Whilst the nation is gripped to the current ITV drama, Mrs Biggs, which tells the story of the long-suffering wife of Great Train robber, Ronnie Biggs, not many of us feel much sympathy towards her husband.
Ronnie and Charmian Biggs married when Charmian was only 17, and pregnant. Before meeting Biggs she had lead a respectable crime-less life, living with her strict parents. After meeting Ron, she ended up in with a criminal record and lost the respect, and all contact with her parents after she ran away to marry him.
The pair then led a relatively simple life together, having two young boys, and were generally happy, until Ronnie got involved in the Great Train Robbery and ended up being sent to prison for 30 years.
Viewers have watched an incredibly talented Sheridan Smith portray Charmian in the already epic drama, whilst her character endures a life on the run after Ron escapes from jail.
Fans of the show can see the concluding part of Charmian’s story on Wednesday, in which she and Ron will lose their eldest son, Nick, in a tragic car accident, and eventually go on to divorce. However, whilst all eyes are on Charmian, who not only acted as executive consultant on the show but also appeared behind Sheridan Smith in one episode, there is one pair in particularly, whose stare is piercing. Those eyes belong to Ronnie Biggs!
Speaking to the sun newspaper, Biggs, now aged 83, has broken his silence on the show that has thrust him and his personal life back into the limelight:
Biggs is unable to speak himself anymore, due to a series of health issues which saw him compassionately released from prison early, but, speaking through his good pal Chris Pickard, who last year helped him co-author autobiography Odd Man Out: The Last Straw, he has revealed his regrets over his actions, in particular losing Charmian, who he still classes as the love of his life!
“Charmian Powell, otherwise known as Mrs Biggs, was the love of my life.
“That is a fact, not fiction or a drama. I still love her and hope, in some small way, she still loves me.
“Britain can watch a dramatised version of the story of Charmian and me unfold on ITV.
“I am not involved with the series in any way. I do not expect to be portrayed sympathetically.
“But if one good thing has come out of the series, it is that I’ve got to see Charmian again.
“When I was released from jail, I still did not know how long I had to live and thought it might be days. So we made a few calls from Norfolk Hospital to the people who mattered to let them know I was a free man. The first call was to Charmian in Melbourne.
“I wept as I heard her voice over the speakerphone. I could not talk, but I could make a noise to let her know I still cared. Charm promised to come and see me. That set me a target to keep myself alive for.
“When she walked up to my bed in Barnet Hospital in February it was the first time we had been together with me as a free man since I was arrested over the Great Train Robbery in 1963.
“I can’t speak, I tap out my thoughts on a spelling board. But when you are truly close to a person you don’t always have to spell it out. Charmian knows me only too well.
“People always ask if I have any regrets. I regret that I lost Charmian and our boys when I left them in Australia in 1970 and went to Brazil.
“I like to think I love Charmian and the boys as much as I ever did. Despite the time, the distance and the lack of contact. Not being able to speak, and being locked up for eight years, has not helped the relationship. I doubt the TV series will help either. But it is a version of events that Charm wants to tell, good luck to her.
“Since Brazil and my debilitating strokes I have not seen my sons, or met my “Australian” grandchildren.
“The last time I saw Charmian was in 1998. She and the boys occasionally came to Brazil. It was not as if I could go and visit them.
“Those who saw the first episode of Mrs Biggs will know how I met Charmian on a train on the way to work. That was in late 1957.
“The future Mrs Biggs was then just sweet 17. It took just one look.
“We were deeply attracted to each other and eloped. But we were hard up and I did persuade Charm to dip into the cash-box where she worked and filch £200 (about £3,500 today). It ended with a two and a half year prison sentence for me and probation for Charm.
“I was sent to Norwich Prison — where I later returned, after finally flying back here from Rio with The Sun in 2001.
“Five months after our wedding, on February 20, 1960, Nicholas was born. Christopher was born on March 24, 1963. Cash was tight so I asked my old pal Bruce Reynolds for a loan. He offered me 40 grand to find a man who could drive a diesel train. I was working for a train driver. My fate was sealed.
“I told Charmian I was going on a tree-felling job. Not telling her cost me my alibi as on the eve of the robbery my older brother Jack died of a heart attack. Charmian called the police to try to find me!
“My whack was nearly £150,000 — £2.5million in today’s terms. All in cash! Charm suspected straight away when Bruce dropped me home with two large army kitbags.
“We tipped the contents out on the bedroom floor and went through the pile note by note, setting aside any that were suspicious.
“We had to burn more than £700 in the kitchen stove, digging in the ash around the rose bushes. Five days later I was back at work.
“On the afternoon of September 4 I walked into my home. Two men were in the kitchen. Old Bill! Burly cops were attacking the living room floor with crowbars.
“I got 30 years. Charmian may not have known about the robbery, but she did know about my escape plan. E-Day was on July 8, 1965.
“She took the kids to Whipsnade Zoo and heard of my prison escape on the four o’clock radio news. I went to Paris. From there I flew to Australia. In June 1966 Charmian and the boys arrived.
“It was fabulous being together again. Charmian had brought all that remained of my share of the cash, a little over £7,000. We settled in Adelaide, then Melbourne. Our son Farley was born in 1967.
“But in October 1969 the story of my whereabouts broke. I considered giving myself up. But Charm wouldn’t hear of it.
“I left the next morning, kept my head down and decided on Rio. On February 5, 1970, I had a last goodbye with Charmian. It would be four years when I next saw her.
“One morning in February 1971 I got a letter from Charmian: “Our darling son Nicky has been killed in a road accident.”
“Nicky’s death aged ten was devastating. But I did not sink into a world of drink and drugs, as I believe Mrs Biggs portrays me.
“At the end of 1972 I received a desperately unhappy tape from Charmian telling me how much she and the boys missed me. So I did a deal with a paper to return and I was sent to a prison in Brasilia.
“Then I discovered my Brazilian girlfriend, Raimunda, was pregnant. It was my get-out-of-jail card because of Brazilian extradition laws. I was released.
“Charmian phoned, happy I was free but glum that I had gone back to my “Indian whore”. We loved each other but, under the circumstances, we could only be friends.
“People said they could not work out what a nice girl like Charm ever saw in me. I wondered myself.
“She may not believe it after all I have put her through, but Charmian remains the love of my life — and always will be.”
Mrs Biggs concludes Wednesday evening at 9pm on ITV1/ITV1 HD.