The Mo the Merrier for a Woman Who Kept the Faith; Mo Mowlam: Loved by the People, Hated by Some Politicians, and the Most Genuine, Funny and Idiosyncratic Politician of Her Generation. GEOFF HILL Talked to Her in Belfast at the Launch of Momentum, the Book in Which She Spills the Beans on Life, Love, Laughter and Politics

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Mo had gone shopping. "Sorry about this," said Michael her publicity man. "She was here a minute ago, then she said since it was such a nice day she was going for a potter."

Indeed, the former Secretary of State's judgment, as ever, was spot on: it was a nice day, and five minutes later she finally wandered through the door, said sorry she was late, and plonked herself down in the nearest chair.

If Frodo Baggins had had a favourite aunt in Lord of the Rings, it would probably have been Mo. She looks like the sort of person who would have given him a good talking to for getting into such bother, then given him a hug, a nice big mug of tea and a currant bun. I bet she bakes a mean bun.

She even took charge of my tape recorder to make sure it was working.

"Heavens, it's dinky. Is it recording when the red light is on? So if the light goes off it's buggered? OK, let me keep an eye on it to make sure it's all right."

Right, that was that organised. And apart from all that, how was she?

"Ah, it's Friday afternoon, I'm in Belfast, the sun is shining, I can chat to people in the street without a phalanx of security following me and Gordon Brown's just flown in with pounds 200 million. What could be better in the world?"

It's very typical of her that she forgot to mention that she was supposed to be in town promoting Momentum, her book about peace, politics and the people involved in the struggle to make some sense out of Northern Ireland.

She wrote it to make sense, she says, not only for people in England who didn't care, but for people here who weren't directly involved.

Naturally, the London papers had ignored the Ulster bits in favour of what she thought of drugs and Tony. Don't take them at the same time, is the answer.

"London journalists? Bloody Animal Farm, that lot.

"You wouldn't believe how many of them interviewed me without having read the book. Have you read it?" she said, opening a bottle of mineral water which had obviously been booby-trapped by the DUP and promptly exploded over her. "Oh, shit. Well, I'm glad you have. At least the journalists here are human beings."

Maybe that was one of the reasons why, after years of cardboard cut-out Tory Secretaries of State who saw Belfast as a political Siberia, Mo was actually looking forward to doing the job.

"The one thing you had here was a problem and a chance to get going on it, and I'm the kind of politician who likes that, so I put a lot of energy into making it work.

"I think the problem with previous Tories in the post was that they were patrician Englishmen, and they couldn't function because no one trusted them and they didn't understand the place.

"Paddy Mayhew did better than most, and he was very kind to me when I was in the Opposition, taking me around the place and introducing me to civil servants, so that when I got the job I knew where everything was, and could hit the ground running a bit.

"By the time I got here I'd been here almost weekly for a year, so I knew the people and the issues. The big difference was having this wave of people following me all the time. I used to run across the street to try and avoid them.

"The people here were blunt, but I like that. At least you know where you stand. Like with Ian Paisley. Even though everything he did to the peace process was destructive, counter-productive and negative, at least he did it with a sense of humour, which is more than you can say for Bob McCartney.

"He was just dry and rude, and I found dealing with him very sad, especially since people who knew him said he was actually a decent guy.

"As for the place itself, the change in it is incredible. The spirit in the streets as I walked around today and talked to people is just fantastic.

"I do miss it, as Jean Denton did very much when she left. …