By Abigail King
Last updated at 8:37 PM on 22nd August 2009
Abigail King was making final preparations for her wedding
when her fiancé Mark went missing. Although she was aware that his property business was failing in the credit crunch, she had no idea of the extent of his desperation
‘It was starting my own company that saved my life,’ says Abigail King
On a sunny morning in April 2008 I got up early. My fiancé Mark Sebire and I were getting married in five weeks’ time and I wanted to sort out the final arrangements for our wedding. I dressed up to go for a girls’ lunch and when I came downstairs, Mark hugged me and told me he loved me. As I left the house he was watching GMTV on the sofa, eating cereal.
That was the last time I saw him alive. The next day I had to identify his body at the mortuary.
To the outside world, Mark had everything to live for. He was a handsome 36-year-old property developer, popular with his friends. We were deeply in love, about to get married and shared a £1.7 million London house that Mark had bought for us to renovate.
But behind the scenes I knew that he was depressed. His business was collapsing. He had a huge portfolio of London properties once worth millions on paper but, with the credit crunch looming, he was unable to sell them. He was mortgaged to the hilt and facing financial ruin. I kept telling him that, as long as we were together, we would survive. But I didn’t realise how desperate he was not to lose what he’d built up. He put extraordinary pressure on himself to create an amazing life for us, and I believe it was that pressure that killed him.
Immediately after I left the house that April morning, Mark took a taxi to an isolated spot
and shot himself. In a letter he left for the coroner, he wrote: ‘I took my own life due to extreme financial pressure, and my poor fiancée would have been liable for my debts if we had got married. It is no one’s fault but my own.’
Mark Sebire with his beloved cocker spaniel Iggy
He could see his world falling apart and couldn’t cope with starting again. His pride wouldn’t let him admit that he was in trouble, and he didn’t know how to reach out for help.
Mark and I had met on a blind date in 2005, and from the beginning our relationship just seemed to make sense. My parents had separated when I was eight, then, when I was 14, my mother died of leukaemia at only 42; a year later my older sister Louise had a horrific car crash at 19, suffering brain injuries from which she has struggled to recover. I had always had a fear of abandonment – a fear that the people I loved were not going to stick around. Mark seemed so strong and, instinctively, I felt protected. After six months, I sold my flat and we moved into his house in Wandsworth together.
Mark had high expectations of our life together. He wanted us to be living in the country in a big house, and had the future all mapped out. He talked me into leaving my job as a letting agent as he saw it as his obligation to take care of me. He loved me running the home, and I focused on becoming the perfect housewife.
He proposed in March 2007 and we spent the months after our engagement staying on friends’ sofas while we renovated Mark’s house. It was still unfinished when we moved back in the middle of winter. We were living in one room and there was no heating or electricity. I thought, if we can get through this, we can get through anything. But at the start of the new year the fight seemed to go out of him. When Iggy, our beloved cocker spaniel, died in January, Mark was inconsolable. From that day it was as though the man I loved had disappeared. Instead of being focused, driven and full of ideas for the future, he seemed secretive and distant, and looked haunted.
In the weeks leading up to his death, he wouldn’t eat properly or get out of bed, and was ignoring his Blackberry as every call seemed to bring more bad news from creditors. When my dad asked him at a family lunch if he had paid for the wedding cars, he hadn’t. He couldn’t afford to even put them on a credit card. I knew then that there was a real problem but he refused to discuss it with me. He told me that he’d been prescribed a course of antidepressants, and I suggested he see a counsellor, but he was dismissive.
Mark put extraordinary pressure on himself to create an amazing life for us, and it was that pressure that killed him
For months we had been planning to start a family. Suddenly in February he said that we should stop trying. When I asked him why, he just kept repeating, ‘It’s not a good time’. He had stopped going into the office, and after his death I discovered his work diary. At the beginning of the year it was packed with appointments but as the weeks went on, it became almost empty. One unbearably sad entry on his to-do list just read: go for a walk. It seemed so lonely.
A week before he died, I had the final fitting for my wedding dress. Mark knew I had been exercising and dieting and was really nervous that I wouldn’t get into it, but he showed no interest. I found out later that while I was having the fitting, he was registering me as his next of kin.
Even though the day he died started normally enough, that morning I had a sense of unease. But I didn’t start panicking until I realised his mobile was switched off – that was so unlike him. Unable to get hold of him, I rang all his friends but no one had heard from him. Then he failed to turn up at an afternoon meeting. His best friend Giles came over and we rang everyone who knew him. Finally, in the evening, I rang the police, but they told me they couldn’t file a report until he had been missing for 12 hours.
Abigail and Mark on holiday together in Portugal and the Maldives in 2007
When two uniformed policemen knocked on the door at 1am, I just felt a sense of relief that they had come to register him as missing. Then I saw his business partner Justin standing behind them. He was ashen. They told me that the body of a man had been found at Bisley shooting range in Surrey with a driving licence registered to Mark.
It was completely disorientating. The room where we had been laughing together just hours earlier was now a dark place where people were clinging to each other.
As the news spread, friends and family started arriving at the house. My stepmother Rosemary drove down from Gloucestershire. I remember at about 4am someone telling me to go upstairs and rest, but lying on our bed was unbearable. Everything was as Mark had left it the previous morning and the sheets still smelt of him. The police also told me that he had registered me as his next of kin, which meant that I would have to identify him.
The following day, in a state of shock, I drove 50 miles to see Mark’s mother and then another 50 to his father (they are divorced), to tell them that their son was dead. Then I went to identify his body. When I got to the police station, I was taken to a small waiting room. Two officers came in and took some papers out of a brown envelope. They were the suicide notes Mark had left. When they were put in front of me, I knew he had really gone.
He turned out to have made careful plans. In the week before his suicide he arranged to meet friends he hadn’t seen for months, as if saying goodbye to them, and some of the letters were dated as much as three weeks earlier. In one addressed to me, he wrote simply: ‘My darling Aby. What can I tell you that you don’t know already? I’m sorry. M.’
It appears that he wrote all the other notes first and left mine until last. It was almost as though he had written it so many times in his head that he couldn’t write it on the page, and it ended up being just one sentence.
Mark was buried in a country churchyard in Surrey, close to both his parents’ homes. On the morning of the funeral I drove out to Bisley shooting range. I felt I had to see the exact spot where he died. The instructors at the range showed me where his body had been found. I sat on the grassy verge in the spring sunshine and laid some roses on the spot. Then I drove to the funeral parlour and put Iggy’s ashes at his feet and a rose on his chest. He was being buried with love from me. That gave me huge comfort.
At the funeral there was a sense of bewilderment that someone so young should have died in this way. His family were on one side of the church and mine were on the other – just like at a wedding.
Our wedding day had been planned for 17 May. I had a gospel choir booked for the church in Gloucestershire, and 300 guests invited to a reception at a country house hotel with four live bands. My wedding dress alone cost £10,000. It was ridiculously grandiose, and incredibly expensive to cancel. My dad and stepmother stepped in and made all the calls. I now see how ludicrous it all was. I remember suggesting to Mark that we should do a low-key wedding, but he wanted the big affair. He was so proud of me.
At a fitting for her Vera Wang wedding dress and the invitation
On what would have been our wedding day, my stepmother Rosemary took me to Cyprus. She is like a second mother to me, and married my dad in 1997. At the time when we would have been saying our vows, I sat on the beach and looked up at the sky, visualising every moment. It was as if I could see it actually happening in a parallel universe.
Suicide is like a bomb exploding, because the person who dies leaves injured people all around them, suffering incredible pain and grief. You naturally look for someone to blame. Mentally I accused everyone – creditors, Mark’s friends, even my own family – for not supporting us both more. Then I blamed myself. I was tortured about why I hadn’t seen that he was in such a state of emotional crisis. But why hadn’t he told me how desperate he felt? I still can’t forgive him for not having faith in us. I was sure we could have made it through together.
His mother blamed me for not looking after him. Four months after the funeral she wrote me a letter in which she said she held me responsible for his death. I don’t judge her; she was in terrible pain. She said she did not want me around the family. We have not been in contact since.
My best friend, whom I have known for 25 years, also withdrew from me. Her brother
had invested heavily in Mark’s business and was hit hard when it collapsed. Even my own family have found his suicide difficult to deal with: today, Mark’s name is barely mentioned.
People are guilt-ridden over what they could have done to stop it, and no one likes to dwell on such negative emotion too long, so they push it away as quickly as possible. Only a handful of close girlfriends helped me through – ringing me when I was too unhappy to get out of bed, forcing me to go out for supper with them, convincing me that I wasn’t a bad person, that this was just a bad thing that had happened to me.
In the end it was starting my own company that saved my life. I had to move out of our home seven weeks after Mark died because his family wanted it back to sell it, so I moved into a rented studio flat in Fulham. The joint bank account was empty, and he left me with hefty debts that I am still trying to resolve.
But I was well trained by Mark to be a wife – organising builders, events and running a home – so why not be a wife for hire? I sold my engagement ring. It was a constant reminder of what had happened – and it was also the only valuable thing I owned. I bought a second-hand Volkswagen Polo with some of the money, and put the rest into a business called My Domestic Goddess – providing a home service that organises people’s lives while they are at work. I collected children from school, picked up parking permits, walked dogs.
Hard work got me on my feet again, and helped me through the rest of the year. As I gradually regained my emotional strength, it occurred to me that Mark wouldn’t have recognised me as the woman he had wanted to protect and provide for – but doing this for myself was an essential part of the grieving process, of helping me deal with the gap he had left.
Everything was as Mark had left it that morning and the sheets still smelt of him
At the beginning of this year, I started to see a Cruse bereavement therapist, to whom I am able to tell the dark thoughts that you can’t reveal to people you love because they would worry so much about you. And one of my first instincts was to get another dog. My new cocker spaniel Lily has brought joy back into my life. I know Mark would have adored her. When it’s a sunny day and I’m walking Lily in the park, I think, yes, I do forgive him. But, ultimately, there is no forgiveness because there is no real closure.
Today I have a new boyfriend, Tim. He’s 43 and is an incredible support, but it’s early days. I’m only 32 so maybe one day I will get married, but I am a very different person now to how I have been in previous relationships. I’m stronger, and I’m also more humble. The old Abigail was self-centred and ungrateful. I see her as a spoilt brat and I don’t recognise her now.
Now, just over a year on, I sometimes see in my mind’s eye how my life might have been – Mark and I walking hand in hand in the countryside with dogs running alongside us. Then I drive back alone to my small flat. It’s pointless to wallow in dreams – I have to look towards the future. I don’t know what it holds, and I like it that way. I have no expectations. Expectations are what killed Mark.