(By Roland White - Sunday Times  -  June 22, 2003)

Five months after Maurice Gibb’s death, his widow Yvonne is selling their Surrey house.
Roland White is moved by the cowboy boots, hats and videos untouched since he died

The shirts he once wore are stacked neatly in the dressing-room wardrobe. The elaborately stitched cowboy boots are still there, too, on the shelf where he left them. But it looks as if somebody has been sorting through his trademark trilby hats. Two of them have been placed carefully on a seat in the hallway, next to a pile of baseball caps.

It is five months since the unexpected death of Maurice Gibb, the youngest of the Bee Gees. He went to a hospital in Miami complaining of stomach pains, and four days later was dead, at the age of 53. He had suffered an intestinal blockage complicated by a heart attack.

Now his widow, Yvonne, is selling the home they shared in England. The Firs, just outside Esher in Surrey, goes on the market this week. FPDSavills is inviting offers of more than £4m.

For Yvonne, the worst part of moving out will be packing up his belongings. Reminders of Maurice are everywhere. In the small recording studio attached to the house, there is even a cigarette lighter on the keyboard where he left it. It was in this studio, incidentally, that Robin Gibb — Maurice’s twin brother — recorded his 1983 single Juliet.

The couple met in 1974 when Yvonne was working as a waitress at a club in Manchester. One night when she was off-duty they were introduced by a friend. A year later, they were married. It wasn’t always an easy marriage — Yvonne helped Maurice to escape the clutches of alcoholism — but it was, she says a little tearfully, a very special marriage. “He was my soul mate,” she says. “He was always there for me. He was never pessimistic, always on the positive. He was always up.”

Since the late 1970s, the couple and their two children, Adam and Samantha, based themselves in Miami, where the Bee Gees moved to launch the Jive Talking single. When visiting Britain they stayed on the Isle of Man to avoid tax, which was then 98% at the highest rate. But in 1979, after the Thatcher government cut income-tax rates, the couple decided to look for a home in Surrey.

“I looked at 21 houses,” says Yvonne, “but Maurice spotted this one in Country Life.” You’d be surprised, she adds, how many pop stars read Country Life.

“I knew it was right as soon as I saw it. You walk up the drive and the view of the house is just amazing. We were also looking for privacy.”

It’s certainly private. The Firs is surrounded by woods. You can’t see the main house from the iron gates, just the two gatehouse cottages. From the outside the house is plain, white and probably dates from the 1930s. Inside, the style is what can best be described as rock-star regency: one reception room has Regency-style panelling on the wall, but a wall in the neighbouring reception room is decorated with gold and platinum silver discs. I didn’t count them: it would have taken too long.

There are more awards — including 10 Ivor Novello statuettes for his contribution to British music — in the rosewood-panelled study. In fact, the Bees Gees have been given so many awards that some have to be stored in the spare bedroom. In showbiz circles it’s traditional to keep awards in the lavatory, but there’s simply no room. The wall in the downstairs loo is already covered with pictures of the Gibb brothers and their families.

“I did all the interior design,” says Yvonne. “Maurice was very happy to go along with my plans. It probably doesn’t fit with the exterior of the house, but what we wanted was cosiness. We didn’t want it to look like a show house. This was a retreat. In Miami, everything gets crazy. This is somewhere where we could get away.”

The couple usually spent a month here in the summer, also Christmas and New Year. “We had absolutely the best New Year parties,” recalls Yvonne. “One year, Maurice hired a designer from Pinewood studios to create a Western theme. Another year, they had a 1960s theme with cars from the decade, juke-boxes, and pinball machines. Maurice didn’t enjoy celebrity events, but friends such as Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Eric Clapton would attend.”

The Firs was also Maurice’s base when the Bee Gees had albums to promote in Britain and Europe, when there were interviews to give and chat shows to do. Mostly, though, he liked to relax here. He would play snooker on the full-size table shipped over from Miami.

He would swim in the heart-shaped pool, decorated with the couple’s star signs. And he’d watch one of the two enormous televisions, one standing in the middle of a stack of speakers that look like the backdrop to a rock concert.

“He loved watching television,” says Yvonne. “The Discovery Channel and the History Channel. He was particularly interested in anything about Hitler and Churchill. We always knew what to get him for Christmas and birthdays. Anything about Churchill.”

He was also a great comedy fan. It seems a little unlikely but Maurice Gibb, international pop idol, used to come home and listen to The Goon Show, Hancock’s Half Hour, and old episodes of Round the Horne. There are shelves stacked with videos such as Blackadder, and Carry On films. It looks like Maurice also enjoyed a whodunnit: the collection includes a couple of Agatha Christies.

The house has five bedrooms, two dressing rooms, four bathrooms and three reception rooms. And they are all huge. The main bedroom not only has a dressing room off it, but a large bathroom that leads to a large shower room.

Outside there is a tennis court, and an ornamental pond that used to be a roller-skating rink. Yvonne’s brother, Herby Spenceley, lives in one of the gatehouses and acts as estate manager for The Firs. “The rink used to have an inflatable dome,” he explains. “But the council said it was an eyesore from the road. So we turned the area into a 20,000-gallon pond.”

If FPDSavills makes a good job of selling The Firs, who knows where it might lead. Because Maurice and Yvonne had five more homes. There is the main family home in Miami, a small place in the Bahamas, a house in Spain also planned for sale, not to mention a home in Florida and another in glamorous Chobham, just down the road from Esher.

Just now, though, selling one house is problem enough.

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