats still in the cupboard, though she too had remarried.
Bruce recalled: “I’d got to the stage when I’d thought I would never fall in love again. I’d been through it all — marriage, divorce.
“The last thing I was thinking of that night when I met Wilnelia was falling in love. I’d reached the point where I was doubtful I ever wanted to get involved again. ‘Playboy of Wentworth’, that’s what I planned.
“I’d bought the house on the golf course.”
They had been married for three years when Wilnelia announced she was pregnant. Bruce longed for a son — and Jonathan Joseph Enrique Forsyth, known as “JJ”, was born on November 10, 1986.
Wilnelia revealed: “Long before I was pregnant, Bruce told me if he had a son, he’d want to call him Jonathan after his father and the brother he lost. I knew the name was sacred to him, so there was never any disagreement over it.”
Bruce Forsyth’s legendary interview on the floor with Bette Midler for Big Night
Bruce admitted to being “half a dad” to his five daughters due to work. That wouldn’t happen with JJ.
He learned to slow down and enjoy the pleasures of a contented family. Bruce said: “I didn’t want people standing at my memorial service saying, ‘He was a great performer, so sad he was only 58’.”
In 34 years of happy marriage, a healthy diet and exercise kept Bruce feeling young. He had surgical help with his hairline but boasted that he never needed Viagra, saying: “What you can’t take away from an older man is experience. An older man knows it’s not just about making love but how to treat a woman.”
He called Wilnelia the “sexiest woman alive” and said: “I look at her and think, ‘My God, how did you get hooked up with someone like me?’”