For Alex, the Best is yet to come
It's something she's been quizzed about so many times, for so many years, and I'm tentative - if not nervous - as I broach the obvious question, but Alex Best is warm and patient in her reply. 'I loved everything about him. Absolutely everything. He was the whole package.'
The stunning blonde former model is, of course, referring to her late husband, the legendary George, star footballer, Northern Ireland icon, and man who was almost as famous for his love of the bottle and bedding beautiful women as he was for the beautiful game.
Alex, now 45, was with him for a decade and married for 12 years, after meeting him in a nightclub when she was just 21 years old.
Sadly, they divorced in 2005, just months before the ex-Manchester United player passed away after a lengthy battle with alcoholism.
The 12th anniversary of his death was in November past, but the memory of George lives on in the hearts of not just Alex, but fans all over the world. And, sitting in the present day next to the diminutive, brown-eyed, model-turned-interior designer in the reception area of an exclusive Lisburn Road clinic, I press her on what it was exactly about him that captured her heart.
“He was down to earth, he was cheeky, he was lovely,” she says, in her soft, Surrey accent. He had a heart of gold. He was funny, generous - he was just a perfect husband, apart from the alcohol.”
I’ve met the former I’m A Celebrity star at Logan Medical and Wellbeing in south Belfast, where she is launching a brand new facial range called AlumierMD.
It’s a revolutionary skincare treatment, and interestingly, the name Alumier, the clinic’s director Ruth-Ellen Logan explains, comes from the word illuminate, or to make bright and clear. Chatting to Alex Best, it soon becomes apparent that this lady’s future and indeed present is just that as well.
Despite the fact that she has admitted her marriage to George was turbulent, and had its fair share of ups and downs (she released an autobiography in 2005 entitled Always Alex: My Story, which documented just that), there is clearly no bitterness on her part now, and she speaks with fondness and love for her late spouse. I ask her if she remembers their final conversation and she says that she does.
It took place when the football star was lying on his deathbed.
“I went to see him just before he died, and he was unconscious,” she recalls.
“I just said, ‘I love you and always will, and I’m sorry for what’s happened.’”
She adds: “They always say hearing is the last sense to go, so I hope he heard me.
“It was good that I got to say what I always wanted to say to him.”
Alex Pursey met George Best in the infamous Tramps nightclub in London in 1994, and at the time, “he was the age I am now.”
She reveals: “We were introduced by a mutual friend. I had heard of the name George Best but to be honest, didn’t know what he looked like. My dad was more into rugby than soccer, so we rarely had it on the TV.
“George was very charming and did try to chat me up, but I didn’t agree to go out with him until a year later. He certainly pursued me! Just a year (to the day) later we got married.” She recalls finding him “a very attractive man with those gorgeous blue eyes - and the gift of the gab.”
But she reveals that he had a “shyness deep inside and a vulnerability” as well.
She adds with a laugh: “He was very, very special - as he would say in his words!”
Their wedding was a modest affair, with none of the trappings traditionally associated with the footballers’ wives type lifestyle of today’s world.
And it was George who organised the whole shebang. “He told me on a Thursday, ‘we’re getting married next Monday’, and that was that - very little time to plan,” says Alex. “It was a quiet affair. George didn’t want any fuss or press attention, as he said the day was too private and personal.
“The Friday before our wedding we went to Manchester see Rod Stewart in concert, who was a great friend of George. He was staying at the same hotel as us and came into our room to sing I’m Getting Married In The Morning.
“He and his then wife Rachel sent us a big bouquet of flowers on our wedding day. My dress was beautiful but very simple - not very ‘weddingy’. It was from the store Whistles, and I wore flowers in my hair - it was quite hippy chic.”
The newlyweds were based in Surrey, but later moved to a bungalow in Portavogie in Co Down, and this time they spent in George’s native Northern Ireland holds particularly special memories for Alex.
“The highs were very good - especially when we were living in Northern Ireland. He was very romantic, he was my best friend and was such a lovely human being.
“The lows - we all know the lows, but the worst one was not being able to succeed in curing him of his demons.”
They spent two years in the fishing village, and settled in well. Alex quickly got used to rural life as well, and adored the anonymity it gave them, and subsequent freedom to truly be themselves.
“I loved it in Northern Ireland,” she tells me. “We spent a lot of time doing up our house and making it beautiful. When we first moved in we had absolutely no furniture. The first thing we had to do was go out and buy two knives and forks, and spoons and mugs. We went out and bought everything, and spent a good few months doing the place up.”
Considering she was literally ‘spotted on the street’ and got into modelling that way, it should come as no surprise that Alex loves all things beauty and fashion related.
In the flesh she is small, tanned, with sparking dark eyes and an enviably slim figure; she used to run, until she suffered nerve damage in her leg, and so now keeps fit simply through lots of dog walks and an active lifestyle.
And her passion for skincare and beauty products has also helped her retain her youthful looks.
“I’ve been ambassador for quite a few skincare companies and make-up lines, and it’s just something I love,” she says.
“I love experimenting, and I love everything to do with skincare. When I was young, I didn’t look after my skin, and then I started to.
“In terms of tips I would pass on, I would say - water. Drink lots and lots of it to rehydrate the skin.
“That’s the most important thing.
“Also sleep. I get a lot.”
She had to give up running five years ago, but her natural love for the great outdoors means she’s always on the go.
“I’ve always had dogs, and I have a new puppy red setter who’s two, so I do brisk walks with him, two miles a day, and between that and trying to run around and find him I get plenty of exercise! I love being outdoors.”
Her home in Surrey is close to her parents, whom she seems regularly.
“This is where I grew up,” she says. “My parents have always lived here and I think you know, we’re a bit like homing pigeons - we come back to our roots.”
At the moment, she is hugely into interior design and buying property, something she found she had a talent for after a friend asked her to get involved with the design of showrooms for apartments he was buying.
“I have quite a good portfolio at the moment,” she admits. “That’s my passion.
“Why? I just love the thrill of it.”
With a smile I ask her if she thinks she might ever buy property here in Northern Ireland again, but she says that logistically, she’s not sure that would work for now.
From accountancy student to model...
Alexandra Jane McAdam Pursey was born in Leicestershire and her parents moved to Surrey when she was five years old.
“I went to a private girls’ school, Greenacres, and was more sporty and arty as opposed to academic,” she reveals. “I actually swam for the county, and also played a lot of lacrosse.”
After leaving school she went on to do an accountancy and business course, and then became a sales rep for a graphics company. She got into modelling after being spotted in the street by a talent scout.
“Modelling gave me loads of experiences,” she says.
“I would recommend younger girls to model as long as it was with a reputable agency as there’s a lot of cowboys out there. It is a short lived career, so make sure to have qualifications.”
She counts her parents - who will be married 50 years next year and remain hugely in love - and Margaret Thatcher as amongst her role models.
Her ideal dinner date guests are Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, she was named Rear of the Year in 2004, and her grandfather, John McAdam, invented tarmac!