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Thursday, September 9, 1999 Published at 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK

UK Politics

The path of Portillo

The Tory right loved Portillo the minister but others saw him as smug

Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo, 46, first appeared on the nation's television screens as a young child actor in an advert.

He is the son of a Spanish poet and a law professor, Luis, who fought Franco in the 1930s and later fled to England.

His early years saw him follow the family tradition and espouse left-wing politics. He attended Harrow Grammar School and was in the same drama club as Labour left-wing MP Diane Abbott, who attended a sister school.

It was not until he enrolled at Peterhouse College, Cambridge University, that he underwent a conversion to Conservative politics and developed the ideas leading him to be loved by the Tory right and reviled by many outside the party.

[ image: In Thatcher's government, Portillo rose through the ranks]
In Thatcher's government, Portillo rose through the ranks
While he is said to have enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle including champagne breakfasts at the college - and it now transpires he engaged in homosexual relationships - he emerged with a first in history and his mind set on a career in politics.

His first entry into Westminster followed the death of a sitting MP. He contested the Enfield Southgate seat in 1984 after Sir Anthony Berry was killed by the IRA in the Brighton bomb blast.

Regarded at the time as an ultra-safe Tory seat, Mr Portillo wasted no time in establishing himself as a champion of Thatcherite causes, such as the privatisation of transport links.

He horrified some by his bombastic conference speeches, but among the party faithful he quickly became spoken about as a young man who might one day become leader.

Under Margaret Thatcher, he entered the Cabinet after a series of junior ministerial posts.

His first chance at the leadership came after John Major had taken over from the Iron Lady. In the end, he ducked it, leaving John Redwood to take up the right-wing mantle, but it later emerged he had set up a campaign centre in case he had the opportunity to jump in at a later stage.

[ image: Stephen Twigg: Shock winner in
Stephen Twigg: Shock winner in "safe" Conservative seat
Mr Portillo's political career trajectory took its greatest dip when he lost the seat to the openly gay Labour candidate Stephen Twigg.

The young challenger made it plain he had not expected to win, but the result captured something of the mood of the British people in 1997 - there is an instant history book about the election titled, Were You Still Up for Portillo?

He later admitted losing his constituency and seat in the House of Commons also robbed him of his identity. "I have that normal male thing of valuing myself according to the job I do," he said. "When I can't tell someone in one word what I am, then something is missing. I don't represent anything any more."

He fought back by immersing himself in the world of television documentary making, travelling to Spain to discover the lost world of his father. It was a move that allowed him to remain in the public eye and present a softer, more human side to himself to counter the charge of arrogance, extremism and xenophobia often laid against him.

He has been married for 17 years to headhunter Carolyn Eadie, although the couple have no children.

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