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Lady Isabella Hervey relives her ten years of hell married to a ‘wife beater’: In a horrifying catalogue of violent abuse allegations, she describes how her ‘fairy tale’ marriage became an ordeal of countless stomach-churning attacks


Lady Isabella Hervey remembers only the chaotic blur of it; the tussle over a beloved family pet, then the crack of her head against the ground as her husband pushed her with such force that she blacked out.

‘I don’t know how long I was unconscious for,’ says the English aristocrat today, talking for the first time about her estranged husband Christophe de Pauw and the many times when he allegedly attacked her. 

‘All I know is I was concussed.

‘Christophe was having an affair. He’d moved out to live with his new girlfriend and had emptied our house of almost all its furniture. Then he came back to take my son Victor’s favourite dog Simba.

‘He grabbed Simba by the neck and threw him into the boot of his car. I shoved my head in to try to get the dog out and almost got trapped in the boot as he tried to slam it shut.

‘Then he pushed me to the floor. I fell backwards, hit my head and blacked out. When I came round one of my three children was trying to resuscitate me. The youngest, my four-year-old daughter India, was trying to open my eyes. She was screaming. It was terrible.’

Lady Isabella at home in the Algarve, where she lives with her children. De Pauw has moved out, taking almost all of the furniture with him, Lady Isabella says

Lady Isabella at home in the Algarve, where she lives with her children. De Pauw has moved out, taking almost all of the furniture with him, Lady Isabella says

Lady Isabella Hervey and Christophe de Pauw married in 2014 in Belgium. Lady Isabella believed her fairytale life had begun

Lady Isabella Hervey and Christophe de Pauw married in 2014 in Belgium. Lady Isabella believed her fairytale life had begun

Today, as divorce proceedings — precipitated by her husband’s purported infidelity and violence — continue, Isabella assesses the awful turmoil of her life with regret that everything has gone so spectacularly wrong.

When in 2014 she married de Pauw, whose Belgian family made a vast fortune from property, she believed her ‘fairy tale’ life had begun.

Her hopes were modest. ‘All I really wanted was to be a housewife and mum to three kids,’ she says. ‘I’m a bit of a dreamer and I wanted to raise my children with a loving husband in the settled, happy family that I never had.’

Brought up by nannies and sent away to boarding school at six, Isabella’s young life was overshadowed by trauma and her family’s notoriety.

She was born into aristocratic privilege but her father Victor, the 6th Marquess of Bristol, died on the night of her third birthday.

Then she lost two half-brothers prematurely. John, the 7th Marquess, a heroin addict, frittered away £35 million on drugs and hedonistic living, losing the family’s ancestral home, Ickworth House in Suffolk, in the process and dying aged 44.

Another half-sibling, Lord Nicholas Hervey, bedevilled by depression, had taken his own life, aged 36, less than a year earlier.

Yet on her wedding day Isabella — who has a sister, Lady Victoria Hervey and brother Frederick, the 8th Marquess of Bristol — believed the jinxed family fortunes had been reversed.

‘I have a lovely husband I adore. My dream has come true,’ she said then. Her optimism, it now emerges, was tragically misplaced.

Today she surveys the wreckage of a marriage she claims was emotionally and physically abusive: de Pauw, she alleges, hit her, attacked her verbally, undermined her self-worth, controlled her financially and isolated her from her friends.

De Pauw would be physically and verbally abusive, Lady Isabella alleges, including hitting her while she was pregnant and even on the day their daughter India was born

De Pauw would be physically and verbally abusive, Lady Isabella alleges, including hitting her while she was pregnant and even on the day their daughter India was born

‘He could be very violent. He spat on me, threw plates; on the day India was born he smacked me across the face. Once he gave me a black eye; another time he hit my head with a metal object when I was seven months pregnant. He was verbally very cruel too. He called me a ‘bitch’ and a ‘piece of sh*t’ and would say he was going to ruin my life.

‘Then ten minutes later he would want to kiss me and make up.

His statement to the Mail

‘Over the past months I have been silent regarding all the accusations Lady Isabella has said about me to the Press. I did it to protect my children, my family and myself from any consequences than an answer could have caused Lady Isabella to carry on endlessly.

‘However, I feel that my honour and dignity have been touched and I cannot continue without defending myself and staying in silence.

‘Our relationship ended over a year ago and we have no relation except for matters regarding the children. Although it was hard, I have managed to reorganise my life in such a way that I could carry on providing for my children giving them a lovely family home in a healthy and stable environment with my new partner. I have been fully supporting my children and Lady Isabella since then, by providing all the means for them to have a good life.

‘The Portuguese courts are handling the legal procedures and in due time we shall have what I trust will be the best decision for the family.’ 

‘The worst of it is, he would abuse me in front of the kids. They thought this was normal behaviour. Their dad was their role model so the boys would copy him. They would spit at me, call me names; hit me, too.’

Lady Isabella, 41, is telling me her full story of her abusive marriage for the first time today.

We sit in the kitchen of her £2.7 million home at the end of an opulent cul-de-sac in the Portuguese resort of Vilamoura, on either side of a table sticky with children’s fingerprints, sipping builders’ tea from mugs. (Isabella’s one, a gift from her kids, proclaims World’s Best Mum.)

Today the children — Victor, eight, Patrick, six and India — have been making maracas out of empty water bottles filled with rice, Isabella overseeing the merry chaos. ‘It has taken me two hours to clean up,’ she smiles, rolling her eyes.

Before Christophe left, the house was kept neat and gleaming by two housekeepers. Now it echoes with neglect and desolation, its contents stripped but for the most minimal essentials by her estranged husband who now lives in a rented house nearby with his girlfriend, a 41-year-old divorced Belgian-born property consultant, and her two children.

It is a cruelty not lost on Isabella that Christophe, 43, now pays her a monthly stipend of 900 euros, Isabella’s sole income from which she must feed and clothe herself and her children, run the home and her car.

Meanwhile, he spends hundreds of euros a month on membership of the exclusive Laguna golf club whose verdant greens overlook the garden. Now and again she even catches sight of him playing there. He also keeps a boat on the marina.

Today all that remains in her marble-floored sitting room, with its endless views over the course, is a large stained sofa. The vast picture windows are stippled with her dogs’ muddy paw-prints. A flex hangs from a ceiling socket where once a chandelier twinkled. Picture hooks testify to missing paintings and in the hall, the floor is piled with the detritus of the children’s lives.

Since Christophe took away the cupboards that contained their toys and trainers there is nowhere to store them.

Today Isabella’s crystalline vowels are fuzzy with fatigue; she has a bronchial cough brought on, she thinks, by stress.

A former model, once listed among the world’s sexiest women by lads’ mag FHM after appearing on Celebrity Love Island in 2005, she also won the Channel 4 reality show The Games. She remains astonishingly fit, her endless legs honed by miles of uphill road cycling — relentless steep ascents; punishing 160k training sessions.

She represented Britain in the UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow last summer and says of the sport: ‘It has kept me sane and able to cope, given me back my confidence.’Her racing bike stands in the hall.

But during ten turbulent years of marriage she claims she has endured a literal — as well as metaphorical — battering.

She casts her mind back to her first meeting with de Pauw in London in 2013. Looking for a place to live, she was introduced by a mutual friend to Christophe who wanted a flat mate to share his apartment in the King’s Road, Chelsea.

‘He was charming and obviously liked me. He said: ‘Come over tomorrow and see the flat. I’ll collect you on my motorbike.’

‘I moved in and for a long time we were just friends. I honestly didn’t want to jump into anything more. I was quite vulnerable and fragile.’

She has lived with, and managed, bulimia since her teens. ‘The less stress in my life the easier it is to manage,’ she says.

Both she and heavily tattooed de Pauw had their frailties, but they began a relationship and in the early days Christophe was ‘amazing, caring and kind’.

There had been no sign of his temper until she asked — on the advice of her family — if her own lawyer could look over a legal agreement he wanted her to sign should they split up.

‘And that caused a huge argument. It was the first time I saw his anger and it scared me.’

Even so, after a year together they married in Belgium. ‘It was a beautiful wedding,’ she says.

They settled as newlyweds in Belgium, in a house de Pauw’s parents provided for them, and Isabella began to notice a correlation: as Christophe became more confident that she loved him the mental abuse began.

'He was verbally very cruel. He called me a "bitch" and a "piece of s***" and would say he was going to ruin my life,' Lady Isabella says of her estranged husband, du Pauw

‘He was verbally very cruel. He called me a “bitch” and a “piece of s***” and would say he was going to ruin my life,’ Lady Isabella says of her estranged husband, du Pauw

Lady Isabella attends London Fashion Week with her sister Lady Victoria Hervey in 2006

Lady Isabella attends London Fashion Week with her sister Lady Victoria Hervey in 2006

‘He isolated me, cut me off from friends and family; even his sister-in-law. I was told she was trouble and kept away from her.

‘He could be generous — he bought me a horse — but then I felt he resented it because it cost him money and he didn’t want me to be out riding, enjoying myself.’

Her pregnancies, she claims, precipitated Christophe’s rage and the stress triggered Isabella’s eating disorder. Instead of sympathising, her husband was cruel and hostile. ‘He punched me in the face giving me a black eye. He was angry that I was not controlling my eating,’ she claims.

‘He would say he was repulsed by my body. He criticised my bum because I am slim and said he would go and f*** someone else.

‘He’d take me out for a ‘romantic’ dinner and I would dress up, but he’d tell me I was not sexy or attractive. I noticed his wandering eyes.’

As the children arrived — both Patrick and India by IVF after her eggs were harvested and embryos implanted — she alleges that Christophe’s temper worsened. ‘I had contractions with Patrick two months early, which I’m sure was brought on by stress and I had to go on bed rest.’ Her final pregnancy was even more fraught. ‘I’d had polycystic ovaries and it was stressful and difficult to get pregnant. I had IVF and one (fertilised) egg was implanted. It was a very rare case and high risk because I had identical twins sharing one amniotic sac and a placenta.

‘While one twin — India — grew, the other did not. I went for a scan at two-and-a-half months and its heart was not beating. I lost the twin and for the rest of the pregnancy was very ill with gestational diabetes.

‘I wasn’t well enough to look after the boys, who are full of beans, so a lot of their care fell to Christophe. I think he resented having to look after them and became angry and violent.

‘When I was seven months pregnant with India he hit my head with a metal object he had by the bed. He dragged me screaming across the floor by my hair so I had friction burns on my arm from the wooden floor.

‘And it was over nothing. They were all ridiculous things: a light left on in a bedroom; not closing a door. He liked everything very tidy. I’m more relaxed. Perhaps it was about a half-drunk cup of tea I’d left on the counter.

‘I don’t think he meant to do as much damage as he did but I started bleeding. I’d already had a traumatic pregnancy and I was terrified I’d lose my baby. I had a big open cut on my head, too, but I was too scared and ashamed to go to hospital and tell anyone Christophe had hit me.

‘Then on the day I gave birth to India he slapped me across the face when I was still in the recovery room. I was fragile after the difficult pregnancy and he wanted his parents to visit that day. I said I didn’t want visitors so soon. I just wanted to be on my own with my new baby.

‘So an hour after I’d given birth he slapped me for not doing what I was told. It was meant to be one of the happiest days of my life but it haunts me. He stormed off and left me alone for three days in hospital.

‘My only visitor was my gynaecologist and I told her what had happened. She said: ‘You must call the police if he ever does that again or it will not stop.’

‘When Christophe came to pick me up we had an argument on the way home. Then, at home, I was sitting in a chair with India in my arms and my two sons beside me and he pushed me so India’s head hit the chair and she started screaming.

‘It was the first time he’d assaulted me in front of the kids so I knew I had to call the police.’

The police arrived and took a statement. Isabella showed them images of injuries her husband had inflicted at other times.

‘In the end I did not press charges because Christophe said he would go on an anger management course.’ He never did.

‘After that the physical abuse stopped for a while. But the mental and emotional abuse continued. Christophe said he would never forgive me for going to the police.’

She gives other examples of her husband’s volatility. His anger allegedly erupted on Victor’s fifth birthday. Her eldest son had been shopping with his paternal grandmother to buy his presents which had been wrapped and stored in the garage until the special day.

‘Victor was really excited about opening them on his birthday, but his father told him he had to wait until his grandmother was there.

‘I could see how sad Victor was and thought it was unkind to make him wait. I told Christophe this and he smacked me across the face and called me a bitch, then slammed the garage door in my face — all because I contradicted him.’

Miserable and isolated, she begged her husband for a divorce, but he forestalled her, promising her a new start in Portugal. She wanted to go there to be near to one of her oldest friends from Woldingham School, Surrey.

‘He agreed to move to save the marriage. Did I think it would be a fresh start? Honestly, no. I knew he wouldn’t change.’

Lady Isabella has a sore and swollen eye after allegedly being hit by her husband Christophe de Pauw

Lady Isabella has a grazed and bruised knee, an injury allegedly inflicted by Christophe de Pauw

Despite de Pauw promising a fresh start with a move to Portugal, the abuse continued, Lady Isabella says, adding: ‘I was the punchbag’

Nonetheless they moved in 2021. ‘He was stressed and angry so he became horrible and abusive again,’ she says. ‘I was the punchbag. He started to hit me again,’ she alleges.

‘I had a strong intuition he was having an affair. He lied about it and made me think I was going crazy, but he was going back and forth to Belgium to see a childhood friend. He went away a lot, going on holidays with her. I hit rock bottom.’

She begged for help — she was plagued by anxiety attacks — and her husband allowed her to go to Camino Recovery in Spain where she was treated for trauma and diagnosed with PTSD.

‘Meanwhile I think Christophe’s father had told him he had to try to make it work with me and I agreed to stay with him for the kids’ sake. But I never trusted him again.’

There were many ways in which de Pauw controlled his wife. ‘If I wanted to buy something — even a pair of cycling shorts — I had to ask him and he’d order it on the internet. I wasn’t allowed to have bank cards or codes.

‘He gave me housekeeping money but there was never more than 1,000 euros in the account and I had to get receipts for petrol, food; everything. I felt degraded.’

Christophe, who worked for his father managing a portfolio of properties, was paid generously.

When India started school — the children all attend an International School in Portugal — Isabella started competitive cycling with Christophe and found she excelled at it.

‘Christophe stopped because I was better than him. I became one of the top female cyclists. I think he thought: ‘Poor, pathetic Isabella, this useless girl. How can she be better than me?’

But through cycling Isabella started to feel strong again.

‘And for quite a few months Christophe was nice to me. Then he started to be weird and distant. He said he wanted to sell the house, to make some money on it and buy another one to renovate.

‘I didn’t want to move. I hate feeling unsettled. But he called in a property consultant. She came along, dressed inappropriately in a mini skirt and a see-through white top and the biggest high heels. I told Christophe: ‘She’s out to get you.’

Her suspicions now aroused, Isabella tracked her husband’s movements that night and discovered, via a social media page, where the property consultant lived.

‘I found out Christophe was visiting her and later I discovered they had already begun an affair.’

This was the final straw. ‘He wanted to carry on living here and have the affair. He’d be texting her from the dinner table and he was being really terrible to me. So I asked him to leave the house and said he could move in with her. He didn’t want to because she had two kids and a tiny apartment. He probably thought of it as just a fling.’

Since the day in January 2023 when Isabella’s patience finally snapped and her husband moved out, de Pauw has striven, she contends, to make her life unbearable.

‘He also wants me out of the house. There are rumours he has sold it but it is also possible he just wants me out so he can move back in.’

When approached by The Mail, de Pauw did not address the details of the allegations of emotional, verbal and physical abuse, but said: ‘Over the past months I have been silent regarding all the accusations Lady Isabella has said about me to the Press. I did it to protect my children, my family and myself from any consequences than an answer could have caused Lady Isabella to carry on endlessly.

‘However, I feel that my honour and dignity have been touched and I cannot continue without defending myself and staying in silence.

‘Our relationship ended over a year ago and we have no relation except for matters regarding the children. Although it was hard, I have managed to reorganise my life in such a way that I could carry on providing for my children giving them a lovely family home in a healthy and stable environment with my new partner. I have been fully supporting my children and Lady Isabella since then, by providing all the means for them to have a good life.

‘The Portuguese courts are handling the legal procedures and in due time we shall have what I trust will be the best decision for the family.’ 

For the past year, Isabella has carried a panic button, supplied by the police.

‘All of this has taken a terrible emotional toll on the children. I don’t want them to worry but they do and it’s not good for them,’ she says.

She lives in a financial limbo. ‘Friends have lent me money. My car is faulty and I already owe the garage 1,000 euros. Christophe has cut off my health insurance. The kids need new shoes.

‘They know Mummy is poor but I don’t want them to think that money equals love. I’m convinced Christophe is trying to wear me down, to break me, so I will hand over the key to the house. He wants to put me in rented accommodation and I’ll have no secure home.

‘He comes from one of the richest families in Belgium but it is as if he thinks: ‘You came with nothing, you’ll go with nothing.’ I am scared of him, scared this will never end.

‘I’m not really angry with his girlfriend. It takes two people to have an affair and she’s done me a favour. I just wish her luck with him. I genuinely hope she will not end up suffering as I have done.’



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