In Her Own Tale of the South Pacific, Lucy Irvine Takes a Want-Ad Hubby to Play Castaway for a Year
06/18/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
It is a familiar fantasy: your own deserted island, palm trees swaying in the breeze, all the fish you can catch. And no one was more susceptible to the dream than Lucy Irvine—blond, bright and a former artist's model bored with clerking at a British tax office in London. Then, on a dreary January day in 1981, she saw the want ad: "Writer seeks 'wife' for year on tropical island." Irvine recalls, "My idea was a year doing something utterly different, and this fit the bill completely."
Well, not quite. How this Scotswoman, then 25, and an Englishman twice her age spent 13 stormy months as Mr. and Mrs. Robinson Crusoe is recounted in Irvine's unblinkingly candid best-seller, Castaway (Random House, $16.95). The stranger who became her partner was Gerald Kingsland, who had knocked around as a mechanic, farmer and journalist, was twice divorced and had two previous experiences in island living. Brandishing a book contract, he was set to try again, and in four months they were winging to Australia—partly on the proceeds from the sale of a piano belonging to Irvine's mother (Gerald couldn't afford a ticket).
The first big problem developed over that word "wife" in the ad. "Physically our relationship had been so-so. He didn't excite me as a man," Irvine says of her companion, "but seemed solid enough to see through the difficulties of our project. And that's what I wanted—a partner, not a passion." Kingsland had different ideas. She declined his marriage proposals—until Australian authorities refused to sanction the idyll unless they were wed. Lucy thinks that "he felt, 'You wouldn't marry me for me, but you would to get to that bloody island,' " while she resented his "lethargy" about bureaucratic obstacles. "I could sleep with someone I didn't love, but not with someone I didn't respect," she says.
In this state of connubial discord, the newlyweds were deposited on a mile-long sandy patch called Tuin, some 30 miles off Australia's northernmost point. She was an organized, no-nonsense type; she claims he had a fondness for taking naps. The battle of the sexes was made no easier by their habit of padding about in the buff by day and sharing a tent by night, though no longer as lovers. A seafood-and-coconut diet, plus meager rations of rice, beans and tea, cost them weight and strength. They were plagued by cuts and sores. Worst of all, long droughts dashed their hopes for a garden and threatened to dry up their only spring.
Irvine thinks they might have perished but for friendly natives from nearby Badu Island who brought food and water. In return, Kingsland proved a wizard at repairing the islanders' sputtering outboards and was soon commuting regularly to Badu. Fearing that he was abandoning their island paradise, Lucy made a decision: "I was determined to stay on Tuin for a year, even if it meant having to sleep with him. I was aware of my sexual power over him and it was the only way to keep him there." The cost proved high. "I became a docile yes-girl, a nothing. The disintegration of my personality was frightening. I felt like a prostitute." His spirits soared.
Grim as the adventure often was, Lucy says they also shared "terrific laughs," and when the year was up in June 1982, she began her first book at a hotel in Scotland run by her father. Gerald's book is due in October, and Lucy is finishing another book. Still legally married, they quarreled over divorce terms and no longer speak. "The whole experience—Kingsland, Tuin, writing the book—served me well," she figures. "It enabled me to discover myself and taught me a discipline I didn't know I had." But she doesn't think she would try it again. "For me," Lucy says, "that was a one-off thing."