The former mistress of George Best, Gina Devivo, has joined forces with the footballer's widow to claim that a new book about the period leading up to his death is largely fiction.
Devivo is so upset by what she describes as the work of someone "with a very good imagination" that she has told the Observer she has contacted Alex Best to support her in a legal claim against the publishers of the book, by journalist Celia Walden, the wife of Piers Morgan. Extracts from Walden's book, Babysitting George, have been serialised in the Daily Telegraph and last week it featured as BBC Radio 4's book of the week.
"I am most angry for George, because he is not here to defend himself," said Devivo. "It just didn't happen that way. George would be absolutely livid. He only ever spent a few days with Celia and had no rapport with her at all."
Publishers Bloomsbury Press in London said they were unable to comment about the book or the legal action when asked about Devivo's claim that basic facts in the book were changed several times by Walden in the run-up to publication this month, and that much of her version of events remains inaccurate in the final version.
"I did tell Celia it was wrong before publication and she told me she would put something in the front of the book saying it had all happened 'to the best of her memory'," said Devivo. "In the end, though, she thanks me for my 'continuing friendship' in the first pages even though she hadn't seen me for eight years."
Devivo says that Walden was with the couple for a much shorter time than she suggests in the book. "The way she has portrayed me is really bad too. I did my best to help George. I would never have in any way encouraged him to drink. It is totally unfair. And it is not fair on my children either. They are grown up now and know what they are reading is not true."
Walden met Best when her Sunday newspaper sent her out to Malta in August 2003 to "babysit" the football celebrity, who was struggling with alcoholism and had reportedly started drinking heavily again. Arguing with his wife of seven years, Alex, Best later began a relationship with mother-of-two Devivo which is described at first hand in Walden's book.
The Mail on Sunday was immediately concerned that a rival publication might get the story of the break-up, although the footballer had an exclusive contract with it. The paper wanted Walden, then a young aspiring journalist, to keep its errant star columnist away from other newspapers, which were staking out the hotel where Best was staying.
Alex Best's mother is also supporting her daughter and Devivo in their allegations about the book. Cheryl Pursey denies she ever argued publicly with her son-in-law, as Walden's book describes.
"I never had an argument with George. He was ill, we all knew that," she said. "Alex should never have left him alone in Malta, but she was a young woman then and we make mistakes. We all understood his illness and we had a very good relationship."
Pursey believes that Walden abused a position of trust. "It was such a horrible time in our lives. I remember everything absolutely vividly and it is not just timings that she has got wrong, it is lots of the events she describes," she said.
"George was just a member of the family to us and we actually had to move out of our house for three months because of all the press attention. You don't do that lightly."
"Celia came into our house with George's ghost writer on the column and so I thought she was trusted."
Devivo hopes to prove that an account of a fight that Walden said she witnessed between Best and a man in a bar did not happen: "I was never in the pub with both Celia and George. She says that Manchester United was playing on the pub television screens, but it wasn't even supposed to be during the football season. It is a totally unbelievable version of the summer of 2003. I really can't stress enough that I just wasn't in those places."
Devivo is planning to support Alex "in all she is doing about this book". She said: "I have spoken to her. We were only guilty of loving the same man and are both intelligent enough to know that." Best's widow has instructed solicitors because she feels Walden's suggestion that she might have enjoyed being hit by her husband is a defamation of her character.
In the book Walden writes: "There was a streak of perversity in George and I couldn't help wondering if his wife shared it. It was easy to imagine that a woman I didn't know might get off on the physicality of those wrangles."
"The book has upset everyone," said Devivo. "And the worst thing is this is all going to go down as a piece of history. What if my grandchildren get to read that version of me? It scares the life out of me. I have never objected to anything Alex has said about me or anyone else, but I have to make a stand now. It hurts but I can't even say it brings back painful memories because it never happened."
Walden said that she was unable to comment.
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