Volcanic Hill’s blast at Today star Nick
AT THE Spectator magazine’s annual awards dinner in November 2016, the BBC’s Nick Robinson sauntered over to Fiona Hill to try to end a two-year feud with Theresa May’s combative chief of staff.
Hill had been fuming at Robinson since she lost her job at the Home Office in 2014 after leaking documents critical of then-Education Secretary Michael Gove: the Today programme presenter had upset Hill by highlighting that she was in a relationship with Home Office mandarin Charles Farr.
When Robinson approached Hill she erupted, telling him: ‘You made my mother cry.’
Robinson protested: ‘I was just saying hello. This isn’t really the time or place for this.’
What struck others was that the Prime Minister simply ignored the whole scene as it unfolded a few feet away. ‘She doesn’t say anything when Fiona goes off on one,’ says former No10 Director of Communications, Katie Perrior. ‘She just has a look which says, “It’s not good, but, well, here we are”.’
The hold that Hill and her joint chief of staff, Nick Timothy, appeared to have over the PM has fascinated observers of the regime.
Many Tories believe May deferred too much to the ‘volcanic’ Hill and Timothy, who colleagues said ‘didn’t suffer fools’. Given how closely the three worked, it seems impossible that May was unaware of some of the complaints their tight inner circle generated.
On at least one occasion after a heated exchange inside No 10, the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood stepped in to calm the situation, a senior source recalls.
There was a culture of after-work drinks among May’s top team, just as for many others working at Westminster, where the bars are plentiful and the hours anti-social. If you were a part of the chiefs’ club, you would be invited out to a nearby pub and you would feel special. But, if you crossed Hill or Timothy, you could quickly be dropped. ‘The last time I felt like that I was 12 and at school,’ one former colleague says.
One Tory campaign official said the Prime Minister outsourced all her most important decisions to her two chiefs of staff because she was such a ‘nervous’ character.
One veteran Conservative, who is close to the PM, observed: ‘Some people said it was like they were joint prime ministers. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.’
Timothy acknowledged: ‘Of course we’re tight. And of course we kept some things quite tight but so does any other senior politician or chief executive.’
‘TIGHT’: May with Hill, left, and Timothy. Far right: Katie Perrior