As the anniversary of Prince’s death approaches on April 21, his first wife Mayte Garcia tells Hannah Stephenson about life with the flamboyant singer and the tragic loss that tore them apart

MAYTE Garcia laughs as she recalls how her husband would borrow her make-up, mascara and even clothes from her wardrobe. But then her husband was Prince, the icon revered for his flamboyant style and enigmatic public image, as much as his music and songs.

"He wore my make-up, he wore my perfumes. If I bought a new one, it would be gone. Even my trousers. He would take them and get them cut so that he could wear them," reveals Garcia, 43, who at 5ft 4ins, was two inches taller than the star.

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A dancer, she met the Purple Rain megastar when she was 16 and he was 32, and became his backing dancer, long-time muse, first wife and mother of his only child. They married in 1996 and split a few years later, finally signing divorce papers in 2000.

Garcia says the year since his death has been an 'awakening'. "It's made me more compassionate and more aware of my surroundings. It's been a year where you don't want it to be real, where you wake up thinking, 'Did all of this really happen, is this a dream?'"

It also led to her decision, for the first time ever, to reveal what it was like being married to one of the most famous and enigmatic music performers and writers of the century, which she does through her new book, The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince.

Today, she lives in a modest home in the Los Angeles suburb Woodland Hills, with her adopted daughter Gia, five, and teaches belly dancing, as well as keeping busy with the small dog rescue charity she founded. It's a far cry from Paisley Park, Prince's vast recording complex and living area outside Minneapolis, where they lived. She still has pictures of him, some of his clothes and jewellery, which she's resisted auctioning off, but can't quite bring herself to listen to the music he created during their time together.

It all started in 1990; Garcia had gone to see Prince perform in Barcelona, and after returning to Germany, where her pilot father was based, her mother found out that the singer's Nude Tour would be in Mannheim later that year. She persuaded Garcia to shoot a video of herself dancing - in the hope of getting her a job - which they handed to a dancer backstage before the concert. Prince agreed to meet her. "He was a musical genius who had a big heart," she says. "I want people to know that he wasn't a weird reclusive. He was definitely not normal, but that's why people loved him."

When they married, she joined him on five world tours, appeared in dozens of music videos, after-shows and photo-shoots. "He was funny, playful. He was older than me, but he made me feel important, like what I had to think and say mattered. I remember feeling like I had a voice, even if it wasn't something I had anything to do with, like music. He would listen to me, talking about life. He was a great friend and very attentive, very alert."

Once married, Garcia fell pregnant quickly, but heartache followed when their son Amiir lived for just a week, due to a rare genetic disorder. The loss was so agonising that Garcia contemplated suicide.

"I didn't know how I was going to get out of this deep hole. My body was aching for that baby. Prince was dealing with his pain too. I didn't know how I was going to wake up not crying. I don't remember food for months. I don't know how I got back to enjoying anything.

"It was really hard to talk about it and I remember trying to find the right words," she continues. "I don't think there are any words that can explain how it feels to lose a child, but I remember feeling so low, for a moment I stepped out of my body and said, 'I don't wish this on my worst enemy'.

"I felt a sense of failure, of, 'What did I do?', of anger, disbelief, shock. I didn't want to confront it or deal with it. It has to be a blur for me to keep moving forward, but it's in my heart and I'll always feel it and I'll always have a sense of compassion and respect for people who go through that."

Prince's way of coping with it was to throw himself into work and go on tour. "At first, we helped each other," she says. "He went on tour and I got healthy. We were together and we tried again."

She believes he was so lost in his own grief that it left him vulnerable to recruitment into the Jehovah's Witnesses by his friend Larry Graham, the former bass player for Sly And The Family Stone. His newfound faith further distanced him from Garcia.

An early miscarriage in her second pregnancy led to further distress, but Prince threw himself into more touring and met Manuela Testolini, a consultant for his charity, who was to become his second ex-wife. Garcia signed the divorce papers in 2000, but not before Prince had instructed his assistant to burn everything in the house that reminded him of her or the baby, including the contents of the nursery, Amiir's crib, toys, clothes and even his ashes.

"Now, being older, I look back and think I could definitely have dealt with it differently. I don't blame myself, but there's a part of me now that thinks, fight for what you love. It's always in my heart and it's painful."

She says she was never aware of him taking drugs in the decade they were together or popping too many prescription pills, although she records several incidents in the book in which he behaved strangely, saying he was sick. Nevertheless, his death at 57, from an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl, came as a huge shock.

That fateful day, Garcia had dropped off Gia and was on her way to an animal care centre when Testolino texted her, asking her to call her. Pulling over, she made the call to be told by Testolino that Prince had died in an elevator at Paisley. Garcia recalls screaming and crying, and arrived home to find reporters and photographers were already camped outside.

In the last year, she's grieved a lot, but says: "I also know because of what we went through, that Prince wouldn't want that. He was always looking to evolve and become enlightened and go to the next level, so when I have my moments - and I've had many - I have to remember that he was such a spiritual man. I've lost someone very important in my life. We hadn't spoken for a few years, but that love was still there.

"I think April 21 will be really hard for everybody," Garcia continues. "I'm hoping this book gives people a sense of comfort. It's a beautiful love story and I hope it makes people love him more."

The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince by Mayte Garcia (Trapeze, £18.99)