How the PM used a porn star to perk up her image
Yes, really – and this riotously entertaining account from a new biography reveals ALL
They enjoyed chatting so much they went out for a coffee
THE two women sat side by side on the daytime television sofa, chatting politely about current events. Both were attractive and articulate; they were less than a decade apart in age. But there the similarity ended.
One was an adult film star and topless model who had starred in more than 60 pornographic movies. The other was the Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
Strangers until that week, all that had brought them together that morning was the coincidence of their names. For the former was a 32-yearold called Teresa May – without an h – from Beckenham in South London, and the latter was Theresa May; vicar’s daughter, former City high-flyer, and MP for Maidenhead. Beyond the coincidence of their names, the two women could scarcely have less in common.
At the end of their friendly discussion for the television cameras, the pair were said to have enjoyed their conversation so much that they kept it going over coffee in a nearby cafe.
Back at Conservative Central Office, the assembled party chiefs and press officers who had tuned into the family-friendly breakfast show, rather than their usual morning fare of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, were beaming. Still reeling from the devastation of the 1997 Election three years earlier, the party was not in a good place, with opinion polls consistently suggesting that William Hague’s Tories were struggling to connect with voters. Compared to Tony Blair’s New Labour, the Conservatives seemed stuffy and old-fashioned.
Yet with one appearance on the GMTV sofa, Theresa May was doing more than her colleagues had managed in years when it came to challenging voters’ perceptions of her party. Here she was, a modern woman with a sense of humour, non-judgmental about her companion’s career choice, well-spoken but not posh; light-hearted, approachable.
What a contrast, not only to the traditional female Tory battleaxes, but also to what some saw as their somewhat po-faced, politically correct New Labour counterparts.
This Conservative woman was in touch with 21st Century Britain, and wasn’t afraid to have a little fun.
Theresa May’s appearance alongside her near-namesake is estimated by one press officer at the time to have generated more good publicity for the party than everything the entire the Shadow Cabinet had achieved in the previous month.
Thank goodness, satisfied Conservatives thought as they watched May chatting away on the GMTV sofa, that the press had picked up on the amusing tale with such glee.
Except that the press hadn’t, or at least not by themselves.
The legend of ‘the other Teresa May’, as the story came to be known, has been passed down through the ages by Conservative press officers as an example of spin doctoring at its finest, achieving mass breakthrough and positive headlines for weeks all by the simple planting of one small diary story in a broadsheet newspaper.
For journalists did not stumble across the ‘other Teresa May’ – they were told about her by one of Theresa May’s press officers.
And when the story tickled the interest of the public, making headlines first in Britain and soon around the world, the party’s press officers pushed it for all they were worth in a deliberate effort to burnish Mrs May’s flagging image.
It all began with a trickle of letters from the dirty mac brigade.
May had been in her new post of Shadow Education Secretary for only a few weeks when, towards the end of 1999, her secretary got into conversation with Peter Craske, who was still covering media for the Education and
Employment team. He says: ‘The person who ran her office at that time said they had got these weird letters, saying, “Congratulations.”
‘The first one – it wasn’t too creepy – read “Oh, we’ve been watching you on television for years, congratulations, good to see someone from that background getting into Parliament.” It didn’t really make sense. And then another one came, similar but a bit more creepy, and we put it together and thought, “Oh, God.”’
The letters were from fans of the popular porn-movie star Teresa May. Somehow, on hearing the news that Theresa May had been appointed to the Shadow Cabinet, these fans had assumed their heroine had decided to enter politics.
At one point, May’s office even received a phone call from the Granada television channel Men & Motors seeking to book her (Teresa May having earlier played a nightclub hostess in a programme called Lady Lust for the station).
May’s response on being told she had been taken for a topless model with a similar name was one of amusement. Craske goes on: ‘It became a story. If Theresa was speaking at a fundraising party or dinner, it was a good one to kick off with: “I’m being confused with a porn star.”’
May found that the story of the ‘other Teresa May’ won her laughs – something she sorely needed.
Her first months in her new post had not gone well. Far from inspiring the public with his fresh new team, the response to Hague’s reshuffle was underwhelming. When May addressed her first Tory Party Conference as a member of the Shadow Cabinet in October, her speech barely raised a mention in the press.
By the following month, there was speculation that May would be shuffled out of the Shadow Cabinet after less than six months. One newspaper suggested she had ‘yet to make [her] mark’ and ‘failed to live up to [her] promise’, while another described her as ‘lacklustre’.
Then Craske came up with a cunning plan, one that would both raise May’s profile and win her Brownie points by helping the party: he would give the story of ‘the other Teresa May’ a wider airing.
Craske says: ‘I gave it to the [Daily Telegraph’s] Peterborough Column… and they put it as their lead story one morning. It appeared on the Monday, and – blimey – you just couldn’t believe it. Everyone picked up on it.’
The story took off, winning the kind of space in the papers that members of the Shadow Cabinet could only dream of at a time when the Blair Government’s dominance meant they were largely ignored. Craske goes on: ‘It was on the front page of The Express and The Sun. It was in every paper: “Shadow Minister confused with porn star.”’
Andrew Lansley, whom Hague had appointed Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, could only admire Craske’s chutzpah – and how sporting May was, as she posed for photographs and gave quotes to accompany the story. ‘It was Pete’s idea to embrace “the other Teresa May”,’ Lansley says. ‘At a time when you’re in Opposition and no one pays you the slightest attention, to own it and get noticed is rather brilliant.’
At one point, as the story made headlines around the world, Lansley remembers being in May’s office and ‘Craske came in and said, “Thumbs up, result!”
‘Theresa was in the Straits Times in Singapore.’
By the end of the week, the broadcasters had got in on the action. Craske says: ‘It led to a funny piece on [BBC Radio] 5Live, then on the Wednesday or Thursday, the Today programme picked it up and wanted to interview both of them. So that morning, both of them were interviewed… but not in the same place. Theresa was in Westminster and the other one was wherever she was.’ In her part of the interview, Theresa-with-an-’h’-May said gamely: ‘I have to confess I haven’t actually seen any of the things that Teresa has been involved in. It’s up to her how she wishes to earn her living. She may think it’s slightly strange that somebody likes to earn their living as a politician. Teresa has chosen a career, she’s working at it and I’m sure she does her job well.’ Teresa-without-an-’h’ was equally complimentary: ‘Everyone has to do their job out there and I’m sure she does it very well, just like I do my job very well.’ Within minutes, GMTV was on the phone. Craske says: ‘They were both on the sofa together on GMTV and they got on really well and they were chatting away, and I think they went for a coffee together afterwards.’ When May became Prime Minister last year, there was a new flurry of stories about her near-namesake. Lansley believes that May’s embrace of the story is an example of what he would come to see as her clever use of visual imagery to portray herself as a modern woman. He says: ‘From quite an early stage, in a world when opposition politicians are congenitally ignored, Theresa managed to get noticed. It is not a small thing.’ Craske agrees: ‘It put her on the map, definitely. It put me on the map, certainly. It was very, very funny. When we catch up with people who were working [in the Tory press office] at the time we always talk about it… “Do you remember that time…?”’
As a press officer, Craske found May’s willingness to pursue some of his more unorthodox ideas refreshing. But the happy atmosphere was not shared by everyone on the team. A former whip says: ‘When Theresa became a member of the Shadow Cabinet, she was incredibly difficult. ’
When complaints were brought to the attention of Patrick McLoughlin, then the Deputy Chief Whip, he backed May to the hilt and compared her favourably to another hard taskmaster, Iain Duncan Smith, the Shadow Defence Secretary.
The former whip says: ‘I can hear McLoughlin saying, when someone would come in complaining, “I hear what you say, but we ain’t got that many women, and she’s good, and colleagues are just going to bloody well have to work with her. Try working with Duncan Smith, for Christ’s sake.”’
No one, after all, has ever found a porn star called Ian Duncan Smith.
© Rosa Prince, 2017 Theresa May: The Enigmatic Prime Minister, by Rosa Prince, is published by Biteback Publishing, priced £20. Offer price £14 until February 19. Order at mailbook shop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.
May found the story won her sorely needed laughs
HIT IT OFF: Teresa May, far left, posing for a glamour shot in 2002, and Theresa May at a ball in 2006