Cameron the heartbreaker: The Prime Minister's first girlfriend couldn't hang on to him for long… and she was FAR from alone
00:01 GMT, 25 June 2012
08:59 GMT, 25 June 2012
They are the epitome of high-spirited youth: four privileged and beautiful young things jumping for joy in their party togs, long hair flying, faces full of mirth, drinks threatening to spill over the side of their glasses — and, in the case of the boy on the left, knees bent up under him in an attempt to jump higher than his fellow partygoers.
Ever competitive, even at the age of 16, that ebullient young man is our Prime Minister David Cameron. The occasion was a charity ball while he was at school at Eton. And the girl next to him with the short skirt and impressive decolletage and whose arm is linked in his, is his then girlfriend Lydia Craig, now Lydia Dickinson.
The daughter of a fine art auctioneer who was a good friend of Cameron’s father, she was the PM’s first serious girlfriend.
Jumping for joy: David Cameron (left) Lydia Dickinson (middle left) Lucy Sangster (middle right) and her date at the Freedom Ball at Eton in 1983
The couple had joined blonde Lucy Wigram — now Lucy Sangster — the daughter of property developer Anthony Wigram and her own exuberant date at the 1983 Freedom Ball at the Caf Royal near Piccadilly. They danced to the outrageous ska band Bad Manners and raised 7,000 for Amnesty International.
Lydia and David were inseparable for a while but went their different ways when he set off on a gap year before going up to Oxford and starting his steady rise up the ranks of the Tory party.
After their break-up, Lydia worked as a designer for the adult magazine Penthouse, became a model agent and in 1990 the first of their set to marry.
Former girlfriend: Lydia Craig (now Bickinson) at her Surrey home. She dated the Prime Minister when he was 16-years-old
Her first marriage, to fund manager Rupert Allison with whom she has two children, Luke and Jemima, ended in divorce. In 2002 she married avant garde sculptor Luke Dickinson. The couple live in a 6 million house in Richmond and have two sons, Gulliver and Laurie.
Her relationship with Cameron was just one of his youthful flings — there were to be many others before he set his heart on the delightful Sam Cam ten years later. In fact Cameron was known as a heartbreaker who was so single-minded, he was usually the one to end romantic relationships if he realised girls were unsuitable.
‘Dave never had any trouble pulling,’ says one of this friends.
He started dating surprisingly early.
One of his first girlfriends was Caroline Graham, now a journalist for
the Mail on Sunday, who remembers him as a shy but ‘expert kisser’ at
the early age of 13.
to one contemporary, he dated lots of girls in his teens and went out
with ‘some real crackers’. He liked high-born ones with an artistic side
They, in turn, liked his easy charm,
his self-confidence and a rather un-British emotional side to his
character that can still prompt him to cry at tear-jerking films.
had a good time on that gap year, and though on one occasion, having
twisted his ankle falling down Rome’s Spanish Steps, he was unable to
see the sights along with his friends, he is said to ‘have made up for
it in other departments’.
Dave continued to be popular with the opposite sex when he went up to Brasenose College in 1985.
There he met girls by all the usual methods, including going to old-fashioned sherry parties.
He also frequented a student nightclub called the Playpen expressly to pick them up.
In his first term he dated fellow student Catherine Snow who was at St Edmund Hall reading English.
Her uncle was banker Charles Hambro, her stepfather Viscount Hampden. Now a feisty publisher after a stint as a dinner-party cook, she was already known as a strong-willed character who, according to one mutual friend, took all the decisions about their relationship.
In 2001 she married American publishing entrepreneur Jeffery O’Rourke, though the couple have now separated. ‘We used to tell [David] he would be Prime Minister, and he never denied it,’ she says.
The one: Dave continued to be popular with the ladies at university and after, but he knew Samantha was right from the outset
Another Oxford flame was Alice Rayman, a student at Wadham College, who has since become an entertainment lawyer and married the son of former Tory Cabinet Minister Lord King. She is known by her peers as ‘knowledgeable, extremely able and above all outstandingly nice to deal with’.
But the most serious of Dave’s Oxford romances was with Francesca ‘Fran’ Ferguson, a statuesque half-German girl who was reading history at Somerville. By Christmas of their first student year, Cameron was mad about Fran according to friends. The daughter of a diplomat she had lived all over the world and was acutely conscious she was not part of David’s inward-looking Home Counties set who did everything together — skiing, French holidays, house parties.
In 1986 Fran invited him to spend time with her parents in Kenya and to go on safari. Cameron took a job humping crates near Newbury to earn the airfare.
To impress her parents, he brought a gift with him, which turned out to be decidedly inappropriate. It was a Monty Python record that included a sketch joking about Hitler. Fran’s mother Monika was German.
But Monika was sufficiently impressed to tell Fran ‘that chap is going to be Prime Minister one day’.
As for Cameron, he was having such a good time he missed his plane home and stayed another week.
Happy: David Cameron and wife Samantha with his medal after the race
Great Brook Charity run in Chadlington, Oxfordshire, in 2009
Married: David Cameron never committed until he met future wife Samantha
The romance lasted 18 months, but according to Fran, who is now director of a Swiss architecture museum, it was he who ended it when he realised she didn’t fit into his master plan.
‘I wanted to have arguments and be distracted, but when someone is very ambitious and wants to get a First, they don’t want someone demanding too much of them,’ she said. ‘I was also quite jealous and would provoke him to try to shake him out of his self-assuredness.’
Fran was so upset when the affair ended she tried to get a friend to intercede for her. Cameron was unshakeable, yet she remembers he still wanted her to like him.
One girlfriend who remained upset when they parted was Lisa de Savary, the eldest of the five daughters of property developer Peter de Savary. Cameron met her in London after his Oxford days were over. She fell for him in a big way according to a friend, but: ‘Dave kind of dumped her and she was very cross. It all left rather a nasty taste.’
The break-up did not put Lisa off politics. She managed her father’s campaign as a Parliamentary candidate for James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party and later married banker Tim Doyne and went to live in Bahrain.
By now Cameron had joined the research department of the Tory Party in London’s Smith Square, where he was soon turning heads.
On the campaign trail: Mr Cameron was always fiercely ambitious – often putting his career before love affairs
Leader: Samantha Sheffield may not have fitted the profile of a Prime Minister's wife at 22 but Mr Cameron knew she would be perfect
‘He was very young, had boyish looks and was clearly very bright,’ recalls Angie Bray, then the Tories’ head of broadcasting and now MP for Ealing Central and Acton. As a former Smith Square secretary says: ‘All the girls fancied him.’
It led to strained relationships with some of his male contemporaries — many of whom are now MPs — when both they and Cameron had their eyes on the same woman.
One colleague who took a shine to him was Cheltenham-educated Laura Adshead, whom Cameron had known slightly when she was at Christ Church, Oxford.
The romance lasted from the spring of 1990 until summer 1991, and again did not end tidily. ‘I seem to recall the young lady had to be given a period of compassionate leave to recover,’ says one of the couple’s workmates at the time.
Laura, who also dated historian Andrew Roberts, descended into alcohol and drugs and has now found redemption as Sister John Mary, a nun in an American convent. Perhaps as a result of the unfortunate fallout from that affair, Cameron thereafter dated women outside politics. For a while
Angie Bray remembers him arriving at parties with ‘various young lovelies’ unknown to the Smith Square set.
And then came Samantha Sheffield. Daughter of a baronet and stepdaughter of Lord Astor, she was initially a friend of Cameron’s sister Clare. He first set eyes on her at a party at his parents’ Berkshire home in 1987 when she was just about to go to Marlborough on an arts scholarship, and according to his affectionate memories was ‘a sulky 16-year-old who thought: “Who’s this crashing bore who is your friend’s older brother” ’
By 1992, when she was invited to holiday with the Camerons in Tuscany, he realised she was for him, even though with her penchant for roll-your-own cigarettes and hippy interest in pop concerts as well as her youth — she was only 22 to his 27 — she did not fit the obvious profile of a Prime Minister’s wife.
He was so sure she was the right one, he waited till 1996, by when she had become a businesswoman in her own right, to walk her up the aisle.
One of the wedding photos now hanging in the Camerons’ Notting Hill home says it all. The bride is her customary composed and sunny self, while tears stream down the groom’s face.