IT WILL PROBABLY BE REMEMBERED as the first transcontinental celebrity divorce-by-fax. But that was only one of many bizarre twists in the breakup of rock royal Phil Collins and his wife of 10 years, Jill Tavelman. The drums began beating on Fleet Street early last month when Collins, 43, the Genesis percussionist and solo star known as rock's Mr. Nice Guy for his work with British charities, began telling audiences during his U.S. concert tour of a romantic encounter he'd had with an old girlfriend.

Back home in their red-brick West Sussex mansion, Tavelman, 38, struck back by accusing Collins of putting his career before his family. According to Tavelman, their 5-year-old daughter Lily "hasn't seen her father for two months. She keeps weeping, 'I want my daddy' Phil sends her faxes, but I know she'd rather hear his voice. Phil doesn't phone because he has to save his voice for the next day."

Then, presumably also in the interest of protecting his famous pipes, Collins informed Tavelman—by fax—that he wanted a divorce. By July 15 he had issued a public statement proclaiming bluntly, "I am not in love with my partner anymore." The rocker also spoke of having had an affair with "the pivotal woman in my teenage years." Press reports later identified her as Lavinia Lang, 43, who had attended theater school in London with Collins. Briefly engaged to be married, they broke up, and Collins later married another classmate, Andrea Brett. (Brett raised their children, Simon, now 17, and Joely, 21, following the couple's 1978 divorce.) Apparently Brett arranged the backstage reunion between her ex and Lang at a 1992 Genesis concert in Los Angeles. According to press reports, Lang and Collins later had a tryst when the band was touring Germany. Lavinia's stepfather, Fred Lang, 67, told reporters that she and Collins have always "carried a torch" for one another, adding, "It's a classic love story as old as Adam and Eve." But Lavinia, a former dancer who now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, TV producer Bret Hudson and their two children, denied the affair. "Lavinia and I are very much in love," her husband said, "and we plan to be together the rest of our lives. Please tell Phil Collins that." By fax, of course.