September is the most vindictive month.
The parks are scorched, the City—the financial bit—is a desert, the trains are running empty, but who cares? When it comes to score-settling bitch-ups, la rentrée of 2020 has been a record breaker. We should all be grateful to the various Tory wives who have made this an Indian summer to remember. I know I am!
Nothing happened after March, remember? People stopped talking to each other because nobody was doing anything and there was nothing to say. Come September, all that changed, and how. The gossip fairies have been generous, perhaps over-generous, to the tittle-tattle-starved civilians of London as we emerge blinking from our summer support bubbles, only to be told not to “mingle” and can therefore only gather in solemn groups of six at places with spacious outdoor dining areas for dreaded social distancing, such as Annabel’s, in Mayfair, or the Chiltern Firehouse (the Marylebone hostelry where Courtney Love stayed so long during lockdown that it had in the end to deem her a permanent resident).
When it comes to score-settling bitch-ups, la rentrée of 2020 has been a record breaker.
Hundreds of books came out in September, but all the sticky juice squirts from two spoiling examples of a welcome new niche genre of publishing: glamorous right-wingers dishing so much dirt that all I can conclude is that hell hath no fury like a Tory scorned.
Let’s start with the Sasha (Lady) Swire debut. Rewind to last year. My sister-in-law, the formidable literary agent Caroline Dawnay, told me she’d been sent a manuscript, had taken on the author, and there was a bidding war. This was a book, she breathed, that would rock the British establishment to its foundations. I thought she was exaggerating and was mainly worried that the book would blow my own personal, revelatory, etc., memoir (Rake’s Progress: My Political Midlife Crisis, out in paperback in October) off course—which it most certainly has. I asked who the author was. “I’m not telling you,” she said, and hung up.
Even more infuriatingly, at the Dawnay-family Christmas, in Scotland, Caroline lay on a sofa, leafing through the manuscript of the book that would become Swire’s Diary of an MP’s Wife. All I could hear were gasps, giggles, and sighs.
Glamorous right-wingers dishing so much dirt that all I can conclude is that hell hath no fury like a Tory scorned.
The book came out this week. By then I’d already devoured the extracts and had my advance copy. I wasn’t alone. Virtually every newspaper hack in town has been busy full-time anatomizing the flirty, willowy, blonde saucepot Lady Swire, who bangs on about sex far more than the Tory party ever did about Europe. (Asking husbands if they still sleep with their wives is her party trick.)
The Daily Mail, furious that The Times had bought the serial rights, went to town on the book, day after day, and revealed that “Slasher”—their nickname for Swire—who devotes several “entries” to describing the surprising enormity of Michael Gove’s tackle, had omitted the far smaller matter of her own husband’s affair.
When my copy arrived—the book is dedicated to Swire’s husband, Hugo, with one word, “Sorry!”—I was relieved to find there was an index, so I wouldn’t have to read 500 pages to find the horrid bits about me and my family. (I am “a violent rotating column of air,” and my tribe are self-publicizing “Kardashians.” Well. I don’t remember ever meeting her, and in my long experience the more people talk about sex, the less they’re having.)
No sour grapes from me, though. I wish Sasha well with the book, and her next installment. Why? History is written mostly by the victors, and rarely by the vixens. Still, I’m not convinced Lady Swire handed over the half a million words, written over a decade, and went to ground, as she claims.
David Cameron got his hands on an early proof and managed to have everything he’d said about the Queen and other royals—loyally recorded by his great mate Sasha—removed. Still, I can report the Camerons had the Swires to stay in Cornwall over the summer, and as the guests left, Sasha kissed Dave good-bye and said it was for the last time. “Oh, why?” he asked. “Cos after my book comes out you’ll never talk to me again,” she explained. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s blushes on various personal matters (he has since separated from his wife, Frances) were also spared, pre-publication. But Swire’s circle are now living in fear of her forthcoming “video diaries” of them at play—I hear she did a lot of filming at the endless, boozy Tory socials.
I was relieved to find there was an index, so I wouldn’t have to read 500 pages to find the horrid bits about me and my family.
As a result of the éclat of Diary of the MP’s Wife, frankly too little attention has been paid to the even spicier dish served up cold by Barbara Amiel—wife of disgraced newspaper owner Conrad Black. Friends and Enemies: A Life in Vogue, Prison, and Park Avenue has an even longer and more distinguished index. (There are 400 in “The Lists,” including Elton John, Anna Wintour, and Rupert Murdoch.) She takes no prisoners. She wants anyone who dropped her and Conrad to die, basically, so she can watch. The book is also far more honest, I think, than Swire’s.
This time it was the Daily Mail that had the serial and bragging rights to this “marmalade dropper” (the Fleet Street phrase for a story so juicy and shocking it makes the reader choke violently over his breakfast).
I don’t think the image of Lady Black pleasuring the bug-eyed publisher George Weidenfeld in order to avoid penetration by his Lordship will ever, quite, leave me.
Her scorching rage and brazen confessions and revelations made le tout London gasp with grudging admiration for the gal’s gall. Unlike Sasha, you see, Barbara has no interest in retrofitting history. (Reading Diary, it appears that it was Lady Swire who told David Cameron that the party he led was allergic to Brussels and told my brother Boris to prorogue, the P.M.’s suspension of Parliament, later deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court. Indeed, one is left with the impression that the person who should have been P.M. all along was … Lady Swire.)
Her scorching rage and brazen confessions and revelations made le tout London gasp with grudging admiration for the gal’s gall.
Barbara Amiel wanted “to find my life…. Most of all I wanted to be truthful.” A former lover of Barbara’s is a distant cousin of mine.
“She’s sure attracting some ink,” Sam Blyth, the Canadian education magnate, told me, directing me to a “vicious” attack on her by Taki Theodoracopulos. But then he ended our conversation with a misty sigh. “She has a piece of pure steel running through her.”
Oh, yes, there is one more steely Tory wife who you’d think might be out for a bit of revenge: Natalie Elphicke, M.P., the wife of Charlie Elphicke. His rap sheet is sheer Benny Hill. One woman said he invited her into their Belgravia house, kissed her, groped her breast, then chased her around the kitchen table, chanting: “I’m a naughty Tory.” For this and other skirt-chasing, he has gone down for two years. Mrs. Elphicke has inherited his parliamentary seat, walked into court with him hand in hand, and is getting on with representing the good people of Kent. She is the one who has the most to moan about, but I doubt she ever will. She has work still to do.
Not for our Natalie the conflict between loyalties and royalties—not this month, anyway.
Rachel Johnson is a journalist and the author of several books, most recently Rake’s Progress: My Political Midlife Crisis. Her brother Boris is Prime Minister of the U.K.