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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Currie interview in full
Edwina Currie has broken cover to give her first broadcast interview with BBC Radio Five Live about her affair with former prime minister John Major.
Here is the transcript from that interview with Julian Worricker and Victoria Derbyshire:
Currie: Good morning Julian, good morning Victoria. Of course I'm on 5 Live - feels a bit odd not to be on Late Night Currie to be honest.
Presenter: We'll come to that a little later on. I want to ask the first question which comes from a quotation which you wrote in the diary back in 1991 and you'd just confided in Tony Newton that this affair had gone on. And you wrote at the end of that entry, "I doubt if anyone would believe me if I told them and what good would it do?"
What's the answer to that second question today?
Currie: Well I think now, long after all those people concerned have passed into - well almost oblivion, I suppose - most of them are out of government, out of Parliament, the Conservatives have lost two elections since - they would believe me now.
Indeed, I think it does some good to set the picture straight. The picture that had been painted of those years - particularly of the 1980s - was well it was a little limited.
I had the answer to an awful lot of questions. I hung onto those answers until they could do no more damage and it then seemed to me appropriate to, as I say, set the picture straight.
Presenter: But why now? Why after 14 years?
Currie: Because everyone has moved on. This has been - as you can imagine - quite a burden to bear. I chose to bear it until it could do no further damage.
Nobody concerned is still in power. Nobody involved is going to have career wrecked by it.
Last year I got divorced and remarried. My ex-husband has announced his engagement - he's going to get married again.
We now know that Mrs Major knew all about this a long time ago and forgave her husband. So I can't quite see why anyone thinks it would be damaging now. I don't it is.
Presenter: Why does Norma Major raked up all over again? She's an entirely innocent party here.
Currie: She is indeed, that's absolutely right. And I must tell you that I thought long and hard about how to do and whether to do it. But if your going to publish a diary - and I thought of writing a memoir at the time or something like that - and when I started to look at my notes that I used to keep, I thought the best thing to do is publish it as it is, warts and all.
And to try and make sure that it wasn't done in such a way or at such at time that it would cause a lot of damage.
Mrs Major is currently in America with her husband, has forgiven him. I am delighted about that. I'm pleased that they're still together and I wish them all health and happiness.
Presenter: But you didn't have to publish it at all. It wasn't compulsory. You could have gone to your grave with this.
Currie: You can go to your grave with these subjects. You can go to your grave with these secrets - some people do. But it's 2002 Julian and you know these days I think people much prefer us - journalists, politicians, everybody in public life - to deal honestly with the public. That's what I've always tried to do.
And when I thought about it, it seemed to me that - well apart from anything else - I would feel an awful lot better if I wasn't keeping other people's secrets any longer.
Presenter: I mentioned Norma Major as an innocent party, others also look at your ex-husband and the way you've described him in these diaries. I've got some quotes here: looking fat, lackadaisical, stubborn and pig-headed. Why does he have to go through this all over again?
Currie: Well I think what you're also not quoting is the many times that we had that were very good and very enjoyable and very close and those are also in the diaries because we were married for 29 years, which is more than, shall we say, an awful lot of my critics. Those who are without sin can cast the first stone.
He is now happily resettled. He's in the family home - in a very amicable divorce settlement - he's taken the family home - I'm glad about that. And I think we are all now able to move on.
Presenter: But you have two daughters by that marriage. How do they feel about this all being aired in public?
Currie: I think they're a little surprised.
Presenter: Surprised? I would have thought they're a bit more than that aren't they?
Currie: Well, I suspect that you know in real life Julian just as we're always embarrassed what our children do, our children are embarrassed sometimes by what we do or have done in the past.
But it's a long time ago. It's - now let me think - the affair started in 1984 and it finished in 1988, that's 14 years ago. They were little girls then - they're grown women now with their own lives.
Presenter: How did the affair start?
Currie: It started because we were - I suppose you know healthy handsome people in very pressurised jobs. I mean, you listening to this - you'll know exactly what I mean. You've got the kind of job we're your working long, long hours. In that particular Parliament, '83 to '87 - the average time that the House of Commons rose at night was after midnight, 12.47am.
Margaret Thatcher believed that home was a place you go to when there's no more work to do and she practised it and we worked like Trojans.
I think what was happening was we were both going home to an empty flat and sooner or later you start chatting and sharing confidences and one night you say - come home with me - and he did.
Presenter: You claimed that you ended the affair in 1988, other reports suggest that it was in fact Norma Major who gave her husband an ultimatum and that's what ended it.
Currie: Yeah, I read a lot of stuff in the last few days - it's complete nonsense, it's complete fiction. I ended it, I ended it by writing to John. That is described in the diaries. I didn't want to but it seemed to me that once he was in the Cabinet it was running far too many risks. It was running practical risks - I mean we had the IRA chasing us round.
For John to give his bodyguards the slip, would have been to put him into a seriously dangerous situation. It just wasn't worth it and it was getting much harder to find dates when we were free and could get together and so on.
It just seemed to me unwise to continue. I wrote and I said so. We didn't stop because we didn't stop caring about each other or enjoying each other's company. We stopped because I thought it was time to stop - I didn't want to.
And I can tell you he may say now he's ashamed of it but he wasn't ashamed of it at the time and he wanted it to go on.
I don't think Mrs Major knew anything about it until much later - perhaps at the time when the fuss about Clare Latimer, the cook, blew up.
Presenter: Are you ashamed of it now?
Currie: No I'm not. I wasn't ashamed at the time and I'm not ashamed now. For two hardworking and committed people to care about each other, to spend time in each other's company, to love and to support each other like that - that's not a subject for shame, no.
Presenter: You said at one stage - I loved him very dearly and I still do and always will. You still love him now do you?
Currie: That was in the diary. I think the revelations of the last few days and the way in which particularly he treated Clare Latimer - which I think was outrageous - I think that has put paid to any lingering regard or affection or admiration.
He behaved in an atrocious fashion and it's a shame. And it wasn't just me. When he had the opportunity, when he formed government in December of 1990, when he was elected to succeed Margaret Thatcher, he formed the first government for a quarter of century that had absolutely no women in it.
He ignored the women that supported him and that had helped him - not just myself, lots of them - Emma Nicholson and Theresa Gorman and all the others and then he had the nerve to stand at the Despatch Box and say that he put people into that government on merit.
I mean, you know, if we'd had tomatoes in our hands, Victoria, we'd have pelted him with them.
He perpetuated in those thoughtless statements and that thoughtless behaviour. The picture of Conservative governments which has persisted 'til now, which is that they only accept heterosexual, white males as MPs and they think that nobody else can rule the country and that is just such rubbish.
Presenter: And him saying that he was ashamed of what happened with you. Was that thoughtless? I mean he'd had so many years to think about what he would say if it ever came out. How did you feel when you heard what he had to say?
Currie: I was a bit gob-smacked I have to confess because I agree with one of the newspapers that said - hang on a minute, if you're ashamed of things, there are a few other things to be ashamed of - this is the thing you were most ashamed of.
I think the worst thing that ever happened, for which he was entirely responsible, was Back to Basics. Governments should not start running morality campaigns.
Governments are no better than the people that elect them and here we are in this country, we've the highest divorce rate in the world, the highest illegitimacy birth rate in the world, the highest rate of teenage pregnancy - we are no country to start chucking stones at each other and we should not expect our politicians to be any better.
He then, as a policy, decided to have Back to Basics all about family morality, about how awful single parents were - I thought that was evil, really rotten, really cruel, and it was then open house on the way that his ministers had been behaving.
Presenter: Evil - hypocritical as well?
Currie: Oh, well, what shall I say? You may well say that, but I couldn't possibly comment would probably be the fairest remark to make.
Presenter: Well, he'd had an affair, and there he was watching ministers resign because they'd been having affairs.
Currie: And he'd been in the whip's office, and the whips have the little black book, Julian, of what everybody's been up to, all their little peccadilloes, all their cheats and deceits and so on...
People in the House of Commons are human beings, they are not saints. You don't want saints to be governing you, you want people who understand the way the world works and to put them up to exposure in that way I thought was a big mistake. And it was only done because they didn't have any other serious policies for the new millennium to speak of - as the electorate guessed pretty soon.
Presenter: Were you tempted to blow the whistle during that time?
Currie: No I wasn't because my children were still teenagers until the mid-1990s and I didn't want to damage the government.
I got crosser and crosser about it, but I didn't want to damage the government. It was becoming very apparent from my own constituency that the electorate were going to punish us anyhow. The electorate was saying: "Come on you guys, you're supposed to be running a country, you are not supposed to be sleeping around with each other" - and that was the judgment they eventually made.
Presenter: You mentioned Clare Latimer and how badly you feel he treated her. Of course, we now see the possibility of Scallywag - which doesn't exist anymore - and the New Statesman - which does, say: "hang on, those damages should not have been anything like the scale they reached because of what we now know". Where do you stand on that? Do you have sympathy for the New Statesman and Scallywag?
Currie: Well, my sympathies are still with Clare Latimer herself. I don't know her personally, but her business was wrecked... I mean, if you're in confidential circumstances, you're cooking for private people in private houses, they're not going to want you there if they think you're going to be making eyes at the man of the house. She was treated in an atrocious fashion.
Presenter: But you could have helped her out?
Currie: To be honest Victoria, I didn't know any of the truth of the background there, I really didn't. To approach someone and say: "there is a secret here" - that wouldn't have been right or proper. And you are also right, I did consider the feelings of my husband and children - we were very close at the time and the kids were coming up to doing A-levels.
It's important, if you care about your family, to put them first at times. I'm afraid that's what I did then and that's what I try and continue to do.
Presenter: But does the New Statesman deserve to lose as much money as it did when it called somebody an adulterer - ok the details weren't right - but it called somebody an adulterer who actually was?
Currie: Are we talking about the same newspaper that's currently owned by Geoffrey Robinson who had to leave the government recently - we are aren't we? I don't think┐
Presenter: Is that entirely relevant?
Currie: Well, all I'm saying is - or I'm suggesting - is that those who were without sin should throw the first stone.
In the circumstances it looks very obvious indeed that the accusations that were made by those newspapers were untrue - they were wrong.
They were wrong in particular about Miss Latimer who is a respectable, honourable and decent woman and has had a rotten time since and in that sense I don't think they deserve, as you put it in inverted commas, to get any benefit from that.
Presenter: Your motive here? A lot has been written in the last few days about why you've done this and why you've done it now - we touched on it at the beginning. The two accusations levelled at you most frequently have been - money and frustration that you didn't get to a position of power that you thought you should have done. Let's deal with money first. We've had an e-mail from somebody here saying, you're bound to make far more from these diaries now because you've put this revelation in them. You can't possibly contest that, can you?
Currie: No, and I don't contest it. But actually I don't think money was the motive. If I'd really wanted a lot of money - just think about it - if I'd really wanted a lot of money, if I'd really wanted revenge of whatever, I'd have done it when he was Prime Minister wouldn't I?
Goodness, the opportunities were there, they were legion, particularly perhaps after Back to Basics when I could simply have stood up and said - hey, this guy has a secret, let me tell you all about it. And I didn't do that and it didn't cross my mind.
If I'd wanted to benefit myself, my husband says to me, why didn't you ever march into him and say - 'hey, mate, you owe me. And actually you need me and people like me in government. You've got the most lacklustre, incompetent governments we've had for a very long time.
You know there is other talent there that you could use - not just myself but other people. Why didn't you go in and demand a job? And I said, I could not do that - I'm not made that way.
So I carried this burden for a very, very long time. And it did seem right - particularly last summer - in the summer of 2001, the Conservatives went splat again.
We do not have an opposition in this country to what Mr Blair, Ken Livingstone, everybody else gets up to and I thought it's about time that we put the matter straight and that's what I've tried to do.
Presenter: Did John Major ever explain to you why he didn't give you a job back in '92?
Currie: Well, he did give me a job in '92 - he did offer me a job in '92. When he formed his second administration after the election, he called me in and offered me the job of Minister of State in the Home Office, which was, shall we say, later filled with great distinction by Anne Widdicombe.
And I could just see coming that sort of debate - you know, having to defend shackling pregnant women prisoners to the bedpost.
I know what the prison department is like - I've got two prisons in my constituency - and there was no way I was ever going to do that.
And I could see myself having another flaming row with my colleagues and saying you can't do this in all humanity and having resign.
I'd been there, I'd done that and I wasn't going to go through it. And I said to John is there anything else? And he said no - you were very difficult to find all day. And I thought, that's a lie - I've been in the same place all day.
And I said to him, can I just ask you before we go - why didn't you offer me a job before? And he looked at me completely blank and said, I don't know - and I don't know either, you'd better ask him.
Presenter: That still rankles doesn't it? Written in 1991, he didn't keep his promise to me as I understood it that I would be offered a worthwhile post - that hurt so terribly, I'd like the man to know exactly what he did last winter and how I felt. It's an act of revenge, some are saying.
Currie: No, no, that was written - that was written 12 years ago - 11, 12 years ago - and it was a reflection of how I felt at the time.
When I started keeping a diary ages ago, I made myself a couple of very basic promises - they were never originally intended for publication - that wasn't their purpose.
I said I would write down exactly how I felt at the time as an accurate record of events and how I observed them and I wouldn't go back and alter anything, even if I turned out to be wrong afterwards.
But it turned out I was right afterwards. So there's an even stronger case for publishing in the way that they were written and then of course, yes, I do have to take a lot of stick now but they were written a long time ago.
Presenter: There's been a very strong reaction to what you've revealed from all sorts of quarters, including former colleagues. David Mellor, I think, called you a cheap trollop.
Currie: David Mellor! David Mellor calls me a trollop - oh, please. I mean Victoria, have you got anybody better you can quote?
Presenter: This is what Mary Archer had to say, for example. "I am a little surprised, not at Mrs Currie indiscretion, but at a temporary lapse in John Major's taste".
Currie: Well, when we were both doing chemistry at St. Anne's at Oxford a very long time ago, Mary wasn't nearly as posh as that, I can tell you.
But nonetheless, if Mrs Archer - Lady Archer - my apologies to her - is accusing anybody of lack of taste - well I thinks that pots and kettles and black and glasshouses and stones.
If these are the people, Victoria, who are criticising, I am at ease with myself. And I said to my husband John, last night, I feel cleansed. I've been carrying these secrets for a very long time on others people's behalf and the time has come to end that burden.
Presenter: But if you always felt like an outsider in the Tory party, partly because you were a woman, partly because you were Jewish, partly because you were loud and controversial - then you're going to be even more so outside now, aren't you?
Currie: Oh, but I've been out of politics, as you well know, for a very long time.
Presenter: And you don't care about the Tory Party any more?
Currie: I care passionately about the Conservative Party. I care passionately about the way our country is governed. I am deeply distressed that the party is not offering any kind of opposition.
Presenter: And how does this help them just before the start of their conference?
Currie: They have to get their act together. I mean a million people, Victoria, can't get to work in London today because of the Tube strike.
Presenter: But how does this help them though with a couple of days to go before the start of this particularly party conference for the Tories?
Currie: Perhaps it helps them to close a chapter on their past where the Conservative Party came from being a government with 14 million votes, with millions of people in the country expressing their confidence in us to run the country properly and we didn't do it - we didn't do it.
And not only that, but we've been arguing┐ I mean what do the Conservative Party stand for right now - it's anti-gay.
So tell me, how does that help us run the schools, how does that help us get the trains going? It doesn't and it doesn't actually help to bring the government of Tony Blair to account either. They've got to get their act together.
Presenter: Final question. Lots of e-mails and text messages coming in as we speak.
A lot of them hostile, a lot of them actually saying I don't think I want Edwina Currie on the radio anymore because future programmes will be about her rather than about the issues that she might need to talk about. What do you say to people who are as hostile as that to what you have done?
Currie: I've taken leave from my programme for a couple of weeks and I have a feeling that this is a nine days wonder territory and it will die down.
And it wouldn't be my interest or my purpose at all to run it on any longer than just a few days. My hope is that the very large numbers of people that tune in every week to Late Night Currie on Saturday and Sunday nights will continue to do so.
I'm off until the middle of October and I will continue to look after them in a way, I hope, that I used to look after my constituents.
The listeners matter very, very much to me. Their opinions and the way they care about the way our country is run and governed. That matters and that's what I'm trying to respond to.
Presenter: Thank you very, much Edwina Currie.
01 Oct 02 | Politics
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