Dame Barbara Windsor’s ‘Carry On’ Jewish Romance

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Dame Barbara Windsor’s ‘Carry On’ Jewish Romance

She was famous and he was younger. Scott Mitchell talks about life without his beloved wife

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Scott and his Dame
Scott and his Dame

Scott Mitchell could not have been more embarrassed. He had only just met Barbara Windsor and she was watching a video of his barmitzvah in which he was crying.

“I think I should explain,” volunteers Scott with a warm smile. He exudes warmth and seems to be known for it in his part of town. Walk with him in his W1 manor and everyone says hello or wants a word. Not unlike Albert Square. But then Scott was married to the landlady of the Queen Vic pub who, coincidentally, was a ‘Mitchell’ too.

Back at the barmitzvah, in the Florence Michael suite in St John’s Wood – “We weren’t well off, but my parents pulled out all the stops” – 13-year-old Scott was weeping.

“I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it and moved by the prayers,” says Scott. “We weren’t religious, and I learned my barmitzvah parrot-fashion
off a tape recorder. But our shul, Brighton and Hove, had a wonderful rabbi – Rabbi Fausner – and I’ll never forget his face. Or his passion when
he sang.”


Rita, Ronnie, Barbara and Scott with his sister Marsha and her husband Laurence

Scott’s emotional reaction to grace before meals was what Barbara watched the night they met .”We’d all had a few drinks when my father suggested putting it on. Barbara was laughing with my mum about the guests’ outfits. But I was mortified while thinking ‘do I need this?'”

As things turned out he did. Barbara went from being his mother Rita’s old friend to the love of his life. When he talks about her now, he sounds like a man in love, yet it has been two years and three months since she died from Alzheimer’s disease.

“I have her name tattooed on my arm, so I’m not able to erase to her. She’ll always be in my heart.” Barbara was 83 when she died and Scott turns 60 this month, but the age disparity never bothered them or their good friends and family.

It was Rita who set the wheels in motion by inviting Barbara to dinner. They went to dancing school together. “Madame Behenna’s Juvenile Jollities in Stoke Newington. Could it be any more camp?” asks Scott, who was sent to collect Barb. “I was first taken by how young she looked, then we clicked right away. The chatter never stopped.”

When Scott was 18, a clairvoyant in Brighton predicted he would go on stage (he went to drama school) and that he would meet a lady, probably older, who would make him happy.  Clairvoyants seldom get it so right, but Scott didn’t make a note of it.

He was 23 before he kept a diary, which he still does, and his diligence for documenting everything was invaluable when it came to writing By Your Side: My Life Loving Barbara Windsor (now in paperback).
Solicitous and straightforward, no stone is left unturned in Scott’s story, which invites the reader to every party, opening night and paparazzi chase before the couple went public.

Married after a chaotic Carry on style romance

After seven passionate and chaotic years of dating, their ‘carry on’ style romance was sealed in April 2000 with a wedding that wasn’t Jewish but felt like it was.

“Barbara always had an affiliation with the Jewish community. In her own book, she talked about how she defended Jewish children being tormented in the school playground. Her dad had enlisted when he told her about ‘nasty Hitler’, so she stuck up for the kids saying, ‘Don’t talk to them like that. They can’t help it. My dad’s gone to war.’”

Not just a defender of our faith, Barbara also shared Scott’s love of Jewish prayers. “Growing up in Stoke Newington, she would hear singing coming from the synagogue and found it very theatrical and moving. She actually told her mum she was going to marry a Jewish cab driver, and the irony was that my late father had two professions: jeweller and cab driver. So she did get the son of a cabbie.”

Scott relishes the roster of Jewish/ Barbara stories, particularly the one about her going to the Royal Tottenham dance hall via Stamford Hill’s E&A salt beef bar. “My dad and his mates would stand outside it, and Barb, then 18, told me how they wolf-whistled and tried to grab her. Except for one handsome guy called Ronnie Mitchell who told the lads to leave her alone. That was my dad. So she knew my parents independently before they even met.”

Scott’s heart is on the sleeve of his book, which also documents his own demons with addiction, Barbara’s divorce (she was married when they met) and, finally, the traumatic diagnosis that turned him from husband to carer.“The early days were awful,” he says. “But I grieved from the moment she was diagnosed. I think, as humans, we jump forward to the darkest place, so when the neurologist said it was Alzheimer’s, I looked at Barb and thought, ‘Please don’t tell me this lady’s not going to know who she is one day.’ But the advice I got was to not miss out on what we had then.”

Every stage of Barbara’s deterioration is in the book. The clinicians and confusion will resonate with those facing similar situations with loved ones. There were times when Barbara thought she was in Stoke Newington with her mother and Scott had to gently correct her. Moments when he would catch her looking at him, then ask: “Are we married?” and when he said “yes”, she would punch the air. Hardest of all was when she didn’t know him.

That he is an ambassador for Alzheimer’s Research UK shows how much he learnt about the disease and how committed he is to helping find a
cure. He pitches sponsors, bares his soul to struggling carers and runs the London Marathon in his ‘Bab’s Army’ T-shirt.

With former prime minister Boris Johnson who also met with Barbara when she went public about her diagnosis

After going public about her diagnosis, Dame Barbara used her profile to raise awareness and went with Scott to meet Boris Johnson, then prime minister, to implore him to allocate more budget to Alzheimers’ patients and research. As a result of their pleas, backing for dementia research was doubled to reach £160 million by 2024.

Barbara died on 10 December 2020 at Anita Dorfman House in Stanmore, a Jewish Care home. “When she could no longer stay at our wonderful mews house, I saw lots of places and was quoted ridiculous money,” says Scott.

“I would have sold the house if necessary, but friends Richard Desmond and Gerald Ronson told me to ring Jewish Care. I said, ‘But Barbara isn’t Jewish,’ to which Gerald replied, ’She’s your wife. In our eyes, she is part of us.’” Scott lost his father in May 2019. It was a big funeral, unlike the small gathering for his Barb, who died during the Covid lockdown. Grieving in isolation was harrowing, but he told his long-time therapist he wasn’t needed. He knew he was meant to feel crushed with sorrow. Scott still cries, but ultimately his solitary shiva made him stronger.

Running as one of Barb’s army at the London marathon

Six days before his birthday, he will run in the London Marathon on 23 April. It will be my last. I’m getting too old,” he says, but he has already crossed the finish line that matters most.

On 21 March, The Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission officially announced it had appointed co-chairs to accelerate the research he had pitched to Johnson. “It’s inspired by the Covid Vaccine Taskforce, as we thought a similar task force could speed up dementia trials and get them into the system faster. Now it’s happening.”

Somewhere, Ronnie Mitchell and Dame Barbara Windsor are kvelling. As a Jewish family should.

By Your Side: My Life Loving Barbara Windsor by Scott Mitchell is published by Seven Dials (Orion), priced £8.99

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