Byline: Hannah Stephenson
The House of Commons may seem an unlikely venue for romance - but that's where multimillionaire author Ken Follett catches up with his politician wife most weeks.
Labour MP for Stevenage Barbara Follett's recent ascent to junior minister for pensions within Gordon Brown's administration has resulted in more hours and more work, which means more dinners at the Commons.
"I quite often go there just for dinner because if we don't see each other in the day and she has to stay late, then I toddle along at eight o'clock and we have dinner together," Ken explains. "It's a good way for us to see each other while she's still working."
Meeting him today, the 58-year-old bestselling author of spy thrillers and historical novels - and long-time Labour Party supporter - is bespoke-tailored in a three-piece suit, his shock of white hair perfectly coiffed.
While his wife is once more at the centre of the political arena, Ken is also in the spotlight with his new mammoth 1,111-page medieval novel, World Without End, the sequel to his massively popular epic The Pillars Of The Earth, centred on the building of a cathedral, which was voted into the top 100 of Britain's best-loved books in the BBC's The Big Read.
The latest novel, which took him three years to write, is set 200 years later in the 14th century in medieval Kingsbridge, as the men, women and children of the city grapple with murder and intrigue as well as the Black Death.
"For the last 12 months I was working on it Saturdays and Sundays as well, to get it done within my self-imposed deadline," he reflects.
"But, you know, Barbara's just as busy. We do try to have Sunday mornings as a time when neither of us has any commitments, so that we can have a little bit of time together.
"She works much harder than I do, so she's never in a position to complain if I work long hours."
His success as a novelist has afforded them many luxuries, including homes in Stevenage and London, plus a holiday hideaway in Antigua. Both are ambitious but not competitive with each other, he insists, because their professions are so different.
"I'm her consort in Stevenage," he smiles, "and I have a role to play in the town. I'm head of one or two charities and we are definitely seen as a couple, although she's obviously the important one.
"As far as my career is concerned, she reads my stuff and criticises it and also has a good sense of things like image, like photographs that appear of me at the back of the book.
"We talk all the time about both our careers.
I went to see her first questions as a minister. That was a pretty big moment and it was great.
She was nervous, although nobody else would have known it."
Ken was a prominent Labour Party fundraiser in the Nineties. His glamorous lunches, dinners and parties, often fetching pounds 500 a head, attracted guests like Lord Attenborough, Sir David Puttnam, Melvyn Bragg, Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman.
But a spat with Tony Blair ended all that. "We've never really understood it," Ken says now. "There was a fundraising dinner party at our house and to my dismay it was doorstepped by the press," he recalls. "When Tony arrived he was photographed and the next day the headline was 'Bambi In Luvvieland'.
"Aspects of that evening displeased him and then stories appeared in the papers saying he was distancing himself from the luvvies - and my name was in every one of those stories."
As soon as Ken was shunned, the money stopped rolling in.
"It was the end of my career as a party fundraiser. Alastair Campbell subsequently realised, when it was too late, that he had destroyed something of a Labour Party asset."
In 2000, the author broke his silence in a blistering attack on spin, saying Blair would be remembered as the Prime Minister who had made "malicious gossip an everyday tool of modern British government". …