Lory Del Santo allows herself a smile when she picks up her newborn baby boy.
Her eyes, glazed and touched with tragedy, briefly flicker to life. Then, when
he has gone to sleep, a darkness envelops her again. It has been nine years
since Lory and rock legend Eric Clapton's four year-old son, Conor, fell 53
floors to his death through the open window of a New York skyscraper. For Lory,
the memory is so raw, it still seems like it happened only yesterday. The birth
of Loren has been the first light in Lory's life since that desperate day and it
is only his arrival which has now given her the strength to talk about the
tragedy which was so utterly pointless. 'I cried for years and years, but the
tears finally dried up. I have to be stronger now for Loren,' she says. 'After
Conor died I was paralysed, emotionally and mentally. But Loren's birth has
helped bring me back.'
Lory has a difficult start in life. She was born the second daughter of a strict Italian Catholic family. Her father died young and her mother worked long hours to make ends meet, sending her girls to convent schools in the hope that they would obtain a position in a bank or school near their humble home in a village outside Verona.
But Lory had greater dreams and left for Rome to pursue a twin career, modelling and TV presenting. Still only 20, she became instantly famous in Italy as the glamourous girlfriend of a high-profile businessman. She moved on to Milan to continue her TV career where she also became known for photography. She started going to pop concerts and after one was asked to dinner with a crowd of friends. 'I didn't recognise Eric at first,' remembers Lory, 39. 'But we got talking and I found him very natural, relaxed and uncomplicated. He asked me to dinner the next night. That day I found out who he was when I was reading the papers and realised that I know one of his songs. Cocaine. We had dinner, but I didn't want anything to happen. I didn't want to get involved with a famous person who was interested in a one-night stand, never to be seen again. I wanted a serious relationship with a man with whom I could have a baby.
'At first I kept my distance but Eric so peristent that he gave me some confidence, so we started to have a relationship. It went very slowly at first. I didn't ask his any questions, or make any demands on him. I didn't want to get heavy or boring. Then one day he rang and said, "Hey, I'm in town." I said, "Which town?" He said, "In Milan." I asked why and he said, "Because I love you,"'
At this point Clapton was coming to the end of his marriage to Patti Boyd, the wife he stole from Beatle George Harrison and had been with for nine years, despite his numerous affairs. It was a tormented time for him and as Lory got to know him better, she was able to see the darked side of the recovering heroin addict's personality. She never saw him use drugs, but began to realise that he was an alcoholic. 'It was hard to tell at first because he would be drinking all day and he would show no signs of being drunk. I realised at a club when he became abusive that he had a drink problem and was drinking purely to get drunk. His problems were mental and emotional. I didn't really know much about alcoholism at the time but I knew he always had a willingness to stop.'
'His solution to the problem was to go away for a month at a time to try to stop and he'd come back to me drinking water. Then things would be all right before that bad times returned and he'd start drinking again. All I could do was to help be a good example, tried to help himself. He asked me to go to AA meetings with him and I would help him by being silent and talking to him when he wanted to, doing things when he wanted to do them and never stopping him from doing the things he wanted to do.'
'But it was the silences which were the hardest of all. He needed total silence, to live in a place with no noise. I never heard him play the guitar or sing in the house, except once when he rang me and sang Happy Birthday over the phone. He would go into silent periods for days, even weeks, and eventually come out of the silence by saying something like, "Do you want to eat?" That would be followed by something the next day, eventually building up to a couple of sentences a day. I would always wait for him to talk first because he expected me to be silent those times, too. Then he would say something really beautiful to me that would make up for all the silences.'
It was during a particularly communicative period several months after they met that Lory and Clapton discussed having a baby. His failure to have a child with Patti was one of the reasons for the break-up of their marriage. So when Clapton asked one day what Lory was thinking, he couldn't have been more delighted. 'I said I wanted a baby. He said, "Oh, me too." I said, "Really?" because I couldn't believe it. Then he said, "Are you really, really serious? Because if you are let's do it."'
'Our decision happened in September and by December I was pregnant. I remembered we were having dinner on Christmas Day at his manager's house and I felt dredfully sick. They all thought I was being typically Italian and not liking the English food. But I discovered later that I was pregnant. I was so happy it was unbelievable, but Eric was not all pleased and he went into a dark mood when I told him.'
'I was shocked at his reaction, but so happy that nothing could touch me for two days. I was living in London with Eric and commuting back to Milan for part of the week for my work. It was a hard time for Eric as he had moved out of his country home where he had been living with his wife to a town house in London. He hates traffic and noise so this was affecting him badly. He had lots of doubts about his life, his past and his future. At the same time he was trying to cope with our baby. Eric hates change and likes to have a very simple, organised life. He likes to know what's next, so this threw him completely off track. But I knew that he had wanted the baby more than anything else, otherwise it wouldn't have happened.'
It took six months for Clapton to adjust to the idea of becoming a father. 'It was very difficult to speak to him so I decided to disappear. I didn't want anything from him so I decided to go back to my life. I didn't even plan to call him when I got back to Italy.' Lory was convinced that when Clapton's hangers-on discovered the pregnancy they'd warn him that she would use it as a means of getting things from him.
'He never understood me deeply because otherwise he'd have know that I didn't want anything materially from him. His manager and these people don't know me. I was honest and proud and always paid my own way, even down to the plane tickets to see him. But he started doubting too. I left him to his thoughts. You can't fight for things that are not going to happen.
'After three months I got a call from his manager. He told me bad things which are too painful to repeat. He wanted me to end the pregnancy, but I told when I make a decision, I go through with it. We took a decision together and that's the way it is. I'm not a piece of meat with no brain or principles. You can't make a decision, change your mind, then rob someone of a baby. I can disappear but there is no way in the world you can make me give up the baby.'
Worse was to come. 'I got a call from Eric. He had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself from a tree. He had fainted then realise he was still alive. I was in shock. Then afterwards I felt really angry and sad because I thought how could he try and do this when we had a family to look forward to. I was angry that myself and the baby weren't important enough to him. To think of suicide in this situation was unreal to me. When you risk dying at any time, life is too precious to waste like that.'
Another time Clapton phoned out of the blue and asked how she was. 'I didn't mention the baby. But he asked how I was. I told and he said, "Ah, good. Since I know you're okay, I'll call soon." But then he disappeared again for two months. During the size months total that he disappeared, he wrote me this beautiful letter, saying how much he loved me and how much he wanted our baby. I used to read this letter over and over and take it bed with me, thinking things were going to be all right. One day when he called and asked if I'd read his letter. I told him I did, often, and he insisted on coming over for dinner. I was tired but we met up and had the most wonderful dinner. He left three days later and I was happy because I thought he'd finally realised how important our baby was.'
'After he'd gone, I noticed that letter was also gone. It was the only proof of him wanting our baby and he'd taken it. He disappeared again until I was eight months' pregnant. When he finally called I told him I was coming to London to have the baby, He was shocked and asked why London, not Milan. So I told him as this baby's father was English he should be born there. And from that moment he took care of everything.'
'He found me a mews house in Chelsea and came to visit every day. When I went into labour, he arrived immediately and the hospital doctor asked if he wanted to come in for the birth. He said, "Oh, no," but changed his mind. At one point he told me, "How long am I going to be here because I'm due to go on holiday and I've been working so hard." I knew underneath that he was capable of strong emotions, Eric picket him up and said, "Oh my God, I'm a father,"'
Then Clapton went on holiday, but when he returned they started to live as a family for the first time, spending all their time together. At first Clapton wanted Lory, Patti and himself to live under one roof in his sprawling country mansion. Naturally, Patti refused, citing Lory in the ensuing divorce proceedings. 'Eric, Conor and I were living in the countryside and I was very happy. For a time the problems went away. There was a period whe Eric didn't drink.'
'But then it became obvious that he couldn't cope with our baby, and the idea that a baby's needs come first. For a start, there was no longer the silence he craved, and , as Conor grew bigger, Eric just couldn't handle the mess a child makes. he resented the presence of a baby in a life which had previously been so ordered and simple.'
'He would never play with Conor. He would just look at him as if he was a world apart from him. Eventually, I said I knew it was a matter of time and patience before he adjusted. Three years after Conor was born, I decided I couldn't wait any longer. I really wanted another baby and he was so insecure. We had to go our separate ways, just meeting up so he could see Conor from time to time. The tragedy is that the day he finally realised what Conor meant to him was just the day before our son died.'
Conor died in March 1991. The day before had been one of the happiest days in Eric and Lory's life. 'It was a special day. Conor and I had come to New York for Easter to spend time with Eric and he had taken Conor to the circus on Long Island. They had such a great time. When Eric got back he looked at me and said, "I now understand what it means to have a child and be a father." He was so happy. That day I saw a new future for us. It was the first time that Eric had ever had Conor on his own. Eric was so happy and said from then on when he had Conor he wanted to look after him without any help. I was delighted and said, "Are you sure?" He insisted that he would look after him, cook for him and wash him all by himself. He said, "I want him to come to London where I can take care of him." He had finally discovered what is meant to be a father, then fate broke this.'
Lory's face darkens when she talks about what happened on the day of the tragedy in her friend's apartment on New York's 57th Street, where she was due to stay for a month. The pain is visible on her face and her voice drops to barely a whisper. 'The night before I put Conor to bed. He was pretending to be asleep but when I went to bed, he jumped in with me - he was so excited about the day he'd had with his Daddy. We began the next day with the same excitement. Conor was full of talk about the elephants he had seen with his Daddy at the circus the day before. Eric was coming to collect us and take us to Central Zoo. Conor was in his room still wearing his pyjamas - he wouldn't go to sleep in any others. He was playing with his nanny and I heard him talking and shouting happily. I was having a bath and getting changed ready to go to the zoo. It was 11am and I shouted to him from the bathroom to hurry up and he shouted back happily back, "In a minute,"'
'That day the apartment block janitor was in the apartment cleaning. I told the nanny and the maid not to leave Conor alone for one second. I came out of the bathroom and heard the fax ring. I stopped to check it and after discovering that it was an estimate for some repair work, I started to compare it with others. I was there for 15 minutes, during which time I heard Conor suddenly start running as he decided to play hide and seek.'
'I heard the nanny and she was running right behind him. But as Conor run into the room where the janitor was cleaning, the janitor stopped her to tell here that he had slid open the window - a huge wall of glass. In the second she stopped to listen to what he was saying, Conor ran straight through the window. I heard a dreadful scream but it wasn't Conor. It was the nanny, I ran into the room, shouting more and more hysterically, "Where's Conor, where's Conor?" Then I saw the open window and I understood at once. I felt all my strength leave me and I collapsed on the floor.'
'Eric arrived five minutes later, not realising Conor had fallen to the street below. He came into the bedroom and I screamed, "He's dead." His eyes went dark and he said, "Dead, he's dead. It's impossible." He found it hard to believe at first. Then his face turned to stone; it was like a film. We said absolutely nothing to each other. I just stopped functioning.'
'The glass was about 4ft by 6ft tall and as we were staying there temporarily, I never knew it was even possible to open it. It wasn't a window, but like a glass wall which was never, even meant to be opened. It was kept permanently locked, but the lock was broken and for some incomprehensible reason, janitor swung it open to let in some fresh air. It had a wooden ledge a foot off the ground. Our son much have thought the glass was still there when he jumped on to the low ledge a foot of the gound. At first first I wanted to kill the janitor. He had no common sense. He never even asked for forgiveness later.'
'I kept thinking of ifs... if I hadn't stopped to read the fax, I would have seen the window open and closed it. From that moment on I ceased to live. The concierge called the ambulance but obviously there was no hope. Eric went to see him at the mortuary, but I just couldn't.'
Lory discovered shortly after Conor's death that she was three months pregnant by her partner, Milanese businessman Silvio Sardi (now her husband). 'At my darkest moments there was this light of the new baby to get my through. When Devin, now eight was born on August 23, just two days after what would have been Conor's fifth birthday, I was laughing and crying at the same time. I was conscious not to overburden Devin with love to fill the vacuum left by Conor, and I had to learn to stop searching for the ghost of Conor in him. I will have to do this too with Loren, who looks uncannily like Conor, but, unlike with Devin, his birth hasn't been overshadowed by great sadness.'
Conor's funeral was held at St Mary Magdelene's Church in Clapton's home village in Ripley, Surrey, attended by celebrity friends including Phil Collins, George Harrison and even Patti Boyd. 'It seemed unreal seeing that little wooden box. People were supportive, but nothing can help. I never saw Eric cry, but people grieve in different ways. I cried every day for four years and there's not a day goes by when I don't think, talk to or pray for Conor. On the night of the funeral I stayed with Eric in his house - the same place where we first all lived happily together - and we prayed and prayed all night.'
'I had nightmares for years, when I heard my son's voice calling for help and I'd run to save him. Eric prays, but he's a very introspective person. To this day we have never ever spoken a word about what happened. We haven't even mentioned Conor's name. We don't need to because there are no words - we just both know. He wrote a song, Tears in Heaven, about it which was his way of dealing with the grief, but I have never heard this song, nor do I ever want to. Once in Amsterdam, I heard it announced on the radio and heard the first few bars, but I just ran away.'
'I can't even have a picture of Conor in my house to remind me because it's too painful. Years ago I locked all the pictures of him away. I don't even know where they are anymore. I stayed in the apartment where he fell for a week, unable to do anything. After that I never went back. I never kept any of my son's clothes or toys. I can't bear to see any picture of Conor but his faces is clearly visible in my head.'
Two years after Conor's death, Lory lost another baby boy who was born three months' premature and died of an infection at two weeks. To her credit, she has relaunched her career. She rents out apartments to models who come on assignments to Milan, runs a gym, has continued with her photography and occasionally presents programmes for Itailian TV.
She is still in contact with Clapton. 'At first we kept meeting at people's funerals - his mother's and his grandmother's. It got to a stage when I thought, "Who next?" Now when we talk we keep things really light even though sometimes he can be weak. In many respects, our relationship never really ended. But the hardest part is that after Conor died we had to face the end of a dream that was just beginning.'