'I warned Earl Spencer not to mess around with my daughter'
By SHARON CHURCHER, Mail on Sunday
When it comes to his personal life, Earl Spencer has always given the appearance of a man who does exactly as he pleases. His first marriage to Victoria Lockwood ended with tales of chronic bullying and infidelity; his second, to Caroline Freud, broke up last June when he walked out on her, their toddler and newborn daughter. Yet no matter how serious the allegations, Charles Spencer invariably moves on regardless, seemingly oblivious to the pain and devastation in his wake. Nor can anyone contain him, not even the Royal Family who were horrified at the Earl's attack on them at the funeral of his sister, Princess Diana. All of which makes a recent meeting in America all the more extraordinary. For finally, perhaps for the first time ever, it seems that Earl Spencer has met his match... and from the most unlikely quarter. Last week, it was confirmed that Princess Diana's brother has begun a relationship with US television presenter Coleen Sullivan. The news has raised more than a few eyebrows among Spencer's aristocratic circles - but they are not the only ones to have shown their concern. Across the Atlantic, in a small town 72 miles south of San Francisco, police sergeant Michael Sullivan has more reservations than most about this latest unlikely chapter in the Earl's chequered love life. For 34-year-old Coleen is his daughter. And as a highly-trained firearms expert and former member of the city's elite SWAT team, he is not afraid to voice his concerns or be cowed by a British Earl, even if he is the uncle of the future King of England. So much so, he held an intense two-hour summit with Spencer in which he grilled him over his intentions, an experience that must surely have been unique for the man who expects - and usually gets - his own way. But according to Mr Sullivan neither he nor his daughter would ever be intimidated by Charles Spencer, whatever his title or position in society. In an exclusive interview from his modest home in the tiny town of Santa Cruz, Mr Sullivan said: "Before I met Charles, during two visits he made here, I checked him out on the internet -which gives you far more information than any police database, if you know where to look. "Several things gave me cause for concern so the second time I met him, when we were alone together for two hours over coffee, I got it off my chest. "I said to him, "Obviously you're a man of 42 and my daughter is 34 so there's nothing I can say that will stop you two from doing what you want to do. However I do have a few questions". "I discussed these highly personal matters with Charles and I did tell him, "Don't mess with my daughter." After our talk, he told me he'd been quite nervous and hoped that he'd put my mind at rest. I told him that I've been a cop for 36 years and I like to think I'm a good judge of character. I believe he is a gentleman. I see that there is some of the goodness of Princess Diana in him. "But I warned him he has never before met anyone quite like my daughter. I've taught her to be a really strong woman who can take care of herself. "I won custody of her and her brother when she was just six years old, and as a single dad, I've raised her to be a strong and resourceful person. "She understands men very well and was brought up in an all-male household, hanging out with members of the SWAT team. "I worked on the team when she was a kid and she knows how to use a gun. I taught her. This is not a woman who is going to let any man mess her around." The warning stands in stark contrast to the way that the Earl has behaved in his previous relationships. During his bitter 1997 divorce from Victoria, a former model, it was revealed that he had been a 'callous adulterer' and an unsympathetic spouse who had taken a string of mistresses while his wife was being treated for an eating disorder and drug addiction in a rehabilitation clinic. His second marriage, to Caroline, in December 2001 was deemed to have helped him emerge humbler and more grounded. The ex-wife of the well-connected PR guru Matthew Freud, Caroline had been an undergraduate at Oxford with Charles and they were understood to have a much more equal relationship. So when he walked out on them last summer it came as a shock to many - not least Caroline, who had no idea why her husband should suddenly decide to leave. While there is no suggestion of infidelity, it does now appear that Coleen, whose looks have attracted comparisons to the Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson, may have had something to do with his decision. When she and Charles first met in January last year, Caroline was seven months pregnant with his second child, Lara. Coleen was filming a documentary about Diana for the Dayton, Ohio, TV station WDTN and visited the Earl at his Althorp home for an interview. According to Mr Sullivan the couple hit it off straight away, bonding over a mutual love of dogs. And such was the Earl's interest in the company of the former cheerleader and Homecoming Princess that they arranged to meet again in Dayton, where there was a Diana exhibition. "Coleen is an animal lover. That was what first drew her to Charles Spencer when she originally met him and interviewed him at his home in England,' said 56-year-old Mr Sullivan. "She told me how much he loved his two dogs. Coleen loves dogs too, so that appealed to her. When Charles visited Dayton for the exhibition, he called her to reacquaint himself." Mr Sullivan insists that at this stage the relationship was innocent. Indeed he claims that his daughter and their family only discovered the Earl had split from Caroline in October through the Press. "The first thing we knew about his separation was when we read about it in People magazine,' he said. Perhaps so. But Coleen clearly felt strongly enough about the Earl to end her relationship with her fiance Justin Allen, a rugged 6ft 3in sportscaster whom she had been with for 11 years. The couple had only got engaged 11 months earlier. Justin had previously given up his job at a California TV station to move to Dayton, a grim town in the industrial midwest, to be with Coleen who was working as a newsreader for the small WDTN station. Yet, with a single-mindedness reminiscent of Earl Spencer, Coleen recently announced that she was quitting her job because she was 'homesick' for San Francisco. But she then accepted the Earl's invitation to spend Christmas in Cape Town with the four children from his ill-fated marriage to Victoria, who now lives there. The couple arrived on December 22 and planned to spend a week at the Spencer mansion in the exclusive suburb of Constantia. However, after recriminations from his children, aged between 12 and 15, Charles moved Coleen into a £350-a-night suite at the five-star, Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, a few minutes drive from his home. Others also remain troubled by the relationship, not least Coleen's former fiance, Justin. According to friends they had been happy when they lived together in their £600-a-month, three-bedroom flat. True, Justin had just taken a job in Florida which kept him away from home but the problem didn't seem insurmountable. Certainly there was never any suggestion of another man - let alone the brother of the late Princess of Wales. "She initially told her station she was homesick for San Francisco even though she hadn't been there for years,' a friend says. "She initiated the break-up of her engagement to Justin in early October and they have kept in contact since then. "He didn't learn of her new relationship until a Mail on Sunday reporter showed up at his door. He had no idea she was dating Spencer. "He thought it was just the tensions of their long-distance relationship that led to her calling off the engagement. "Learning about Spencer has been very painful for him. As recently as ten days ago, when they spoke on the phone, she didn't say anything about this. "She is going to burn herself with this relationship and it is going to jeopardise her career. "She wanted to be famous and she's having her 15 minutes of fame - but we know no one lasts with him. She's just going to be another notch on the Earl's bedpost. "Many women would have thought themselves blessed and thoroughly happy to have been engaged to Justin. He's a heck of a guy with tremendous talent. "He's very loyal and kind which is unusual in this very cut-throat TV business. And now the story is that she is with a loser, a floundering guy who lives on his sister's name and family's money." To add to his humiliation, Coleen recently sent an excited email to her former colleagues in which she talked about her move to England and her new relationship. "Her WDTN co-presenter Mark Allan, said: "She told us, "Charles and I have been seeing each other for a short time. It's very early, but I'm having a great time exploring a new relationship with a fantastic man."'' Coleen might be forgiven her excitement at her new aristocratic life. Where Charles attended Britain's foremost public school, Eton College, she studied at Ycwacio Valley High School in Concord. While Charles dated sophisticated debutantes, she spent four years with her high-school sweetheart Cy McCormack. It should be said that Mr Sullivan has enjoyed an admirably successful career. As part of San Francisco's dignitary protection squad he has guarded Prince Charles and Camilla on a visit to the city and has also protected George Bush and former President Jimmy Carter. But nevertheless, life was often a struggle for the Sullivans - and it was certainly a world far removed from the landed gentry of England. Mr Sullivan said: "It certainly wasn't easy and sometimes it was tough. I had four jobs so Coleen never went without. If I had a new pair of shoes, she got a new pair of shoes, even if my shoes were regulation police issue. "Coleen was always a good girl. I raised her as a Catholic and she went to church regularly. She has strong morals and principles. I trust my daughter to make wise decisions. She is now in England with Charles and I talk to her two, sometimes three, times a day. "I did have concerns over where her career is heading now that she's given up her job in Ohio. We have discussed this and she is not sure either but I have raised her to hold her own in any situation. "As dog lovers, Coleen and I have this expression that you should do something if it feels good. "If it makes your tail wag..."' we say. "She told me she wasn't sure where things were heading with Charles but it felt right. So I told her, "If it makes your tail wag, then go for it."' And Coleen can at least feel easy in the knowledge that should her new partner revert to previous form, then he will have her father to answer to - a fact that might even curtail the notoriously self-centred ways of the 9th Earl Spencer.