In Defence of Edwina Currie, the Woman Who Dared: Alan Clark Was Celebrated as a Loveable Old Rogue after the Many Scandalous Revelations in His Diaries. So Why Should John Major's Ex-Mistress Be Denounced as a Trollop? (Cover Story)

By Odone, Cristina | New Statesman (1996), October 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

In Defence of Edwina Currie, the Woman Who Dared: Alan Clark Was Celebrated as a Loveable Old Rogue after the Many Scandalous Revelations in His Diaries. So Why Should John Major's Ex-Mistress Be Denounced as a Trollop? (Cover Story)


Odone, Cristina, New Statesman (1996)


In 1987, I was asked by Company magazine to interview Edwina Currie, then a Tory minister, for an article on mothers and daughters. Together with a photographer, I went off to the House of Commons. Currie was lively and brisk. She discussed her daughter's many accomplishments with touching motherly pride. She posed eagerly for the photographer -- flashing a big smile after carefully adjusting her jacket. And then I had to cough, slightly embarrassed, and remind her that she had two daughters and could she kindly give me a few words about the second? They came, grudgingly. I was taken aback -- and when the photographer and I visited the ladies' room on our way out of the House, I let rip: what kind of a mum was that? I had never beard such favouritism! The two of us agreed that we couldn't imagine anything worse than being the less-favoured daughter. Whereupon we exited our stalls to find Edwina Currie at the basin washing her hands. She didn't say a word, merely continued to dry her hands. Then, with a small, cool smile at our reflections in the mirror, sailed off, head held high.

Insults, ostracism, even rotten eggs -- Edwina Currie has survived them all. As a female politician, a Jew who married outside her faith, a bestselling author of bonkbusters, she has raised eyebrows and hackles throughout her life. The years of practice will serve her well in the next few weeks, as her revelations of an adulterous affair with John Major make her the target of irate Tories and fire-and-brimstone tabloids. Already, she has been subjected to bitching from that fragrant cuckold, Mary Archer: "I am surprised ... at the temporary lapse in John Major's taste." She's been called a traitor by Tories who claim her kiss-and-tell diary risks killing off their moribund party. Even that gentleman of unimpeachable reputation, David Mellor, had to give his twopennyworth -- "Trollop!" he screeched.

But Edwina will no doubt rise above them all. She will rake in the millions -- the diary will sell like hot cakes, the bonkbusters will be reprinted for their roman d clef possibilities -- and spend more time in her new house in France with her new husband, John (a former Met officer).

The former minister will shrug off the stinging attacks, knowing that those who round on her do so because she has exposed not herself, but them. Her diary reveals a prime minister and a Tory party steeped in hypocrisy, a parliamentary system that marginalises women and strains family ties, and a nation that -- even in the 21st century -- judges its citizens by double standards.

With her chronicle of their passionate (three-hour sessions with strawberry and cream), four-year (1984-88), adulterous (he was married to Norma, she to Ray) affair, Edwina has stripped the mask of probity from John Major. Here was a man lumbered with such a grey and dull public persona that everyone thought he must be virtuous. Far from it, as she has shown. In fact, the "B" who emerges from Edwina's dirty linen was a nasty piece of work: launching a "back to basics" campaign that purported to uphold family values -- while knowing that be himself had committed adultery; watching eight members of his party pilloried by the press for their sexual escapades -- without so much as lifting a finger in their assistance. With his lover, Major was no better: the second he sniffed that No 10 was within his grasp, he became self-obsessed and detached, turning their pillow talk into rehearsals for his speeches. Once in power, he kept Edwina at arm's length.

But Edwina has not just discredited a former prime minister and his agenda: she has exposed parliamentary life for the male-centred, clubby existence it continues to be. Ninety-six Labour female MPs and 14 Conservative female MPs have failed to feminise Westminster. The schedule (debates go on well into the early hours of the morning), facilities (not a creche or nappy-changing table in sight) and working practice (boozy after-hour bonding sessions) place a strain on family life. …

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