Battling On: Christine Hamilton Talks To 50connectPosted on: 01 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Love her or loathe her, you cannot ignore Christine Hamilton, as 50connect discovered.
Thrust into the public eye during her husband’s 1997 electoral battle with television journalist Martin Bell, she has rarely been out of the media spotlight since.
Christine has seen her husband branded a corrupt MP and declared bankrupt, while she herself has been vilified by the press, accused of sexual assault and more recently, to the consternation of her enemies no doubt, lauded as a media personality.
As former BBC news reader Martyn Lewis said, Christine has been transformed "From Battleaxe to National Treasure.”
When it comes to her public image however, Christine is more candid. “It is slightly self-inflicted,” she confesses, “I am a battleaxe, but like all battle axes I’m really just a pussy cat underneath it all.”
A self declared ‘media butterfly,’ Christine added weight to her public caricature by publishing Great British Battleaxes in 1997, which features profiles of gutsy women from Boudicea through to Margaret Thatcher.
“All the women in my book have got more balls than the Cabinet and the Shadow cabinet combined, although that wouldn’t be difficult these days,” says Christine, who devotes a chapter to her own battleaxe credentials in the book.
“It was my husband’s idea that I write the book, so he has helped perpetuate the myth of the battle axe too, but it is all very much tongue in cheek.”
“Of course because it was Neil’s initial idea I get to lay all the blame on him,” adds Christine, tongue very firmly in cheek.
Christine’s husband, Neil, was a Cheshire MP from 1982 until his defeat by Martin Bell at the 1997 General Election.
Throughout that time Christine worked as Neil’s secretary. “I wouldn’t go back to politics for all the tea in china. I’ve joined the other 98% of the population who don’t care about what goes on at Westminster.”
For a woman who spent 26 years working in the House of Commons and was every bit a political animal, this is a big change.
“When I left university I did originally want to become an MP, but I very quickly changed my mind,” she says. “No one ever believes me when I say this, but I actually don’t like confrontation.”
And after the goings on within the Conservative Party in recent weeks, getting involved in Tory politics again is something Christine does not relish.
“The more and more shenanigans that go on the happier I am to be out of it all. I’m more than happy to just watch amused on the side lines these days.”
Of the latest Conservative Party leadership contest, Christine says, “I think Iain [Duncan Smith] and his wife Betsy showed great dignity. The fact that they were attacked anonymously is absolutely shameful.”
Christine’s advice to the late Tory leader and his family in dealing with the press is simple, “Develop a very thick skin. I didn’t have one to start with, but I’ve developed one now.”
From Christine’s own experience, she has learnt to cope with the media intruding into her life.
“If you live your life in the public eye then you have to understand that your life is public and you have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.
“There are always going to be people out there who will write disapproving things about you, I just go through life in my own sweet way and if people don’t like me its their problem, not mine.”
Many people of course, do not like Christine or her husband Neil.
Many, in particular those on the left of the political spectrum, see the Hamiltons as representing all that was bad about Thatcher’s Britain - the true blue career politician and his wife out to better no one other than themselves.
Neil, then a Junior Minister in John Major’s government was accused in 1994 of accepting bribes from Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed in exchange for asking Parliamentary questions which were of importance to Al Fayed’s business interests.
The 'Cash For Questions' episode as it became known, broke in The Guardian newspaper in October 1994 and was central to the sleaze allegations that brought down John Major’s government.
With the benefit of hindsight, Christine is convinced that her husband was the victim of a plot by the Left to discredit the Conservative Party.
“It is an incredibly complicated story,” she says of the episode which would lead to her husband losing his seat in Parliament and, after an unsuccessful libel challenge in the courts against Al Fayed in 2000, would eventually leave her husband bankrupt.
“Bankruptcy is just a minor irritant really,” she says. “It’s a cat and mouse game and I happen to be married to a very clever mouse.”
Miraculously, the Hamiltons even managed to hang on to their Cheshire home following the failed Al Fayed trial, only selling the property a few months ago.
“Since Neil is no longer the MP for the area we thought it was pointless living there anymore.”
For the time being, the couple live in the Battersea flat, which Christine has owned for nearly 30 years.
“It’s a bit of a squash and all our furniture is in storage, but we are really enjoying living in one place at the moment. We will buy somewhere else in due course, but we are not in any hurry.”
Listening to the way Christine talks about Neil, it’s obvious that the Hamiltons are a tight team.
As Christine wrote in The Guardian in May, when commenting on the Channel 4 documentary on Mary Archer, ‘I could never have stood shoulder to shoulder with Neil if he had deceived me. Mary [Archer] may make light of sexual fidelity but what about trust and honesty within a marriage?’
Trust and honesty are key to a good marriage, but what else goes into a successful marriage?
“Luck to begin with. If you don’t meet the right person in the first place then you are not going to get anywhere. A bit of lust doesn’t hurt to get things off the ground either,” she adds, “and then to keep it going you have to have love and laughter.”
Christine met Neil when she was just eighteen, but she did not get married until she was 33.
She says; “We had a little interregnum when we were younger. I dumped Neil for a few years when I was 22. I thought it was time to sew my wild oats for a bit.”
From numerous television appearances in Have I Got News For You, where Christine memorably lambasted ex-host Angus Deayton over his off-screen behaviour, to appearing in 2002’s surprise ITV hit I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Christine’s standing with the British public has being boosted considerably in recent years.
The sea change in how the public viewed Neil and Christine was precipitated after the couple appeared in Louis Theroux’s documentary When Louis Met The Hamiltons in 2001.
Famously, Louis was filming with the couple when they were arrested, accused of sexually assaulting Nadine Milroy Sloan at a flat in Ilford, Essex.
Both Neil and Christine were cleared of all charges and Milroy Sloan was sentenced to three years in June for perverting the course of justice.
As recent cases have shown, the media rarely steps lightly when it comes to reporting rape, and it is something Christine feels strongly about.
“I think the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction. People who are accused of rape should have the same anonymity as the accuser."
“The reason people knew who our accuser was so early on was because she sold her anonymity to the News of the World for £50,000. She voluntarily gave it up. I think it’s intolerable that people accused of rape have their reputations dragged through the press.”
And Christine’s views are the same for the ordinary public too.
"So what if you’re not famous? If you’re named in your own local newspaper, that’s bad enough for most people.”
With the bad press behind her and a glittering career as a ‘media butterfly’ ahead, Christine is excited about what the future holds.
“Life for me begins at 54.” Christine has no plans to retire either. In fact, she scoffs at the suggestion; “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself for a start."
“My New Year’s resolution for 2003 was to never have a dull moment and I’m going to make exactly the same resolution for 2004.”
By Dale Lovell
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