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

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Femail - by Rosa Prince

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

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