A framed photograph of their Fiji wedding day is still on display in the living room of Suzanne Paul and Duncan Wilson’s rented home in Albany.
The couple still care for one another; there is a lot of respect and no shortage of love. And yet the sad truth is they are heading for a separation.
There are tears from both of them as they explain what has brought them to this tough decision after 14 years together.
“I’m letting him go,” says Suzanne, “because I need to.”
“And so do I, and that’s the worst part of it,” says Duncan.
At the heart of their problem is Duncan’s Asperger syndrome. His condition is high functioning but he processes emotions differently, can struggle in social situations and is sometimes obsessive. He was diagnosed when he was 30, and by the time he met Suzanne six years later, had done a lot of research and had therapy to help live with it.
“I told her straight up, ‘This is who I am,’” he says.
Some of his traits are a part of his charm for Suzanne, such as his tendency to say the first thing that pops into his head.
“Most of the time, he’s loving and caring; the man I fell in love with,” she explains. “But he has episodes. I can spot the signs. He might start acting erratically and not be as thoughtful as usual. We are the sort of couple that text and call each other all day and that drops off. He gets obsessed with various things and has to know absolutely everything about them.”
Over the years, the meltdowns have got worse. Duncan gets a tattoo put somewhere on his body to represent each episode – and he has a lot of tattoos. Even so, this latest bout has knocked them both sideways.
“It has been colossal...catastrophic,” admits Duncan. “It was unlike any Asperger’s episode he’d had before,” tells Suzanne.
Duncan stopped eating. He spent hours in his dressing gown working frantically and started sleeping for long periods of time. He processes things in images that sort of rewind in front of his eyes, like a video. Now he only has to blink to see montages of everything that has happened in his life flashing before him.
For Suzanne, what was most unusual was how depressed he became. All through the ups and downs of their life together, Duncan has been the one who has stayed level. When their business went under and they lost all their money, when Suzanne’s beloved mum died, when she lost her little dog Walnut, who was like a child to her.
“I was in a bad place and Duncan was the strong one who propped me up and got us through,” she recalls. “He was my rock. I’d hear him laughing at something on television and think, ‘It can’t be too bad. We’ve still got our sense of humour and we’ve still got each other'.”
But the pressure of staying strong was taking its toll on Duncan. “I felt just as crappy as she did but I was trying to be that person – the happy chappy,” he explains.
“And you can’t keep it up forever, pretending,” says Suzanne. “You’ve got to be true to yourself.”
He also struggled with her fame, the attention she drew whenever they were out together, and the sense he had to behave a certain way and be a certain person.
“I started to feel like a bit of a fraud,” he explains. “I was making all these changes to be what Suzanne needed and somehow I lost touch with myself, I vanished into insignificance. It was about everything else but me. The pretence of the whole thing was driving me insane, basically. I hate it.”
“He wants to be Duncan Wilson, not Mr Suzanne Paul,” explains his wife of 11 years.
These days, Suzanne works for the make-up brand Thin Lizzy, as their head demonstration trainer, which means spending a lot of time in shopping malls encouraging women to trial the products.
“You’re all sparkle and shine, and that takes a lot of energy,” she says. “Some days, I get home and I’m so exhausted, I can’t even speak. I’ve got nothing left.”
It was her longtime agent and friend, Karen Kay, who pointed out to her that her husband’s posts on Facebook seemed a little odd. Duncan regularly puts inspirational sayings on Suzanne’s page and suddenly they all had the same theme.
“They were about being true to yourself and living the right life,” she explains. Looking back, there were other signs of what was going through his mind.
“A couple of weeks ago, he started saying things like, ‘You’re still gorgeous, you should find yourself someone rich who’ll look after you, who’s not going to have meltdowns every couple of months. That’s what you deserve,’” says Suzanne.
Things really came to a head as a result of a dream holiday the couple had planned. Because of their financial struggles, it’s been years since they’ve been away together. But 2016 marked two landmark birthdays – Duncan turned 50 last month and Suzanne is 60 in November – so they decided to do something special. At the same time, a dear friend in England was proposed to and asked Suzanne for suggestions of where to get married.
She came up with a lovely idea. They could meet in Bali – where she knew someone with a property they could get for mates’ rates – and celebrate the wedding and the birthday at the same time. “So everyone booked and it was all happening,” says Suzanne.
But as the holiday drew near, Duncan’s mental health deteriorated and he realised Bali would be a bad idea. He was stressed by the thought of having to pretend to be upbeat and was worried about having a meltdown in a foreign country.
“I didn’t want to spoil if for everyone else,” he explains. “I still wanted Suzanne to go. She needed a holiday and her best friends were going to be there.”
“He wanted me to have a good time and for him to have peace and quiet by himself to get his head together,” she tells.
Reluctantly, Suzanne went on the trip without her husband. She describes that holiday as her “Bali bubble”. She was with friends of 40 years, people she didn’t have to put on the Suzanne Paul sparkle. To them, she’s just their mate Sue.
“I stayed in the moment and didn’t think about the future because that was the only way I could cope,” says Suzanne. “But on the plane coming back home, I realised I was going to have to deal with reality. I didn’t know what I was facing or how Duncan was going to be – does he want me, does he not want me?”
Both of them say they are now emotionally drained and physically exhausted. There have been a lot of tears and uncertainty, but the one thing they do know for sure is they want each other to be happy.
“Better to call it a day when things are good than let it deteriorate to a point where we’re going to hate each other,” admits Duncan. “We’re mature enough to realise this is what needs to happen. We can continue to be friends, we can go out together.”
Marriage counselling isn’t on the cards because Duncan would still have Asperger’s and still be prone to meltdowns. “He was in such a bad place a couple of weeks ago and he’s frightened of going back there,” explains Suzanne.
“I can’t go back there,” says Duncan quietly.
"And, oh God, I would feel so responsible,” says Suzanne. “I don’t want him going through that again.”
It’s enormously sad to see this happen to a couple that has gone through so much together and still seem so close.
“How do you think we feel?” says Duncan. “But it’s the right thing to do. By separating, it removes me from all the pressures and I can see if that’s better or worse. It might be worse, but I’ve got to know.”
“It could be a trial separation so Duncan can find himself,” adds Suzanne. “Maybe in six months time he might realise he’s worse by himself.”
It’s very early days yet and they are not sure exactly what their immediate plans are.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” says Suzanne. “And it’s been the longest week of my life.”
She isn’t sure if Duncan is strong enough yet to head off on his own.
“But it’s one of those things where there is never going to be a right time,” he says.
Over the years, the couple have shared a lot with Weekly readers. Happy events like their wedding in 2005 and when they romantically renewed their vows at the five and 10-year anniversaries. Now they have let us inside their lives at a difficult time, in a bid to end the speculation that began when Suzanne posted photos of herself on Facebook in Bali without Duncan.
With the true story out there, they hope people will give them the space and time they need to take the next difficult steps.
“We’ve hardly ever been apart,” says Suzanne. “And we’ll still be friends. I’m not interested in other men. I’ve had the love of my life and I’m not looking for anyone else. We still love each other. What’s the saying? If you love someone, then sometimes you’ve got to let them go.”
Words: Nicky Pellegrino
Watch: The best of Suzanne Paul
- Real LifeKiwi Mum's adventure: From America's Cup to Africa's Hero!
Now To LoveYesterday 8:00am
- Food & DrinksIf you love Scandi-style interiors then this latest kitchen trend is for you
Now To LoveJun 22, 2021
- TVThe Apprentice NZ's Kennedy Anderson: 'I was fired from my own company!'
Woman's DayJun 17, 2021
- Celebrity NewsMark Richardson on turning 50 and making his mark on the world
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyJun 13, 2021
- TVDrag Race Down Under’s Elektra Shock: From homeless to healed
Woman's DayJun 12, 2021
- Celebrity NewsSuzanne Paul's forever glow and the lessons she's learned
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyJun 05, 2021
- Real LifeKiwi mum's transformation: Jules from MAFS changed my life!'
Woman's DayJun 04, 2021
- At homeHow to create a kids room that will last through the ages
Now To LoveJun 03, 2021