In 1987, two years after Michael Cowpland founded Corel, the company’s future looked anything but secure. Its main products at that time, a line of desktop pub-
lishing stations, were barely making money, and Cowpland’s attempt to take the company public that year ran aground when the accountants discovered irregularities in the way Corel reported its revenues. On top of that,
Cowpland was trying to cope with a failed marriage. Few people outside his circle of friends realized it at the time, but since the early 1980s he and and his first wife, Darlene, had essentially been living separate lives, spending time together on weekends mainly for the sake of their two daughters,
Paula and Christine.
“My wife and I had split but we hadn’t totally split, because we still saw each other for the kids,” Cowpland recalls.
“We took vacations together. It was almost like in-between time where we were both looking for other people and at the same time we spent a lot of time together as a family. But there was dating going on.”
Darlene Cowpland doesn’t like to talk about that period, preferring to focus on the many good years she and her husband spent together. Nevertheless, she doesn’t hide the pain and anger she felt when she realized her husband had fallen in love with someone else. “I don’t feel like a victim today, because some marriages just don’t work out. But I would say that when I watched [princess] Diana’s interview a few years ago and she said there can’t be three people in a marriage, I could relate to that.”
For a while, there were more than three. Once in the early 1980s, Darlene Cowpland discovered a photograph of her husband in the arms of another, much younger, woman. When she confronted him, he explained that extramarital affairs, like tennis, helped to keep him mentally young and invigorated. For his part, Mike Cowpland says he was involved in a number of relationships at the time he met the woman who would become his second wife, the former Marlen Themen. “The thing about Marlen is she’s extremely possessive, [so] once we started, then the other ones had to stop,” he says. “Which was OK, because it made life a little simpler. Initially, I thought it was a little bit extreme, but once I got used to it I found it was great—less distractions, you know. No other females to bother about. I kind of broke off all the loose ends. You know, after a while you kind of accumulate all these worldwide connections and then they become a bit of overhead, you could say. Anyway, they disappeared in very short order once Marlen arrived on the scene.”
In an interview, Darlene Cowpland said she had always understood that her ex-husband’s relationship with Marlen began a short while before they divorced in 1991. She sounded surprised to learn that it actually went back to 1986. “I really didn’t realize it was that early, because Michael had been seeing me right up until our divorce,” she said. “So I guess I was kept in the dark quite a bit— He was still coming back to the house and spending some weekends with us and we were still having Christmases together right up until the end. He was trying to get back together right up until I finally said, ‘This is it,’ and we divorced.”
Regardless of what he told his wife during those years, Mike and Marlen were very much a couple in the late 1980s. According to a friend who wishes to remain anonymous, Cowpland even rented an apartment for Marlen in downtown Ottawa, a few blocks from Parliament Hill, so they would have a place to meet.
“In the transition stage with the marriage I didn’t want to make it too public until things were formalized, you could say,” Cowpland says. “It was low-key in terms of visibility.”
It might have been low-key, but the breakup of the marriage was far from the sort of amicable parting of the ways that Cowpland has in the past sought to portray. “There’s a lot of things that went on between Mike and his first wife that would make your head spin,” says Gary Cartwright, a former Corel employee who was a close friend of Cowpland’s in the 1980s. On the record, Cartwright declines to go into detail, but over the years he has told more than one person that
he and Darlene Cowpland were having a relationship in the late 1980s, and that his friend Mike Cowpland knew about it. Darlene Cowpland denies the assertion, but a close friend of the Corel CEO confirms not only that the affair took place, but that it was arranged. “The idea was to give her a companion, give her something to do. I’m glad it was Gary and not me who was asked to do what he did.”
According to Chris Troughton, another friend and former Corel employee, the separation left deep emotional scars. “It’s a point in life that everybody may or may not go through and, in some cases, it’s worse than others,” says Troughton, who owns a limousine company and occasionally works as a bodyguard for Cowpland. “Unfortunately, this was one of the worse-than-others, and there were a lot of people who were caught in between, protecting or comforting one side or the other. It’s not a nice thing to see.”
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