EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT OF MATT HANCOCK’S PANDEMIC DIARIES: I knew I needed to tell my wife right away. It was the very worst conversation of my life…
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE LATEST EXPLOSIVE CHAPTER OF MATT HANCOCK’S PANDEMIC DIARIES
- The former health secretary details the days in which his affair was revealed
- He says the ‘joy of falling in love’ was accompanied by ‘terrible black dread’
- Mr Hancock said confessing to his wife was the ‘worst conversation of my life’
Fresh from his latest controversy – losing the Tory Party whip for taking part in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! – former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has written his Covid Pandemic Diaries.
In the first part of our serialisation, in yesterday’s Daily Mail, he recounted the chilling early days of the crisis when the country faced a human catastrophe on a scale unseen for a century. Here, he tells of the emotional carnage created by his affair with his aide, Gina Coladangelo.
Thursday, June 24, 2021
What price love? I’ve always known from novels that people will risk everything.
They are ready to blow up their past, their present and their future. They will jeopardise everything they have worked for and everything that is solid and certain.
Accompanying the joy of falling in love – if you are supposed to be happily married – is the turmoil. You know, with terrible black dread, that sooner or later the relationship must be revealed and everything will come crashing down.
Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo outside their hotel as they attend the end of show party following his stint on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
To others it may seem mad, but for the person in love, the judgment to do it anyway feels right. You know there will be consequences and are afraid and ashamed but are compelled to carry on. Each day without discovery is another day without inflicting pain on others.
For some time now, Gina [Coladangelo, communications specialist] and I have been getting closer. Both of us being married, we knew the devastating implications of our feelings for each other.
That we were trying to work out the least painful way of being together when the call came is of no consequence now. People I love are in agony, and I am fighting for my political career.
The day began quite well, with news that we’d overtaken Israel to become the most vaccinated country in the world. Later I went to Parliament for a debate on the use of data in the NHS. I was feeling good and, if truth be told, at the top of my game.
When I saw a missed call on my phone from the editor of The Sun, I thought nothing of it. I know Victoria Newton well, so I had no misgivings as I called her back.
‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got a story about you and Gina. I’ve got pictures, so there’s no point in you denying it, but we’re giving you a straight, factual write-up, and won’t call on you to resign,’ is what she said.
Click here to read the latest explosive chapter of Matt Hancock’s pandemic diaries on Mail+
I knew immediately what I had to do. I needed to tell [my wife] Martha right away, because it needed to come from me and nobody else. I also knew I had to tell the children – it was going to be incredibly painful, but I couldn’t hide away from them for ever.
They deserved to know, too. Having the Health Secretary for a husband or father during a global pandemic has been incredibly tough for the family, and I feel wretched.
Knowing The Sun’s story would trigger a chain of events I would be unable to control, I decided to go straight home. Before I set off, I called the PM: no stranger to personal turmoil and, it turned out, the kindest of confidants in these ghastly circumstances. He was thoughtful, considered and as supportive as he could be for everyone involved.
I explained it all: that Gina and I had recently fallen in love, and fallen in love very deeply. I told him how I had known Gina for more than half of my life – we first met working together on student radio at Oxford – and I brought her into the [Health] department to help with public communications.
I told him that we had spent a huge amount of time together during the pandemic and fell in love. Foolish as it sounds, it felt completely outside my control.
Boris listened carefully. ‘First, I’m going to talk to you as a friend, and then we’ll talk about the politics,’ he said.
He gave me some personal advice, after which he assured me that my private life should not affect my public position. I thanked him for his support and explained that while I had already decided that I would be with Gina, there were two political problems. First, The Sun is accusing me of bringing Gina into the department because of our affair.
This is categorically untrue. I appointed her for her skills and experience, and our relationship only began very recently, as a result of working so closely together.
The second issue is more difficult: while we never broke the law, social-distancing guidelines had been in place at the time our relationship began a few weeks ago. Nothing happened between us until May, after legal restrictions ended.
We’ve always been acutely conscious of all that. Nonetheless the recommendation remained that everyone should follow the one-metre-plus rule, and we clearly had not. ‘Well, you haven’t broken the law. The guidelines aren’t binding – they’re recommendations. So I will stand by you,’ Boris replied generously.
With those words ringing in my head, and in utter turmoil, I headed home to talk to Martha. It was – and remains – the very worst conversation of my life.
Friday, June 25
The Sun published the story at 2am as a ‘world exclusive’. The picture was a grainy CCTV image of me and Gina embracing in my departmental office.
It was immediately obvious that the story would be huge.
I knew I had to get out of London, and my wonderful driver Mark came to pick me up very early and take me to stay discreetly in the countryside.
At about 8am, a welcome call from No 10: Dan Rosenfield [chief of staff] to say they’d got my back. He offered any support we might need, including sending a Conservative Party press officer to my house.
By 9am I’d had half a dozen sympathetic messages from ministerial colleagues: a terrible sign. They knew that I was in deep trouble.
Nadhim [Zahawi, Minister for vaccine deployment] sent me a piece of advice ‘from a brother’, which sounded very much like an appeal not to resign.
Meanwhile, I went back over all our movements and tried to think of any other rules we might be accused of breaking. Other than the one-metre-plus rule, I couldn’t think of any. ‘Should I do a fast apology for letting everyone down/breaching guidance?’ I asked.
Matt Hancock looks at his phone as he attends the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hostital at the ExCel on April 3, 2020
Gina thought it was a good idea, so Damon [Poole, media adviser] began crafting a short statement. I tried to focus on the words, but my head was spinning. The final version of the statement, which went out at lunchtime, accepted that I breached social-distancing guidance and said I was still focused on working to get the country out of the pandemic. I hoped it would quiet the furore.
Yet the story continued to rage: on all the news websites, on the BBC, on Twitter and on just about every other conceivable news outlet.
By mid-afternoon, there were still suggestions that we’d broken the law. It was categorically untrue, and Damon thought we needed to brief harder or put out another line. ‘What’s wrong with ‘No laws were broken’?’ I suggested.
Round and round in circles we went, trying to find the right words. Damon’s mobile phone was practically melting, and I was more stressed than I have ever been in my entire life.
All afternoon, the ‘what, when, where, who, why, how much?’ questions continued. Journalists began suggesting I might have broken the Ministerial Code. I hadn’t, but I could see the way this was going.
My local constituency association in Suffolk was wonderfully supportive. Allan [Nixon, special adviser] worked the phones, trying to get MPs to say something helpful.
My spirits lifted a little when William Hague [former Tory leader] publicly declared that I shouldn’t resign. Not for long, though: by late afternoon it was clear tomorrow’s papers will be hideous.
Saturday, June 26
Privately, I was still getting positive messages from colleagues. Publicly, few were willing to defend me. Politically, I was increasingly isolated. I felt desperate for my family, my children and Gina’s family and her children, and powerless to protect them. Worse was the knowledge that Gina and I had brought all this on them.
Gina’s feelings of shame and guilt were nearly overpowering her. The jokes and cartoons on social media were excruciating. We were being publicly humiliated, again and again.
While close friends and family were amazing, I also had messages from friends and colleagues who had had terrible lockdown experiences and were very upset. Their disappointment in me – and their sense of betrayal – was agonising.
It is all my fault, of course. I knew I had to take responsibility. I knew in my heart that I had to resign.
I went to Chequers to see the PM. I explained that I had been thinking about what had happened and how it had made people feel – and that my mind was made up. The damage to my family and to the Government was too great.
Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson visit Bassetlaw District General Hospital in Worksop on November 22, 2019
I told Boris I had to resign.
He was regretful but didn’t argue. We sat on the patio and talked about what this would mean for the management of the rest of the pandemic.
An exchange of letters was prepared, offering and accepting my resignation, and we each edited our letters. We had to decide how to make the announcement, what to say and how.
I must have shot a thousand videos over the course of the pandemic, levelling with the public and thanking the NHS for their dedication. This would be the last.
In the end, the great machinery of the State was nowhere. It was just me and the PM fumbling around with an iPhone. He stood on the grass, holding the phone while I said my piece. It took a few goes to get it right.
He nodded sympathetic encouragement so much throughout the first take that the camera waved up and down. In the end it wasn’t perfect, but I was beyond caring: I had to get it out.
Now messages of sympathy and support flooded in: from my team, the Prof [Chris Whitty, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer], JVT [Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer], Pascal [Soriot, head of AstraZeneca] – and just about everyone else who worked so hard alongside us to save lives.
Matt Hancock said Boris Johnson (pictured on June 29 2021) ‘was regretful but didn’t argue’ when he told him he would resign
I’m incredibly grateful to all my team, especially my spads [special advisers] and private office, for going above and beyond in supporting me in what is such a difficult time for them, too.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I told them all. ‘I mean, the honest truth is I made a mistake due to love and it doesn’t matter that it was only guidance. I should not have broken advice that I myself signed off.’
This evening Jamie N-G [Njoku-Goodwin, former spad] whose endless advice – offered long after he stopped working for me – has been so valuable throughout the pandemic, messaged to say I’d done the right thing.
‘There is so much you have done that you should be incredibly proud of. There are people alive today who wouldn’t be if you hadn’t made the decisions you did,’ he said.
‘I love her. That’s what screwed my judgment,’ I replied wretchedly. ‘Love does that to us all. I hope you can both be happy,’ he said.
‘Of that I have no doubt,’ I replied.
As for Boris – well, if anyone knows how to survive a catastrophic political and personal mistake, it’s him.
‘Time to dive beneath the ice cap,’ was his advice.
Matt Hancock’s book sale royalties will be donated to NHS Charities and good causes relating to dyslexia.
- Click here to read the latest explosive chapter of Matt Hancock’s pandemic diaries on Mail+
Extracted by Corinna Honan from Pandemic Diaries: The Inside Story of Britain’s Battle Against Covid by Matt Hancock & Isabel Oakeshott, to be published by Biteback on December 6 at £25. © Matt Hancock & Isabel Oakeshott 2022. To order a copy for £22.50 (offer valid to 17/12/22; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.
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