Interview with Christine and Neil Hamilton, published in The Spectator / by Rich Hobbs

Scotland had the Macbeths and Romania had the Ceausescus. But while Tony

and Cheri made a pretty good stab at it, in the annals of notoriety in British

politics no husband and wife team can compare to the Hamiltons. Or at least it

seemed like that in 1997, when allegations about cash for questions in brown

envelopes catapulted Neil Hamilton, the relatively obscure MP for Tatton, into

the eye of the storm about to overwhelm John Major’s government. The

decision by former BBC correspondent Martin Bell, in his white suit, to stand

as an "Anti-Sleaze" candidate in Tatton drove Hamilton’s wife Christine to

confront him during a press-conference on Knutsford Heath, hurling her into

the maelstrom as well, and they duly enjoyed their 15 minutes of infamy.

However, as I found out when I arranged to meet and draw them both

over lunch at the Gay Hussar Hungarian restaurant in Soho last month, it’s

turned out to be a long 15 minutes. It’s also been pretty harrowing. From

representing the third safest Tory seat in the country, after May 1st 1997

Hamilton was not just unemployed but also, as he conceded when he told me

he was "damaged goods", unemployable too. Then there was his failed libel

action against Mohammed Al Fayed, his subsequent bankruptcy when he

couldn’t meet his legal fees and, probably worst of all, false accusations of

rape which surfaced while the Hamiltons were making a film for the BBC

with Louis Theroux.

However, there’s an added dimension to the Hamiltons’ travails.

Irrespective of whether they deserved it or not, they came to symbolise a

worn-out, failing and increasingly squalid government, to the point where they

took on the role not just of scapegoats, but also as sacrificial lambs. But it was

the nature of the altar on which they were sacrificed which, as a satirist, really

interested me. Shortly after being beaten by Bell at Tatton, Hamilton and his

wife appeared on "Have I Got News For You"and at the end of the show

Angus Deayton handed them their appearance fees in brown envelopes. Thus

was both a political and personal disaster compounded by what had every

appearance of being an almost ritualised level of humiliation, as if our

collective bloodlust wouldn’t be sated until they’d bent the knee and kissed

the rod of Satire, in a warped, showbiz variant on a Stalinist Show Trial. So I

wondered, having volunteered themselves to become a National Joke, why in

God’s name had they done it.

"Look, darling," Christine Hamilton glowered as she settled herself on

the banquet opposite me in the Gay Hussar, next to Neil in his bow tie, and

having kissed me on both cheeks on arrival (even though we’d never met

before), "we were broke. We were both 50, neither of us had a job or any

income, and they paid us a thousand pounds each."

Even so, and even though it ultimately paid off, wasn’t it an incredibly

risky thing to do? Christine insisted that they’d had no real option, so I asked

how it felt to be the object of so much vitriol, made worse through sneering


"Actually we both enjoyed the show. I even thought the brown

envelopes bit was rather funny, although Neil didn’t. I’ve been back on the

programme, though for some reason or other they won’t let me host it. To be

honest, I felt rather guilty after I was on another time and Angus had made

some crack about Neil and I said that at least my husband had never taken

cocaine and used call girls, and after that apparently Paul Merton and Ian

Hislop said that Angus really had to go. I feel I should have apologised to him

for bringing that to a head."

If Christine felt guilty, now it was my turn to fess up. I wanted to find

out how they’d felt about being portrayed so relentlessly and mercilessly in

cartoons, not least of all because I was caricaturing them both now.

"Watch it," Christine said. "I’ve been known to tear pages out of

sketchbooks. I mean, after that awful thing that Peter Brookes did!"

All in all, it seemed wise at this point to admit to my role as illustrator

in John Sweeney’s 1998 book about the Tatton election, "Purple Homicide".

Christine and Neil leaned forward intently. "Oh really?" Christine said, her

eyes widening with interest, and smiling rather beautifully. "We haven’t

bothered to read that one," Neil added, also smiling. "Anyway," Christine

continued, "we’ve kissed and made up with Sweeney. He’s even been to our

flat, hasn’t he, darling?" Neil confirmed this, so I asked if there was anyone

they hadn’t kissed and made up with?

"Not Bell. Definitely not Bell, the self-righteous, pompous prig. I

mean, saying meeting me was worse than anything he’d ever encountered in

Bosnia! What a wimp!"

"Anyway," Neil added, "he’s got rather too portly to kiss these days."

"Oh yes! He’s enormous. But we haven’t forgiven Al Fayed either,

although everyone now realises that he’s completely mad!"

This was interesting. Although Neil and Christine Hamilton had been

ground down by the tragic millstones, their assailants hadn’t fared that well

either (the woman who falsely accused them of rape went down for 3 years for

perverting the course of justice). I supposed that this was some kind of

vindication, although Christine responded by saying that you just had to get on

with things, which is what they’d done.

On her official website, Christine writes "I am thrilled to have left the

artificial world of boring old politics for the madcap fun world of the media

and entertainment." I tried pursuing this idea of redemption through showbiz -

which includes the catharsis of Have I Got News For You. "What is this?"

Christine cried, her eyes widening in disbelief at my obvious pseudery, "The

Psychiatrist’s Chair?". As far as she’s concerned, they’ve just been lucky to be

able to move on and have fun. They repeated, in unison, their pitch that they’ll

consider doing anything that’s "legal, honest and faintly decent", which

includes pantos, Christine’s appearance on "I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of

Here!" and their annual shows on the Edinburgh fringe. "None of it’s planned!

We just make it up as we go along!"

The Hamiltons have certainly undergone a remarkable rehabilitation,

from National Jokes almost to National Treasures. You could probably

describe this more accurately as an extraordinary gift for simple survival, so I

suggested that it was all was down to Christine’s natural propensity to go at

life like a bull at a gate. She cut across me, leaning over the table. "No no no,

I’m not a bull at a gate. I’m more like an over friendly labrador who just

bounds up to people and starts licking them. I just can’t help it."

I got the impression that Neil relishes the showbiz life less than his

wife. He was once a serious politician, albeit with some pretty unsavoury

views and whose behaviour may or may not have contributed to his own

political destruction. Either way (and though I contributed gleefully to his

harrying) he never started any illegal wars, and what he was alleged to have

done now seems disproportionate to the volume of bile it brought down on his

head, and his wife’s. And yet, like Christine, there’s a fatalism to Neil

Hamilton: he happily admitted that his misfortune was to provide the kind of

scapegoat the political Zeitgeist demanded at the time.

Not that I particularly liked him. There’s still too much of the debating

society smart arse about him, endlessly spouting one liners of varying levels

of wittiness ("Oh shut up, Neil!"). But that’s hardly a crime, and anyway, by

now I was beginning to fall helplessly in love with his wife. Although dubbed

a battleaxe by the media through no real fault of her own - beyond loyalty -

she then played the hand she’d been dealt, and won through. So unless she’s

the most brilliantly duplicitous media manipulator in history, which I doubt,

she may really be the pussycat she nervously admits to being on her website.

It was now time to show them my drawing. Neil, maintaining the

politician’s instinctive impermeability to insult, chuckled and signed it with a

throwaway line about having a sense of humour. Christine, however, shut up

completely, for more or less the first time during the interview. She frowned.

She twisted her mouth into an uneasy moue. "But my jacket isn’t the right

colour... this earring is a cat, and it doesn’t look like that..." Then she asked

Neil, several times, what she should write.

In fact, she agonised for a full 15 minutes over what was, for me, a

remarkably flattering portrait. While she was prevaricating, I asked once again

what it was like to have been demonised to the extent she had been.

"I now realise that that confrontation on Knutsford Heath was the

making of me."

Yes yes yes, but people were comparing her to Messalina and Lady


"Well, to be honest, when I saw myself on television afterwards and

saw how dreadful I looked I cried and cried."

So what was it like to see yourself in all those cartoons?

"Oh, Neil wouldn’t let me see them."

Which wasn’t just kind, but also rather admirable. My estimation of

Neil Hamilton rising considerably, Christine finally, with a yelp, found her

form of words to write on the cartoon: "Just you wait til I get you in a dark


To be honest I can’t think of anything nicer.