Hurt girls looking for a father figure

Is Ulrika Jonsson - whose affair with the England soccer boss has rocked the nation - simply the latest in a line of wounded women seeking security in a relationship with an older man? asks Miranda Fettes

THEY open doors for ladies, insist on paying and have perfected the art of wooing. They benefit from extra years, maturity and often financial security, and appear expert at massaging away the insecurities of otherwise young, attractive and successful women.

Older men seem to be in vogue - particularly for women seeking a father figure to replace an absent father or an inadequate dad.

The whirlwind romance between two of England’s adopted Swedes, television presenter Ulrika Jonsson and England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson - who is 19 years her senior - has made fascinating reading.

He is grey with a receding hairline and is hardly out of the George Clooney or Richard Gere mould. She is blonde, beautiful, 34 years old - and not exactly lucky in love.

The attraction - at least on her part - isn’t exactly instantly obvious. So what is it about Sven that caught Ulrika’s eye?

Perhaps she, like other women who fall for the much older man, is simply craving a return to the traditional, macho male provider, having tired of the feminised New Man.

Or perhaps the answer lies in a deeper need for security and yearning for a protector.

Eriksson possesses prestige, status and wealth, in common with many of Jonsson’s exes. But perhaps more interestingly, he is only a year younger than her father Bo was when he died six years ago and just two years younger than Jonsson’s mother, Gun Brodie, 55.

Leading psychologist, Dr Jack Boyle, explains: "Most women recover from the loss of a father and don’t enter into relationships with men significantly older. But a small minority who haven’t accepted the death of their father - and may have an unhappy relationship with their mother - seek to resurrect the father through having a relationship with an older man who has the imagined attributes of the deceased father.

"These men are usually successful and fairly wealthy, with power, status and influence.

"These relationships are usually sexual but are primarily motivated by the desire to be looked after. What they’re essentially looking for is somebody who can look after them materially and emotionally. The father role is to protect and provide for you. They’ve probably felt a loss in their life of somebody who was a provider or protector."

Like Jonsson, Sarah Alexander, star of television comedy Coupling, was devastated by the death of her father, Frank Smith, the founding mastermind of the BBC’s Panorama. Recently, the 30-year-old actress has been linked to veteran actor Gerald Harper, 71, who was famous in the 1960s for Adam Adamant Lives!

Then there is the absent father, leaving a patriarchal void in the life of his daughter. Supermodel Naomi Campbell, 32, is the classic example. Her part-Chinese father left when her Jamaican-born mother, Valerie, was four months pregnant and herself still just a teenager.

Valerie left her small daughter with a nanny while she toured Europe with a dance company, redeeming herself fractionally by sending money back to support Naomi.

In such a case, where the father has abandoned the mother and child leaving either no patriarch or a series of males, Mr Boyle says: "The father becomes a fantasy figure."

And fatherless women, he says: "Are looking for an idealised version of the absent father figure and often idealise the older man."

You don’t need a psychology degree to be able to spot that glamorous diva Campbell, who has certainly been conspicuous over the years for her notoriously spoilt, attention-seeking behaviour, harbours some major problems beneath that arrogant, confident exterior.

Known for her temper tantrums and lateness, the supermodel’s ex-boyfriends include ageing actor Robert De Niro and, more recently, 51-year-old Benetton Formula One chief Flavio Briatore, who ditched the recovering drug addict last August following a series of rows aboard his yacht in the Mediterranean.

Paul McCartney’s fiancee, Heather Mills, is another whose childhood was fraught with insecurity and angst. Subjected to an abusive father - who was a convicted fraudster - and left to raise her siblings when her mother upped and left when she was only nine, she fled the troubled family home at the age of 13.

When the 33-year-old former model weds 59-year-old Sir Paul in June, she will be marrying into a colossal showbiz fortune of 713 million.

Edinburgh chartered psychologist, Ben Williams, says: "It’s a deep-seated desire for stability. When we lose parents - whatever age we are - we become orphans. Stability is attractive to someone whose life is in turmoil. People who are less stable emotionally often recognise that there is a void in their life and seek it in a sexual partner. The people who go for powerful older partners often want someone else to be in charge. Older men tend to be more stable and financially secure."

It is far rarer to find a young man with an older woman - although Joan Collins seems to have developed a knack for bucking the trend - and Mr Williams explains: "Society tends to judge a woman who abandons her children much more harshly and that’s why there are fewer young men around with this sugar mummy complex than there are young women looking for a surrogate father."

Lara Flynn Boyle is another starlet who dotes on an older man, the legendary Jack Nicholson. Her parents divorced when she was six and she remains very close to her mother, who is also her agent. Perhaps displaying classic symptoms of a child victim of divorced parents, she was diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age and enrolled in an improvisational workshop as a means to develop ways of expressing herself.

But, while the often unconscious motive can be questionable, there is nothing to suggest such a relationship is destined to join the history annals of mismatches or that the love in a "spring-September" relationship is false. There can be perfectly strong, genuine love between partners with a sizeable age gap.

That between McCartney and Mills certainly seems rooted in real affection, rather than prestige, status and material appeal, while Hollywood stars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones - who completely bucks the trend by remaining close to her adoring father and falling in love with an older man - appear to be proving all the cynics wrong with their apparently happy marriage.

But whether Jonsson will still be on the scene to accompany her new man to next month’s World Cup in Japan and Korea remains to be seen.

Stranger than fiction

Throughout the years, we have been bombarded with tragic episodes in 34-year-old Jonsson’s disastrous catalogue of unsuccessful relationships - each more bizarre than the last. After a failed marriage to TV cameraman John Turnbull, the father of her seven-year-old son, Cameron, the couple split up in 1993.

Following a fling with her husband’s best friend, Phil Pietrowski, she later dated TV Gladiator Hunter - real name James Crossley. Six years her junior, he later dumped the glamorous blonde.

And it gets worse. After a stormy relationship with footballer Stan Collymore ended when he assaulted her, Jonsson took up with German hotelier Marcus Kempen, father of her 17 month-old daughter, Bo.

The baby was born but he left, later selling his story to the press just as Bo, who suffers from a heart defect, was set to undergo surgery.

There followed a short-lived romance with public relations executive and millionaire Simon Astaire last year, and then Jonsson was single again.

Until meeting Eriksson last December.

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