The Daily Mail tracked down Sally Thomsett’s estranged husband Claus Hede Nielsen (pictured above)
From the moment he clapped eyes on Sally Thomsett, standing by his pool in a see-through purple dress, Claus Hede Nielsen was smitten.
‘I took one look at her and I was hooked,’ he says of that unforgettable day in the summer of 1980.
Barely a week later the Danish entrepreneur married the petite blonde star of The Railway Children and the couple enjoyed a few whirlwind years together before they split amid financial woes and rows about infidelity.
You’d think then, given that they parted company nearly 35 years ago, that the pair might have made it official by getting divorced.
But this week, 69-year-old Sally revealed she is still legally married to Claus — despite spending the past 25 years with her current partner, Paul Agnew, with whom she has a 22-year-old daughter, Charlotte. She and landscape gardener Paul have never married, lamented the actress, because she can’t find Claus.
‘I don’t know where he is to divorce him,’ she said, as she elaborated on her somewhat complicated love life. ‘I think he went back to Denmark, or to LA. I’m still legally his wife, but I haven’t got a clue where he is.’
Sally Thomsett (left with her husband Claus on their wedding day) has said she is still legally married to Claus. Sally (right) has spent 25 years with her current partner Paul Agnew
Well, now she does. This week the Mail tracked down Claus to Denmark, where he’s living in a bungalow in the small Fjord-side town of Horsens. There the 67-year-old former tycoon appeared bemused by his estranged wife’s claim not to be able to find him.
‘I don’t know what Sally’s game is,’ he told me over a glass of red wine. ‘I asked her for a divorce twice back in the late Eighties and she turned me down on both occasions. I gave up asking in the end because I was so fed up.
‘I thought: “Sod it. I’ll just leave it.” I don’t think I’m that hard to find so she can’t have tried very hard.’
In the midst of an extraordinarily frank interview about their wild and unconventional days as husband and wife, Claus admits that he wasn’t entirely unhappy that Sally is still his wife.
Sally Thomsett (left) starred alongside Gary Warren (right) in The Railway children in 1970
‘I was madly in love with her and part of me is still in love with her,’ he says.
Not surprisingly, Sally’s out-of-the-blue remarks this week have left him reminiscing about the romantic past they shared. Having made and lost his fortune several times throughout his life, he is now living in rather more straitened financial circumstances than he was when he gallivanted around the world with her in the Eighties. Those days, he says, often seem like another, far-off world.
Claus (pictured above) said he was ‘deeply in love’ with Sally
By the time Claus met her in 1980, Sally Thomsett was a household name.
She shot to fame playing 11-year-old Phyllis in the 1970 movie of The Railway Children, despite being 20 years old at the time.
A year later, she appeared alongside Dustin Hoffman in the controversial film Straw Dogs, playing a seductive teenager. The same year, 1971, she married for the first time.
She later admitted that she realised she’d made a mistake just six weeks after the wedding to shipping magnate’s son Nigel Newman. The pair divorced soon after.
Throughout the Seventies, she cemented her appeal as a comic sex symbol, appearing regularly as dizzy blonde Jo in the hit TV sitcom Man About The House, in which she starred alongside Richard O’Sullivan and Paula Wilcox.
Sally also famously enjoyed an off-screen romance with O’Sullivan that lasted for several years.
Sally Thomsett, Richard Hampton, Hamilton Dyce and Margery Withers ‘For Amusement Only’ TV
A huge fan of the sitcom — and of Sally — Claus hired her to model for publicity photos for the launch of an early cordless ‘Freedom’ telephone he was trying to market.
Born into one of Denmark’s most prestigious and wealthy families, Claus’s grandfather made the Hede Nielsen family fortune at the turn of the 20th century manufacturing industrial gases and bicycles.
His father went on to become one of the earliest Danish importers of glass tubes for televisions in the Fifties and also acquired the Danish rights to RCA records not long after they’d signed Elvis Presley.
Claus, the youngest of three brothers, was sent to London to study commerce in the Sixties. Aside from his early cordless phone ventures, he also imported ultraviolet Flowtron insect-killing lights for restaurant kitchens as well as running his own record label, Spectra.
Jenny Agutter and Sally Thomsett (above) in the Railway Children, which Sally is best known for
The Railway Children (pictured above all in white), Sally Thomsett, Jenny Agutter
As a young man, with a seemingly bottomless bank account, he enjoyed a gloriously eccentric and hedonistic life. His first marriage, to a half-Greek croupier called Brandy, was celebrated in the Penthouse suite at the Dorchester Hotel in 1975.
For a time, the couple owned a lion cub called Lisa and Claus turned heads by driving the big cat around London in his convertible Lotus.
Five years later, he says, Brandy left him for John Walker of the U.S. pop group The Walker Brothers. Lisa the lioness also left.
‘She got too big and went to live at Woburn Safari Park,’ says Claus. ‘And then I got myself another lioness — which was Sally.’
Sally also starred in The Gold Robbers alongside Roy Dotrice (pictured above)
The pair met after his secretary, noting that her boss was single and on the lookout for a new girlfriend, invited Sally to one of the legendary pool parties Claus used to hold at his mansion in Wembley Park, London.
‘I took one look at her, standing there by the pool, and that was it,’ he says. ‘Those early days were happy times. We were madly in love.’
According to Claus’s account, Sally never left. A couple of days after the party finished, the pair set off travelling around Italy, visiting Venice, Sorrento and Rome.
Claus (pictured above) said the early days of their relationship had been happy days
Back in London, Sally proposed to him at her Marylebone flat. After saying yes, he says, he called a car dealer friend and ordered her a Ferrari. He also bought her a diamond ring. The pair married at Harrow Register Office in June 1980, surrounded by friends and family, including Sally’s parents. Sally wore a pink dress and a white fur cloak and their lavish wedding reception was held at Les Ambassadeurs casino on Park Lane in Mayfair.
The couple set off on honeymoon, flying to Paris and then taking Concorde to Rio in Brazil. ‘Sally didn’t like Rio,’ he recalls, ‘so we flew back on Concorde to Paris and went to Athens instead.’
At first the newlyweds lived at Claus’s mansion in Wembley Park, but he claims that within three months Sally was restless and moved back to her Marylebone flat. They reunited for their first Christmas together in Brighton with her parents.
She joined him when business trips took him all over the world, to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Hong Kong and Hawaii.
Claus says he was determined to make the marriage work. ‘The problem is that when you are in love it’s like a disease,’ he says. ‘I wanted to make her happy.’
A couple of years into their marriage, Claus sold his Wembley mansion and the pair relocated to Los Angeles. Claus had plans to set up businesses there; Sally wanted to make her name in Hollywood.
Sally (pictured above) starring in ‘Man of the House’ had previously rented a large house with a pool in Beverly Hills
They rented a large house with a pool in Beverly Hills and drove around in a Mercedes convertible and a Jeep. ‘I believed that our marriage would have a better chance away from London where she was always recognised,’ he says. ‘She wasn’t really known in the U.S.’
At first, things appeared to go according to plan. Claus set about launching the U.S. branch of his record label Spectra and Hede-Nielsen productions to promote his interests in the TV and film industry. Neither of them took off.
One of the company’s first projects was Sally In America, a show that she and Claus hoped would launch her as a U.S. star.
According to an early publicity brochure, she was going to be filmed attending Hollywood parties and exploring humorous and unusual aspects of American culture. Unfortunately, the programme never got off the ground.
It was, says Claus, the beginning of a downward spiral. Running out of money, the couple’s flashy cars were repossessed. They were forced to leave the Beverly Hills mansion for a small apartment in a less salubrious neighbourhood. By 1984, he says, Sally had returned without him to live in the UK.
‘I think she fell out of love with me,’ he says.
A year after Sally left, Claus also returned to the UK and set about trying to reverse his fortunes with further ventures into film and business, with limited success. Even so, he managed to get enough money together to buy a small house back in Wembley Park.
For a time, he says, he and Sally started seeing each other again. ‘I was still in love with her. I wanted her to be my wife. But she made it clear that she wanted an open marriage. I couldn’t live with that.’
According to Sally, the last time she saw Claus was in 1985. He believes it was 1988. The last time, he says, was at his house and he asked her again for a divorce.
‘I don’t know why she said no,’ he says. ‘She said to me that she would actually like a situation where she was still married to me.
‘I wasn’t happy about it, but as she wouldn’t give me a divorce, I knew I’d have to wait for at least five years. In the end, I wasn’t worried about marrying again and I was fed up so I let it go.’
Speaking of their ongoing marriage this week, Sally herself said: ‘What does it really matter? It’s not as if he’s bothering me.’
Certainly, she appears to have got on with her life. She became a mother for the first time at the age of 46 and struggled to get acting work after taking time out to raise her daughter. ‘But the timing didn’t turn out well,’ she said this week. ‘Reality TV was starting and they’d stopped making nice comedies. I’ve done a few chatshows and things like that, but actual acting is what I want to do. I’d say the chances of that happening are zilch.’
Claus says that after Sally, his love life took something of a nose-dive. ‘I wasn’t really interested,’ he says. ‘I’d tried marriage twice. I was tired of the heartache.’
He finally left the UK and returned to Denmark ten years ago. His most recent venture, a marine reservations business, collapsed amid the 2008 credit crisis. He sold his house in Wembley Park and, penniless, returned to Denmark.
Once back in his hometown, Horsens, he threw himself on the mercy of Danish social services and met his current partner Keth, 71, at a government-run club for the unemployed where she was working as a volunteer.
They did briefly discuss marriage, he says, but he couldn’t face asking Sally for a divorce again. ‘I just wanted to leave it all alone.’
In 2012, he received another windfall after suing a family trust. Legally bound by a confidentiality agreement, he will only say that the money he received is enough to survive on but not enough for him to worry about Sally ever turning up to claim half of it.
Sitting on his worn leather sofa, Claus admits that the louche, fabulously wealthy days of his younger years are long gone. Now he has returned to the place of his birth, on the east coast of Jutland, his life is unrecognisable from the whirlwind he shared with Sally in London and LA.
He cuts a somewhat frail figure and walks with a frame. He no longer owns a Ferrari. The car on the drive is a small black Toyota.
The last business venture up his sleeve is the book he is penning about his life, which he hopes to publish. He has called it A Journey Through Life. Despite all its ups and downs, he says he has no regrets about the past.
‘My memories of Sally are largely happy ones. I wouldn’t want to see her again, but I wish her good luck.’
When approached by the Mail, Sally declined to comment.
Above all, Claus says, he would be willing to release Sally from their 39-year marriage by giving her a divorce. ‘I’d be very happy to grant her one,’ he says. ‘Especially now she knows where I am.’