What my husband’s drugs confession has taught me about trust… and TRUE friendship: SARAH VINE opens her heart about Michael Gove’s cocaine past
During my time as a columnist for this great newspaper, I have tackled a few painful and deeply personal subjects.
I have written about my hair loss, my struggles with my weight, my anxiety and depression, my shortcomings as a parent, wife and friend — and much more besides.
At all times I have tried to be as open and as honest as I can without laying myself completely bare — inevitably, there are some darker recesses of my psyche that must remain private.
I believe that candour, though sometimes very uncomfortable, is ultimately the key to understanding. And while critics have often accused me of oversharing, I have always tried to use my platform to make a wider point about life’s vicissitudes.
A few weeks ago, Michael came home slightly ashen-faced. The publication date, he had been informed, was being brought forward to coincide with the Tory leadership campaign. Pictured are Sarah Vine and Michael Gove
But this week’s subject is the hardest I have ever had to write about, not least because it engages both the personal and the universal in a whirlwind of complex emotions.
I am referring, of course, to the Mail’s serialisation of a book about my husband, Michael Gove, and the revelations therein.
Michael first mentioned that someone was writing a book about him a while ago. The author had been fishing around friends and colleagues, asking for interviews and anecdotes. I parked it in that part of my brain marked ‘bridges to be crossed when we come to them’, and thought no more of it.
What matters is not where you come from, it’s where you are going and what you do along the way. Life is all about being honest about the bad decisions one makes, trying to learn from those failings and, wherever possible, making reparations
Then, a few weeks ago, Michael came home slightly ashen-faced. The publication date, he had been informed, was being brought forward to coincide with the Tory leadership campaign.
Precise details were not forthcoming; but he had been told that it contained information about his birth mother, including details of her name, profession and Michael’s original birth certificate.
I have always known that Michael was adopted, and indeed it was one of the first things he told me about himself when we met more than 20 years ago.
Right from the start, he made it clear he had no intention of searching for his birth mother. His parents, Ernest and Christine, had always been more than enough for him.
Above all, he did not want his mum and dad to think they had been anything less than the best of parents. Every opportunity, every chance he has had in life, he owes to them.
Thanks to their love, he felt no emotional void in his life, and no need to track down someone who had, for whatever reasons, decided she was not ready to be a parent.
But now it had been done for him. The trauma of his birth and first few months in care were about to be revealed in detail.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that any person putting themselves forward for the job of leader of a political party and/or, in this case, Prime Minister, must expect a degree of scrutiny. But I just couldn’t see any purpose in dredging up that aspect of Michael’s past.
So when the book was serialised and it contained a plethora of juicy anecdotes about Michael’s life before we met — some of which made me chuckle, I wasn’t surprised.
What I wasn’t prepared for were the far more serious revelations that have dominated the headlines in recent days.
As someone who has done and said innumerable stupid things in her life, many of which I have later come to regret, I have always believed that past mistakes should not determine a person’s future.
What matters is not where you come from, it’s where you are going and what you do along the way. Life is all about being honest about the bad decisions one makes, trying to learn from those failings and, wherever possible, making reparations.
In Michael’s case, he has always felt that he was given a second chance. Had he not ended up with the parents he did, he might have grown up in care, gone to a failing school and wound up somewhere completely different to where he is today.
That is why he has always been passionate about reforming education so all children get the best chances; and why, when he worked at the Ministry of Justice, he was so keen to focus on prisoner rehabilitation.
Put simply, he always felt that there but for the grace of God . . . (or, more precisely, Ernest and Christine Gove).
That is why, when it became clear that a private conversation Michael had had about the fact that — long before he even thought about entering frontline politics — he had taken drugs was about to be revealed, I had no hesitation. Just be honest, I told him. Tell the truth on television, rather than shy away or dodge questions.
Face up to it and accept the consequences, however embarrassing and damaging they may be.
It would have been better, of course, not to have done it in the first place. But given that he did, lying about it would only make things worse.
Despite the repercussions, I still think that was the right decision. If you’re putting yourself forward to run the country, you cannot have something like that hanging over you, playing on your conscience in the dead of night.
I just couldn’t see any purpose in dredging up that aspect of Michael’s past
I know Michael felt that, too. After all, it is why he confessed in the first place.
I was there the night, during that feverish week following the 2016 referendum, when he walked through the front door after another interminable day of political turmoil and dropped a bombshell.
Having initially decided not to run for leader himself, but to support Boris Johnson as the successor to David Cameron, a number of things had convinced Michael that he had made an error.
In retrospect, as so often, I am partly responsible for that initial misjudgement. After the Leave campaign won the referendum and Cameron resigned, Michael and I discussed the prospect of him running for leader.
He foresaw the difficulties that lay ahead and wanted a chance to deliver the Brexit he had fought so hard to secure.
For various personal reasons, however, I was against the idea. I was tired — exhausted, in fact — and the decision to support Leave had cost us very dear: me personally, Michael politically.
The anger and vitriol from people I had once considered rock-solid friends had shaken me to my core. I felt alone, confused, and — if I’m honest — rather scared. Politics had hollowed out my family’s existence, and I wanted no more of it.
And so, in the end, he didn’t throw his hat in the ring. That, as it turned out, was a mistake. If I had given him the green light to run in the first place, he wouldn’t have withdrawn his support for Johnson at the 11th hour and the whole thing would not have become so horribly messy.
Having belatedly made the decision to run, it was then that he made the drugs confession. It was in response to a question from advisers about whether there was anything — anything at all — about his past that he regretted, and which those around him should know about.
When asked, he was honest — in private — about it then, as he has been honest about it in public now. It doesn’t make it any better, and it doesn’t make it right. Arguably he should have ’fessed up sooner. But at least he has had the courage to face up to the truth, and that I think is something.
Many in his position have not and would not do the same. But if history teaches us anything about politics, it’s that it’s not necessarily the crime that gets you in the end — it’s the cover-up.
That was true of Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky; it was also true of Tony Blair and the ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
Most people can find it in their hearts to forgive human error; what they cannot stomach is a barefaced liar.
And they are right.
And as traumatic as the past few days have been for us and our family, I actually think it has been all to the good.
Not just because the skeletons are now out of the closet and in the open, where they no longer have the power to haunt.
Not just because being Prime Minister is not the kind of job you want to be doing on false pretences, either personally or politically.
But also because it has taught me some useful lessons about trust, friendship and the nature of both, which — whatever the outcome of the current race — are universally valid.
Specifically, friendships are judged by actions, not words. Trust may be freely given, but you should not always expect it in return, and certainly not when the intoxicating scent of power is in the air.
It is a sad but undeniable truth that politics is the greatest drug of all, and it can make people do some very regrettable things.
It still leaves the question of how much a person’s youthful misdeeds should affect present and future perceptions.
Should one lapse of judgment negate years of good work?
Must anyone who has ever got things wrong be barred from entering politics? Is perfection the most important quality we seek in a leader, or can other virtues offset the sin?
It is, of course, a question only others can answer. That is why, in the long run, I am so grateful that we live in a democracy.
Because, in the end, it is ordinary people who decide. People with ordinary, complicated lives, who have no vested interests save the wellbeing of their families and their communities, and who will base their decisions on a person’s record in office, not the internal machinations of Westminster.
Whoever emerges successful from this contest will, ultimately, have to answer to them. Whether they can pass that far greater and more strenuous test is all that matters.
Incidentally, I am told the book also contains revelations about my life. Needless to say, I have not been made privy to any of the information in that section.
Quite possibly it will paint me as a venal, ambitious ‘Lady Macbeth’ figure — desperate to park her generous behind in 10 Downing Street and drooling at the prospect of rearranging the furniture.
All I can say is that those who know me know that to be very far from the truth.
As for you, dear reader, you must draw your own conclusions.
I have been, as I always am in these pages, as honest as I can possibly be.