In the words of Echo and the Bunnymen, nothing ever lasts forever. Relationships are precarious creatures, causing joy, pain and wonder almost at the same time. They plod along (un)comfortably or explode onto the scene with searing intensity before disappearing as suddenly as they arrived. Relationships can be enduring but more often than not they fracture catastrophically, unleashing unpredictable consequences to cause despair, destruction and if you’re lucky, eventual growth. Here’s our top ten relationship break-ups of all time – in increasing order of their earth-shattering importance and magnitude on the heartbreak Richter scale. Get your popcorn ready, sit back and take a ringside seat because let’s not pretend: everyone’s guilty pleasure is the full-on spectacle of a relationship in mid-meltdown (except your own).
1. The Break-up of One Direction
Ok, so a break is not necessarily a break-up but it’s definitely a sign that the path of true love is not running smooth! First there are the photos of him hanging around with a different crowd. Then he’s changing his look, tweeting stuff that couldn’t possibly have been approved by his management team. Cheating rumours follow him around like a dog on heat and public appearances go randomly off-script. There’s no denying… something is amiss… The squeaky clean image looks like it’s about to crack and before you know it the sound of millions of pre-pubescent hearts breaking has drowned out all other noise on social media. Zayn Malik may not have been the first member of a boy band to announce his shock departure, sending legions of Directioners into an inconsolable frenzy, but his was a seismic eruption in the volcanic and instantly forgettable world of online news. The boy from Bradford had been the iced sugar glazing on the bitter cake of Muslim infamy greedily consumed by the Western media gaze. Reality TV made a youngster of mixed Pakistani-English heritage an international superstar of stratospheric proportions. A young Muslim man who hails from a city held up as a bellwether for the UK debate on immigration, integration and radicalisation, threw off the shackles of superficial entertainment conformity and set about carving his own path in the music industry, on his own terms. There is some solace for the devastated tween hordes, however – it may be a while but the inevitable boyband reunion tour is always something to look forward to.
2. The Brangelina Split
When news broke that Brangelina were no more, couples looked up from their smartphones in a state of shock at the sensational celebrity news, gazed into each other’s eyes, possibly for the first time in months, and wondered whether love had died. If Brad and Angelina can’t make a marriage last, with their beautiful faces and perfect rainbow family, what hope do we mere mortals have? There was mischievous speculation from some quarters that the split had been precipitated by Brad’s fits of jealous rage at Angie’s growing closeness to former British Foreign Secretary William Hague. However, the once Tory Leader rushed to defend the reputation of the glamorous actress and strenuously denied such scurrilous allegations. As well as jet-setting around the world making films and advocating for refugees in her role as Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina is mother to six children, three biological, three adopted, with Brad. She also now needs to find time for her recent appointment as visiting professor at LSE, teaching a course with the aforementioned William Hague of which there shall be no further comment. Brad’s previous relationships include marriage to the bland but lovely Jennifer Aniston who he was already married to when he met Angelina on the set of Mr and Mrs Smith (2005) – a film about two freelance assassins who find their latest assignment is… each other. Any suggestion of a relationship overlap is hotly rejected. Ange’s love-life has been rather more edgy: she and ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton reportedly carried vials of each other’s blood around their necks in a grandiose display of affection. How ridiculously romantic.
3. Prince Charles and Diana
Who can forget that heart-stopping moment when the late Diana, Princess of Wales fluttered her heavily mascara’d eyelashes and declared to a gripped television audience: ‘there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.’ That interview with Martin Bashir in 1995 for BBC Panorama further compounded the end of the myth of the fairytale marriage of Prince Charles and his young wife. The marriage had been beset by rumours of infidelity since the publication of a sensational biography of the Princess by Andrew Morton, which had also been published in the Sunday Times. The modern-day arranged marriage had seemed doomed from the beginning when a duty-bound Prince steeped in the constraints and stifling pressure of protocol and pageantry characteristic of a Royal upbringing, agreed to a match with a young Lady Spencer, barely out of her teens and idealistically believing that this was her ‘happily ever after’. In an awkward interview with the couple after their engagement was announced, Diana’s reply to the question of whether they were in love was a rapid ‘of course’ followed by Charles’ infamous words ‘whatever “in love” means’. The Princess spun the narrative that Charles had never been entirely faithful, flaunting his relationship with a former flame, Camilla Parker-Bowles, who he would eventually go on to marry. The couple were instructed to divorce by the Queen and they did so in 1996. Diana renewed her own pursuit of love, notably a two-year relationship with a Pakistani surgeon, described to be ‘the love of her life’, that would no doubt have been greeted with victorious celebration in Pakistan had it culminated in marriage, or better still, with her embracing Islam because we all know how much Muslims love a conversion story! It wasn’t meant to be, however, and Diana tragically died in a car crash, alongside her Egyptian then-boyfriend Dodi Fayed.
4. Puma/Adidas Discord
We’ve had Cain and Abel, the Milliband brothers, Romulus and Remus, the Gallaghers, but who has heard of the acrimonious feud between two brothers that led to the founding of Adidas and Puma? The Dassler brothers ran a thriving sports shoe company in the sleepy German town of Herzogenaurach, operating out of their mother’s laundry room. It was the 1920s and the two lived together in a state of uneasy disharmony exacerbated by the fact that their wives detested one another. The younger Adi was the artisan who designed and crafted the shoes while his extrovert older brother Rudi was the salesman. In their spare time they were members of the Nazi party. The family-run business was catapulted into the big time when they succeeded in persuading African-American Olympic gold-winning runner Jesse Owens to wear their shoes. It was from this moment that the tensions between the two families boiled over. During a Second World War bombing raid, when Adi and his wife were climbing into the air raid shelter already occupied by Rudi and his family, the younger brother was heard to mutter ‘The dirty bastards are back again,’ referring to the Allies, but Rudi was certain that the remark was directed at him. He suspected his brother and sister-in-law of getting him conscripted and blamed them for his arrest for desertion and subsequent arrest by Allied forces for being a member of the Gestapo. The level of suspicion and antipathy between the two siblings had plummeted to extreme depths. While Rudi had suffered his ordeal at the hands of the military and occupied forces, Adi had built up their business and in 1948 the company assets were split. Adi named his business Adidas. Rudi retaliated by building a factory on the opposite side of town and calling it Rudi, before eventually renaming it Puma. As the sole employers in the town, the Dassler brothers’ feud sucked in everyone and divided allegiances along company lines. Local businesses served only those loyal to one business and not the other, marriages across Puma/Adidas lines were unheard of as inhabitants of the town took sides with entire families across generations working for one or the other brother. Herzogenaurach earned the nickname ‘the town of bent necks’ because it was necessary to check to see which shoes a person was wearing before speaking with them or allowing them into your shop. When the brothers died they left instructions to be buried at opposite ends of the cemetery. It was only in 2009 that a symbolic football match between two teams of workers from Adidas and Puma declared an end to the 60-year-long feud.
Where to even begin. To fend off trouble from the euro-sceptic rabble in his own party and shore up his own position, Prime Minister David Cameron decided to gamble with the future of forthcoming generations by inviting the great British public to vote on one of the most complex and intricate matters of our lifetime: the UK’s relationship with Europe. As if it wasn’t enough to absolve himself of the responsibility for taking difficult decisions, something that governments were ironically once created to do, Cameron unleashed a hornet’s nest of Machiavellian skulduggery and hate speech that left the country more divided and fractured than ever. Self-serving characters such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson decided to treat the whole affair like a scramble for the election of School Head Boy in a cuckoo-nest plot gone awry, laying bear their selfish contempt for anyone other than their own ego. The Leave campaign triumphed on a miasma of misinformation fed to an electorate disillusioned by the tangible marginalisation felt by communities who were told to direct their ire towards Johnny Foreigner and let years of Tory austerity firmly off the hook. Legitimate concerns about the EU became drowned out by deeply unpleasant xenophobic rhetoric, emboldening racism in vague yet impassioned calls for ‘we want our country back’. Swathes of tax-paying Europeans residing in the UK were plunged into an unhappy insecurity as shocked ‘leave’ voters, including the vacuous Johnson, struggled (and continue to struggle) to understand the implications of their actions while defensively maintaining it was not a vote on immigration. The end result is a continued limping on into the unknown, except this time with an unelected Prime Minister, an opposition too busy sniping at their twice-elected leader and all the while attracting the ridicule of the rest of Europe (or envy, depending on who you speak to).
6. Bangladesh’s Divorce from Pakistan
When winner of the Great British Bake Off Nadiya Hussain took television viewers on a journey to the birthplace of her parents, Bangladesh, courtesy of the BBC, she placed a spotlight on one of the least known South Asian countries. The lush green landscapes and casual modernity were a surprise to many. Bangladesh has relatively recently acquired an identity of its own. Formerly known as East Pakistan, it had formed the east wing of a newly independent Pakistan up until the liberation war in 1971. The movement for freedom had been bubbling for a while, provoked by prolonged ethnic and linguistic discrimination as well as a lack of representation in Pakistan’s government. It took the government’s disinterested response to a cyclone in 1970 that devastated swathes of East Pakistan and killed at least half a million people, to make a split inevitable. Civil disobedience was followed by armed resistance. The Pakistani army, led by President Yahya Khan, attempted to crush the rebellion with a savagery that shocked the world and resulted in the deaths of possibly as many as three million people. But atrocities were committed on both sides: Bengalis took revenge on Urdu-speaking Biharis who were viewed with suspicion due to their ethnic and linguistic links to the Pakistani army. The scars of the split have yet to be fully healed both in Bangladesh and Pakistan. But these days internal feuds and dynastic politics has undermined the fledgling secular democracy and enabled a break-down in law and order and a rise in extreme Islamist ideology.
7. Partition of India
It was in August 1947, exactly 70 years ago, that India won independence from two centuries of British colonial rule and Pakistan was created. The struggle for sovereignty had been a bitter and bloody nationalist battle that lasted three decades and resulted in the deaths of many, with some estimates putting the figure at around one million casualties and countless more injured. The carving up of the former colony into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan signalled the end of the British Empire as a dominant force in global geopolitics. While the road to independence had been hard-fought, its execution was chaotic. Pakistan was incomprehensively cut into half with a hostile, foreign land mass separating its two parts. Whether the concept of Pakistan was ever meant to evolve into reality or was instead intended by Mohammed Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League to leverage pressure for greater Muslim autonomy for Muslims within a loosely federated India, is still being debated. What is clear, however, is that a hasty British withdrawal after the Second World War, which left the former colonial power economically weakened and with little appetite for clinging on to its increasingly insubordinate Empire, created an unprecedented upheaval. British officials hurriedly drew up the borders for the two countries and what ensued was one of the greatest migrations of people at that time. One million lost their lives and ten million abandoned homes and livelihoods after finding themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of a border. Partition was a tragic and devastating period in the history of South Asia despite the joy of liberation from the British. Some would argue that the break-up of India was one of the greatest calamities to befall the region, with the continuing brinkmanship over Kashmir a perpetual threat to world peace.
8. Break-up of the Ottoman Empire
Founded at the end of the thirteenth century in Turkey by Osman Gazi, the empire was at its most formidable in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with Suleiman the Magnificent at its helm. It had expanded into a thriving political dominion reaching as far as Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Caucasus and the Horn of Africa. Robust, free-flowing trade routes serviced learned and sophisticated societies. However, by the end of the nineteenth Century the Ottoman Empire was routinely described as the sick man of Europe. The rest of the continent had entered the age of industrialisation and the Habsburg and Russian Empires in particular were proving a menacing military threat. Nationalist uprisings in Eastern Europe and the Middle East led to the weakening of the regime. While its military machine remained stuck in its golden era, other powers were utilising advances in technological warfare to inflict a series of definitive defeats on the Ottomans towards the end of the 1800s. By this time the Ottoman Emperor was a mere figurehead as regional power brokers plotted, schemed and undermined the regime. A process of reform and modernisation was triggered, but was not enough to steer the Empire off the path of fragmentation. The Arab revolt and loss of territory to the allies after the First World War cemented the fate of the Empire. The emergence of an independent Turkey was followed by the re-drawing of the world map to create the Balkans and Middle East as we recognise them now. The break-up of the Ottoman Empire and what took its place is widely considered to have created the fissures and dislocations due to disregard for ethnic, linguistic and tribal ties, that set the foundations for the tensions we see in that part of the world today.
9. Shia-Sunni Split
Media commentators love to blame the Middle East’s problems on the Sunni-Shia divide. To such an extent that for the unschooled observer it is often a shock to learn that Shias constitute only ten per cent of all Muslims while Sunnis make up the remaining 90 per cent. So who are these two groups and why is their seemingly irrevocable enmity taking up so many newspaper column inches? The answer is actually relatively simple. Islam’s ancient schism came about almost immediately after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. In typical mosque-committee elbows-out style the big split was over the matter of who should succeed as leader of the Muslim community. Sunnis support the appointment of Abu Bakr, trusted advisor, companion and also father-in-law of the Prophet, as first Caliph. Another group had formed around Ali, who was the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet. They felt terribly betrayed, believing that succession should follow the bloodline and that Ali was the best candidate. A movement grew around Ali and called itself the Party of Ali, or Shia. Ali eventually became the Fourth Caliph, presiding over a five-year period that was one of the most tumultuous and bloody in the history of early Islam. After his assassination in 661, his sons Hassan and Hussein, also grandsons of the Prophet, lay claim to the succession but were denied. The Shia fought for what they considered the brothers’ right to rule but Hassan was poisoned in 680 and Hussein died in battle a year later. The cruel treatment of the Shia at the hands of the Sunni Ummayad dynasty formed the basis for the rituals of grieving and celebration of martyrdom that are an important part of Shia tradition. We think it is time to kiss and make up, and bygones be bygones!
10. Antarctic Breakdown
The Antarctic conjures up images of treacherous feats of survival undertaken by romantic figures from polar history such as Ernest Shackleton and Captain Scott. This breathtaking land mass of ice diverges in geography from its Northern opposite: the arctic consists of pack ice in the winter that melts in the summer months, offering a (still harsh) environment in which the Inuit peoples survive. The Antarctic, however, has long been regarded as a relatively stable and unchanging ice shelf so it is with increasing horror that glaciologists have been watching the ice at both poles appear to be breaking up due to climate change. The break-up of the Antarctic is particularly alarming and with frightening expected consequences. Contrary to the claims of climate change deniers, experts warn that the melting of the ice caps will raise sea levels to such an extent that cities such as London and New York will be submerged under water as well as considerable parts of Holland and Bangladesh. The idyllic paradise island destination the Maldives is already at threat from sinking. In 2009 the country’s president convened an underwater cabinet meeting during which he signed a paper demanding cuts in carbon emissions in an effort to highlight the precarious future of the archipelago and called for decisive action at the UN climate change conference that was about to take place in Copenhagen. The break-up and melting of the polar caps and any subsequent rise in sea levels is destined to have a disproportionately adverse impact on developing countries in the southern hemisphere. Burma, Bangladesh and India can expect stronger cyclones, East Africa could face a prolonged drought, and Indonesia would face drastically reduced rainfall. A truly earth-shaking split!