Byline: DAVID COHEN
JAN FALKOWSKI is the type of man who seeks extreme physical and mental challenges. As a British powerboat champion with six world-records to his name, including the fastest person to circumnavigate Britain (in 42 hours), he is, he admits, an adrenaline junkie. Think Jeremy Clarkson on water, or Top Gear on Thames - and that's Jan Falkowski.
But this 46-year-old London psychiatrist, who earns [pounds sterling]100,000 a year, drives an Audi TT and a BMW motorbike, and lives in a modern [pounds sterling]500,000 apartment in Docklands, is more than a speed freak. He is also a former member of the British Olympic fencing squad, a black belt in karate, and has crossed the Atlantic three times in open power boats. He thrives on pushing life to its limits but knows that "the art of risk-taking is about always being in control."
Yet "control" is the last thing he has enjoyed these last four years. The story of how he was brought to his knees by a deluded stalker, Maria Marchese, 45, a shop assistant on the cheese counter at Selfridges, and whose former partner was once a patient of Falkowski, is a cautionary tale.
MARCHESE'S fouryear hate campaign - with thousands of anonymous texts, phone calls and emails, dozens of death threats and even a fabricated rape claim - was devastating.
His relationship broke up with his fiancee, Deborah Pemberton, 35. She became suicidal as texts threatened that if their planned wedding went ahead, she'd be "burnt down to her wedding dress" and "many will be dead".
Moreover, Falkowski's sullied professional reputation is only now beginning to recover as he returns to work in the NHS after a year suspended on full pay while the false rape claim was investigated. Marchese has cost him [pounds sterling]120,000 in legal fees and lost earnings from his private practice.
His nightmare came to an end last week when Argentinian-born Marchese was jailed at Southwark Crown Court for nine years, having been found guilty of harassment, making threats to kill and perverting the course of justice.
Judge John Price described it as "the most serious [stalking] case he had ever encountered".
Falkowski, accompanied in court by his partner for the last two years, Bethan Ancell, 28, felt "a surge of relief " as he watched an unflinching Marchese - who still protests her innocence - being led away. Later in their local gastro-pub, the Veuve Clicquot champagne flowed and friends joshed with Falkowski that it was "a shame he didn't at least have a good-looking stalker".
But in his first interview since the sentencing - given exclusively to the Evening Standard at his CCTV-protected apartment in Docklands - it becomes apparent that his initial elation is tempered by a sobering thought.
For when I ask whether he and Bethan, a public relations consultant, plan to marry, he says: " Marriage, possibly. It's too soon to say because for the last four years, I've been living day by day, but yes, marriage could be on the cards.
"As for children" - he shakes his head - "with Marchese due for parole in six years, they would never be safe. Her mere existence still hangs over my head."
Falkowski, who has two older children from two previous relationships, Nicholas, 18, and Lizzie, 11, has been careful never to divulge where they live for fear that his stalker might one day wreak more revenge. "It's a terrible cloud to live under, especially since her relentless fixation on me is unprovoked," he says.
SURPRISINGLY his view is that Marchese is not mentally ill. "I don't think of her as mad - just chillingly evil. She's an incredibly devious, calculating liar who is highly organised and intelligent.
"When the police arrested her, they told me that everything in her flat was so obsessively tidy it was creepy: the food tins were arranged with the labels all pointing the same way, her books were stacked immaculately in height order, then there were these cuttings about me. …