Edwina unleashed: Her first volume of diaries – revealing her affair with John Major – was astounding. Now she's back. And love her or loathe her, Edwina Currie is as shameless, unflinchingly blunt yet compulsively readable as ever
01:10 GMT, 8 September 2012
In the aftermath of Edwina Currie’s four-year affair with John Major, the former Tory health minister continued writing her hard-hitting, sharp and deliciously indiscreet diaries. Now serialised in the Mail, they begin just after the 1992 Conservative election win, with her former lover Prime Minister… and Edwina, 45, a disgruntled backbencher.
Victoria (Edwina’s London flat)
Tuesday, April 14, 1992, 5.30pm
Well, we won the election and I was offered a job, and I turned it down. I certainly didn’t want to be minister of state under Ken Clarke as Home Secretary. Ken would do all the interesting stuff and there’d be precious little left.
I want to be part of Europe, rather than fretting and unhappy in a team of deadbeats led by an aggressive, bolshy egomaniac!
I suppose I felt a bit cross, too. I asked John Major if anything else was on offer, and the answer was no, for most of the [ministerial] posts were taken already by people they’d managed to contact before me.
Now there’s a downright lie.
Unleashed: Her diaries from the early nineties reveals the truth behind the scenes of Edwina's life as a Tory backbencher
It would have been quite easy for John to have spoken to me on the phone at lunchtime, had he wanted to. I suspect some of the Secretaries of State [in other departments] refused to have me.
The obvious department for me is Education, as I’m a former teacher and lecturer.
But John Patten, the new Secretary of State, may have worried that I’d upstage him; perhaps [John] MacGregor, the new Transport Secretary, felt the same. Was it a set-up John Major knew I wouldn’t work for Ken — I’d told him that several times.
I do feel annoyed that no one thought about what I could usefully do. I’m a fighter, a communicator.
There are two other reasons for turning John down.
One is the Press, who’ve been pursuing me since yesterday. The team of TV people on Derby rail station were ghastly — asking whether I’ll keep my mouth shut better than I did in the salmonella days.
I was tempted to push one young woman off the platform.
And, as a minister, I’d be so busy that I’d have no time for journalism and other paid work; I’d have no way to pay off my overdraft/buy a new car/pay the accountant — so I’d be permanently worried about money. (All my parliamentary salary after tax goes on school fees for my girls, every penny.)
Wednesday, April 29, 8pm
Ex-lovers: Then Prime Minister John Major and Edwina in 1994
It’s curious: I started this diary nearly five years ago in order to wean myself off my lover, and to compensate for my need to talk to someone regularly.
It’s been very cathartic at bad times — but the fact that I feel less need to write suggests I’m altogether less screwed up than I used to be. Very much, now, I can put John Major behind me.
Thinking more clearly about the way the job offer of minister of state was handled, I suspect he long since developed a habit of appearing to listen, seeming to take it all in, without absorbing a single word.
(Even when Margaret Thatcher harangued you, she took note and changed tack — at least until her last year or so, when she stopped listening to anything but the sound of her own voice.)
So I was puzzled when he offered me that job. If he was trying to persuade me to stay in the UK rather than go to Brussels, it wasn’t a very convincing performance.
No, I think he hadn’t forgotten my feelings about Ken Clarke, but just thought I was as bloodless as he is. Probably thought he was doing me a huge favour by promoting me.
Had lunch yesterday with Angela Rumbold, who’s hopping mad at being pushed out of her own ministerial post. She was interesting on the subject of Margaret [Thatcher].
The night Margaret resigned, Angela went to her room in the Commons and found only half a dozen people in the ante-room, including John Wakeham and Peter Morrison [part of Thatcher’s campaign team].
‘You lot are prize sh*ts!’ she said, and walked through them to find Margaret alone. They sat and held hands; Margaret cried and Angela comforted her. Angela was angry with Wakeham, whom she felt had let the PM down.
(I remember seeing him and his little entourage going into the members’ cloakroom about 5.30pm that evening, looking very shifty indeed, a real ‘plotting’ air about them. Never did he do anything by accident.)
Meanwhile, the corridors are full of rampaging bands of new MPs (140 in all) looking for desks and empty rooms to squat in.
The signing-in ceremony yesterday was a shambles, with much pushing and shoving. It’s the behaviour of schoolboys, and I’ve lost my savour for it.
As for me: I’ve arranged lunch with my new literary agent, Lisa Eveleigh, and I suspect I should turn up with a synopsis for a novel.
How about telling it like it is Yes, that would be very satisfying: a serious novel based in Westminster.
Batty: Edwina, pictured here with Baroness Thatcher, described the former PM's performance on The David Frost show in less than flattering words
Les Tuileries (her house in France),
Sunday, May 17, 4.15pm
The front-page photos after John had announced his new ministerial team brought home to me exactly what he’d done: put the women he finds no threat in the Cabinet.
Mostly, I was cross about Gillian Shephard [Employment Secretary]. I like her, but what’s she done, ever
Where are the achievements that make her a suitable candidate for one of the highest posts in the land
When has she stuck her neck out, made a great speech, made her mark on the nation Answer: she hasn’t, and that’s why she’s advanced so smoothly, because she looks (a little) like me, but with none of the risks my appointment would cause.
She went round during the election introducing herself as ‘the one who looks like Edwina Currie’.
Never seems to have occurred to her that that’s bloody hurtful to the original model — and makes her appointment an insult, a real slap in the face. I’m not cross with her, but with John.
Thursday, June 4, 11.45pm
next book will be titled A Parliamentary Affair. And hopefully a meal
ticket. I’ll need some money if I’m to stop footling around speaking at
conferences of Architectural Ironmongers, as I did this week.
In France last week, I had a morning at Reciproque, trying on second-hand and sample versions of the great couture names. I look stunning in Balenciaga and Ungaro and Karl Lagerfeld. What a find! I bought three suits and a jacket and two belts for around 250.
Thursday, June 24, midnight
Party at The Orangery in Holland Park, given by literary agents A. P. Watt. Libby Purves [radio presenter] is now very fat — pretty face, dry skin, tatty hair, stuffed into a beautiful sequinned jacket.
I may be maligning her if she’s pregnant, but I think we’re too old — she was only a year behind me at St Anne’s [Oxford college].
[Science fiction author] Brian Aldiss looking scruffy, with a scrawny, grey-haired wife. [Astronomer] Patrick Moore falling asleep, a lump of collapsing foam rubber, in the corner.
The bad part of the day took place earlier: one of those events where I’m jolly glad I’m not a minister.
At 4pm, the phone went. It was The Sun: ‘We hear your daughter’s been expelled for cheating at her school exams.’
‘News to me,’ says I: ‘Who told you this’
‘The headmaster says he’s spoken to you,’ the wheedling voice claimed.
‘Then he’s lying.’ And, boy, was I beginning to get angry! I finally reached Deb [Edwina’s daughter].
She’d made a remark to a friend at the end of the German exam and had been pulled up for talking.
As they left the exam room, she muttered that the teacher was a ‘t**t’. He heard and flipped — a pretty stupid thing to do, knowing the kids were tired and tense after exams. Instead of dropping it, the teacher complained to the Head and Deb was carpeted.
The headmaster was fool enough to tell The Sun that she’s been told not to return to the school.
What a naive idiot.
Apparently, Deb exploded at the
headmaster this morning and called him a ‘f***ing a***hole’ for making
such a silly fuss — and she was dead right. He could have said something
positive about a pupil who’s been at his school five years.
[Currie’s husband] eventually called at 7pm and took the school’s side.
He sounded imperious and distant and made me even angrier.
I told him he sounded just like my father, and put the phone down on him.
times like these, I wonder why I stay with him; we seem so out of
sympathy. I stay because no one else has ever come along offering me a
home (not just no one better — no one else at all. Ever. And Ray took
some persuading.) And because unravelling all the institutional
arrangements, property, mortgages etc. would leave us both diminished
and unhappy people.
Motherly love: Edwina was not happy with daughter Debbie's behaviour at at school, seen here in 1994
And because being alone is lonely and gets worse when you’re older, so being with someone is better than nothing. And because being nice to a person, courteous, gracious and considerate, is good practice for me, even (or especially) when I don’t feel like it.
But oh how I envy married people who seem to have a meeting of minds and emotions.
House of Commons,
Monday, July 6, 11.20pm
On Sunday’s David Frost Show, Baroness Thatcher looked quite batty to me, eyes rolling.
Tuesday, July 21, 5.15pm
Exposed: Edwina remembers the David Mellor scandal
Much amusement at Westminster about [National Heritage Secretary] David Mellor, a wide boy if ever there was one. Someone tapped his girlfriend’s phone and sold the tape to The People [newspaper]. Very funny stuff — all about how knackered he was.
The girl, Antonia de Sancha, is an out-of-work actress — he’s known her only a few months, seen her two or three times a week, stayed over at her flat.
Anyway, he’s been a naughty boy.
He offered to resign, but JM (predictably) wouldn’t have it.
I think he’ll survive, because John can’t afford to start losing ministers and the public don’t care much.
We’re becoming more continental by the minute, and a good thing too! [Mellor was forced to resign over the scandal two months later].
Friday, August 21, evening
Deb got a C and two Ds in her A levels — extremely disappointing. Fortunately, it looks as if Huddersfield will take her anyway: the Admissions Tutor told her dolefully that most of the other applicants had done even worse.
Her course will be ‘Communication Studies with Theatre Studies’: God, how tedious, how pointless.
Meanwhile, it’s so nice to be in France. I do my bits of grieving [for John Major] here, especially after a half-bottle of Saumur-Champigny.
But I find I’m grieving little now, and saving my energy for 3,000 words a day of my novel.
Tower House (Edwina’s home in her South Derbyshire constituency),
Sunday, September 20, 3.15pm
An extraordinary week, which started with the devaluation of the pound and the government pulling us out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
In the midst of all this, faxes were flying around about the book.
Hodder & Stoughton offered 102,000 — so before they changed their minds, Lisa and I said yes.Had a meeting with the firm’s publishing director Richard Cohen where I showed off a bit.
Lisa said Richard is known as a good ‘book doctor’: he’s worked on Jeffrey Archer’s books for years.
She thinks he may get twitchy about the sex.
We’ll see. I want the book to sell, dammit.
Thursday, September 24, midnight
Embarrassed: John Major' blushed' when he learned the title of Edwina's book
The Prime Minister approached me in the lobby and I gaily told him that I have a contract for a fourth book, a novel.
A few minutes later, he took me quietly into the empty lobby and wanted to know all about it; when I told him the title [A Parliamentary Affair], he blushed furiously!
He must realise he’s in it, but I won’t let him see even the synopsis because he’d get cold feet.
I told him it was about a ‘youngish MP, very green’ who gets seduced.
Poor man! He may have more than enough to worry about.
I made him laugh and wince and blush, and he called me ‘incorrigible’.
Saturday, October 3, 4pm
Weighed myself at the gym and have hit 10st 8lb, a sure sign of things getting out of control — so I can’t even console myself with a chocolate biscuit.
Sunday, October 11, 7.15pm
What a strange Party Conference it turned out to be! At least nobody was talking drivel about green shoots of economic recovery.
The section on education was disappointing: John seems to have forgotten the urgent need to teach technology — but then he’s not educated himself. He didn’t get much from school, and his domestic policies are still mired at the level of a poor boy from a home in straitened circumstances in Brixton.
A quick mind, but not a thoughtful or knowledgeable one.
A vision stuck firmly in the Fifties and Sixties. No bloody imagination; no bloody vision.
Friday, October 23, 10.40pm
Funny how I used to wait at this hour for a visitor! He [John Major] might be performing better elsewhere if he still came to see me.
According to a monumentally catty article this week, he’s lonely and has had trouble eating and getting his shirts washed. Yesterday evening in the lobby, I teased him, saying that any of us would make cocoa for him!
He responded quite crossly, calling the article ‘s****y’. Poor John: he looks grey, wan and tired.
Friday, November 6, 9am
Glum faces all round in the Conservative Party about Bill Clinton’s victory, but I’m absolutely delighted. Hillary Clinton’s a formidable, clever woman — for her alone, I’d have voted Democrat.
It turns out I must have had the briefest of contacts with Bill at Oxford, when we took part in a union debate. We both spoke against the Vietnam war — though, at the time, I had only the foggiest idea where Vietnam was.
Delighted: Despite disappointment withing her party Edwina Currie was pleased with Bill Clinton's ascent to the U.S. presidential post in 1992 – all thanks to Hilary
Thursday, December 3, 11pm
The Church of England Synod voted to admit women as priests (though it has to go through the Commons first — I’ll enjoy voting for that). Ann Widdecombe immediately declared that she was to leave the church.
[Agriculture Secretary] John Gummer has just resigned from the Synod for the same reason, but carefully stays on umpteen committees to retain his influence.
Grotty people, misogynists all.
May they wake up and find themselves in bed with a black monk: though that might do both some good.
Sunday, December 13, 3.15pm
On Tuesday, I was one of a [pro-Europe] delegation which went to see the PM. John was funny, informative, confidential: he’s at his best in small groups. But he clearly has no ‘vision’ of Europe at all. We came out feeling anxious.
Wednesday, December 30, 11pm
Trying on suits was very depressing. I refuse to be a size 16, but really I look very dumpy at the moment. All that chocolate!
Ray keeps giving me bits, as if he wants the reassurance of me the same size as him. Huh!
I felt rather wistful on the boat coming over. Some company would have been nice.
Couples on both sides of me were chattering away gaily about inconsequential things.
Ray and I avoid such talk.
We both have the instinct to contradict and to rule. So we talk hardly at all.
I still feel badly let down by John Major, and had a little weep about it last night.
Extracted from Diaries 1992-1997 by Edwina Currie, to be published by Biteback on September 18 at 18.99.
2012 Edwina Currie. To order a copy for 15.99 (inc p&p) call 0843 382 0000.