IT IS just three months since the death of for­mer North­ern Ire­land Sec­re­tary Mo Mowlam at the age of 55. A con­cert com­mem­o­rat­ing her life will take place later this month. Here, her hus­band, mer­chant banker and artist Jon Nor­ton, 50, re­veals the story of

Daily Mail - - Front Page - In­ter­view by Clare Camp­bell

MO DIED in the sum­mer — but I still wake up each morn­ing ex­pect­ing to find her there asleep in bed be­side me. Then sud­denly I re­mem­ber, and the shock and grief of her loss kicks in all over again. I still find it im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve I will never see Mo again, never hug her or hear her voice. I loved her so very much I can­not be­lieve she is re­ally gone.

It was a sunny Satur­day morn­ing in July when Mo spoke her last words to me. She had been se­ri­ously ill since the spring and was get­ting worse, but typ­i­cally she was laugh­ing about it, jok­ing to me about hav­ing to buy a mo­torised wheel­chair in which she could ter­rorise the shop­pers of Sit­ting­bourne, the near­est town to our rather re­mote Kent farm­house.

Mo­ments later she stood up, then sud­denly

fell back­wards, hit­ting her head on the

top of the bed frame. Her whole body

went into spasm. I jumped up des­per­ate to do some­thing, but she couldn’t

com­mu­ni­cate, her eyes just star­ing.

I called an am­bu­lance and went with

her to our lo­cal hospi­tal. The doc­tors

re­as­sured me they could find no se­ri­ous

brain in­jury, but could not ex­plain why

Mo was not re­gain­ing con­scious­ness.

Mo never came out of the coma. She

stayed in hospi­tal for two weeks, then

was trans­ferred to King’s Col­lege

Hospi­tal in Lon­don for more tests.

It seemed a very cruel stroke of fate

fol­low­ing her ap­par­ently suc­cess­ful

bat­tle against a be­nign brain tu­mour

seven years ear­lier. It seemed the ra­dio­ther­apy that had cured her tu­mour had

shrunk the blood ves­sels in her brain.

She had been se­ri­ously ill, but had

con­tin­ued to ful­fil all her com­mit­ments,

even trav­el­ling to Aus­tralia a few

months ear­lier, but now I knew there

was some­thing very wrong. The con­sul­tant told me that should she ever re­gain

con­scious­ness, she would be se­verely

phys­i­cally and men­tally in­ca­pac­i­tated.

He asked the fam­ily — Mo’s brother

Roger and sis­ter Jean, as well as my two

chil­dren, Hen­ri­etta and Fred, from my

first mar­riage, who had be­come very

close to their step­mother over the

past 13 years — if we wanted fur­ther

in­fec­tions treated. As Mo had made a

liv­ing will just two years ear­lier, we all

knew what she would have wanted.

We agreed Mo would trans­fer to the

Pil­grims Hospice in Sit­ting­bourne, and

food and wa­ter would be with­drawn.

It was Roger who broke the news of

her death to me on Au­gust 19. I had left

her bed­side in the hospice to walk the

dogs when he ap­peared at the door of

the farm­house. He did not need to say

any­thing. I knew al­ready, the shock and

grief on his face told me Mo was dead.

In the weeks since I have of­ten felt I

have lost a part of my­self. But the Mo I

miss is the Mo I knew and loved be­fore

her ill­ness, the tremen­dous life force she

re­ally was, not the shadow she had

be­come in the last months. I be­gan to

lose the real Mo al­most a year ear­lier,

be­com­ing her carer rather than her

hus­band and lover. I know she would

never have wanted that to con­tinue.

WE HAD both be­lieved we would spend the rest of our lives to­gether, just the two of us at last. But the fu­ture we had planned to­gether was one of travel, new op­por­tu­ni­ties and new ad­ven­tures.

She would never have wanted me to feel, as I ad­mit I had started to do, that I was tied to some­one who was just grow­ing worse and worse. Mo, I know, would al­ways have cho­sen a quiet, dig­ni­fied death over a life of in­creas­ing de­pen­dence and frailty.

Yet I still find it im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that I will never see her again.

I can still re­mem­ber our first meet­ing. It was in 1989 and I was still mar­ried to my first wife, writer and jour­nal­ist Geral­dine Bedell. We had been to­gether since univer­sity and had two chil­dren, Hen­ri­etta, then five, and Fred, who was just a year old. I had been work­ing as a mer­chant banker in the Mid­dle East where we had en­joyed a won­der­fully lux­u­ri­ous lifestyle.

Hav­ing al­ways been po­lit­i­cally ac­tive, I re­alised how strong Labour was be­com­ing and de­cided to set out to forge links be­tween the party and the tra­di­tion­ally Con­ser­va­tive-vot­ing world of City fi­nanciers. I set up a group called the Smith­field Group and, af­ter con­sult­ing with the MP Frank Field, I was in­tro­duced to Mo.

I liked her at once and quickly came to re­spect and ad­mire her. Over the next three years, I be­came part of a com­mit­tee who ad­vised her on City is­sues and we grew to know each other very well. But I would never have dreamt of mak­ing a pass. I don’t even think I was aware I found her at­trac­tive.

As far as I was con­cerned, I was a mar­ried man with a young fam­ily. Mo was sin­gle, I knew, and had con­fided to me that she had only re­cently ended a very un­happy and dis­tress­ing re­la­tion­ship with a man who had left his wife to be with her. So the last thing ei­ther of us was look­ing for was an af­fair.

THEN a bomb­shell hit me. I re­turned home one night to be told by my wife that she was leav­ing me for my friend and col­league, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Char­lie Lead­bet­ter, with whom she had been hav­ing an af­fair.

I should not re­ally have been as shocked as I felt. Not that I had been con­sciously un­happy, or we had been ar­gu­ing a lot, but nei­ther of us was in­vest­ing enough time or en­ergy into our re­la­tion­ship. But I cer­tainly had not re­alised she was un­happy enough to have fallen in love with some­one else. I was los­ing not only my wife but my fam­ily, my home and my se­cu­rity. I felt as if my whole life was col­laps­ing.

The chil­dren, who were only eight and four, be­gan to split their time equally be­tween Geral­dine and me. I had them to stay ev­ery other night and al­ter­nate week­ends. I wor­ried they were con­stantly liv­ing out of a suit­case, while I spent most of my time driv­ing them be­tween dif­fer­ent homes.

Mean­while, Mo, know­ing noth­ing of my fam­ily break-up, had bought a large house in her con­stituency of Red­car. She re­peat­edly in­vited me to bring my wife and chil­dren to stay for the week­end. At first, to save em­bar­rass­ment, Geral­dine agreed to come.

But one week­end just be­fore the 1992 elec­tion, Geral­dine was un­able to come and I went up to Red­car with the chil­dren alone.That night, af­ter putting the chil­dren to bed, Mo and I sat down with a bot­tle of wine and I fi­nally told her about the break-up of my mar­riage.

Even as I did so we looked at one an­other and sud­denly knew how at­tracted to each other we were. That night was the start of a re­la­tion­ship of such pas­sion that within days we were dis­cussing whether to have ba­bies to­gether. Al­though I did not re­ally want any more chil­dren, I would have agreed if Mo had wanted them, and at 42 she was still young enough to try.

She even­tu­ally de­cided ‘no’. Al­though she was very happy to act as part-time step­mother to Harriet and Fred, she needed to con­cen­trate on her ca­reer.

For­tu­nately, my chil­dren adored her. Mo was full of fun and loved play­ing with them. I moved into her flat in Ken­ning­ton fol­low­ing the 1992 elec­tion. Harriet and Fred would come to stay and I would cook din­ner for us all af­ter Mo re­turned from the Com­mons.

At first, we kept our re­la­tion­ship a to­tal se­cret from Mo’s col­leagues. My only worry was that it might look odd to the pub­lic for Mo as a se­nior Labour politi­cian to be re­vealed to be hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship with a mer­chant banker. Mo had of­ten joked that the only thing she didn’t like about me was my Ox­ford ac­cent. She hated what she re­garded as the Es­tab­lish­ment and was never in awe of any­one. But when the story did even­tu­ally ap­pear in The Sun, it did not seem to at­tract much at­ten­tion.

For the next few years we lived a re­ally won­der­ful life to­gether. Mo’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was soar­ing. Ev­ery Wed­nes­day we would hold a din­ner party. Reg­u­lar vis­i­tors in­cluded the Blairs, the Straws, Alis­tair Dar­ling (now Sec­re­tary of State

for trans­port), and Mar­garet Jay ( now Baroness Jay, for­mer leader of the House of Lords). Mo was hope­less do­mes­ti­cally and of­ten laughed about her in­abil­ity to cook. So I be­came head chef as well as host, al­though my sig­na­ture dish was usu­ally no more am­bi­tious than chicken and chips.

Hol­i­days were spent tak­ing the chil­dren to Greece, sail­ing, or on our own, most no­tably on a con­tainer ship to Gdansk where the en­tire crew spoke only Pol­ish and the only other pas­sen­gers hap­pened to be two de­frocked priests. I think the two of us spent al­most the en­tire trip gig­gling. We were in­cred­i­bly happy to­gether and look­ing for­ward to an even more ex­cit­ing fu­ture.

Mar­riage was not a big is­sue for ei­ther of us, but we were con­cerned about any desta­bil­is­ing ef­fect that their par­ents’ di­vorce might have had on Harriet and Fred, and we fi­nally de­cided to marry in 1995.

AS GERAL­DINE had also re­mar­ried we felt this would pro­vide the chil­dren with a greater sense of se­cu­rity than if we con­tin­ued just liv­ing to­gether. Mo in­sisted she did not want an en­gage­ment ring or any fuss. We mar­ried in a reg­is­ter of­fice and held a party at Red­car race­course. Only the ar­rival of nov­el­ist Ken Fol­lett with a crate of cham­pagne made it feel like a wed­ding.

Life con­tin­ued very hap­pily. It was not un­til 1996 that Mo be­came se­ri­ously un­well. Dur­ing that year she was fre­quently ill with ap­par­ently mi­nor in­fec­tions such as colds and sore throats. Then, more wor­ry­ingly, she de­vel­oped a re­cur­rent twitch in her right arm. A doc­tor friend no­ticed this at din­ner and warned Mo she should have a brain scan as soon as pos­si­ble. Mo did not tell me the date and went to Char­ing Cross Hospi­tal by her­self. It was not un­til I re­ceived a call from her say­ing, ‘ Jon, can you come quickly, please? I have been told this looks very se­ri­ous,’ that I had any real cause for alarm. When I ar­rived we were taken into an of­fice by two con­sul­tants, who told us im­me­di­ately that Mo was suf­fer­ing from a brain tu­mour, and would have to un­dergo ur­gent tests to dis­cover whether it was ma­lig­nant or not.

We went home in a state of shock know­ing that if the re­sult was ma­lig­nant she might die. All we could do that night was cud­dle and talk, pre­par­ing our­selves, if we had to, to face her death. Mo had the test the fol­low­ing day. To my joy we got the news that the tu­mour was be­nign the next week. Mo was told she needed ra­dio­ther­apy but the prog­no­sis af­ter that was good. We felt like cel­e­brat­ing al­though Mo knew that she must tell Tony Blair, and that this might still threaten her po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

She de­lib­er­ately un­der­played the se­ri­ous­ness — em­pha­sis­ing that she would not al­low her ill­ness to in­ter­fere with her work in any way. Tony Blair ac­cepted the news calmly, of­fer­ing her his sup­port as well as re­as­sur­ing her she would still be el­i­gi­ble for a se­nior post in gov­ern­ment.

With the 1997 elec­tion loom­ing, Mo wanted to un­dergo ra­dio­ther­apy treat­ment

as soon as pos­si­ble. Al­though she was warned of the likely side ef­fects it was still a hor­ri­ble shock for her, as it would be for any wo­man, when she lost all her hair and rapidly gained sev­eral stone.

I felt she was hav­ing to cope with an aw­ful lot at once, and re­gret­ted bit­terly that due to my own work I was not able to be around to sup­port her more. Ev­ery time some­thing trau­matic hap­pened, such as the day her hair fell out, I would be on the end of a phone line in the Mid­dle East, des­per­ately try­ing to say the right thing while feel­ing I should be there be­side her.

Betty Boothroyd was enor­mously kind at this time, al­low­ing Mo to sleep in the Speaker’s apart­ments in the af­ter­noons and in­struct­ing her house­keeper to bring Mo tea and toast.

By the time of the elec­tion on May 1, 1997, Mo had re­ceived the all- clear from her con­sul­tant who con­firmed that the tu­mour had com­pletely gone. Mo quickly re­cov­ered, or so we thought, from the side ef­fects of the ra­dio­ther­apy and started look­ing for­ward to tak­ing up her new post as Sec­re­tary of State for North­ern Ire­land. Al­though this meant that we still had to be apart dur­ing the week, I al­ways went over to Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle at week­ends.

In spite of the se­ri­ous­ness of her com­mit­ment to the peace process, Mo still man­aged to have fun there, where we held the most won­der­ful week­end house par­ties. With acres of grounds, beau­ti­ful apart­ments and ten­nis courts, stay­ing at the of­fi­cial res­i­dence was like own­ing our own coun­try house. Guests in­cluded our fam­ily and friends, in­clud­ing ac­tors Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cu­sack, Lenny Henry and Dawn French. Mo did a won­der­ful job as North­ern Ire­land Sec­re­tary, win­ning the con­fi­dence of the Union­ists and Sinn Fein alike. For the next four years we lived the most fas­ci­nat­ing and ful­fill­ing life I could pos­si­bly have imag­ined. In the months af­ter the 1998 Good Fri­day agree­ment, Mo’s po­lit­i­cal star hit its high­est point.

I felt very proud when she got a stand­ing ova­tion at the 1998 Labour Party con­fer­ence and was even talked of as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor to Tony Blair. But in­creas­ingly the pol­i­tics of Ul­ster were de­cided in No 10 and we talked about how re­sent­ful and up­set she was at be­ing by-passed.

BLAIR of­fered her the party’s can­di­dacy for the Lon­don may­oral elec­tion. She re­fused — and I sup­ported her all the way. She was play­ing for higher stakes and told Blair that she wanted to be For­eign Sec­re­tary. But in Oc­to­ber 1998 she had to settle for Min­is­ter for the Cabi­net Of­fice, and Peter Man­del­son re­placed her in North­ern Ire­land. She knew this was a dead end, but she did not make a fuss. She was too pro­fes­sional for that.

I wit­nessed how very hurt Mo was by whis­pers that the re­turn of her ill­ness was af­fect­ing her per­for­mance. She blamed cer­tain ri­vals and an­nounced her in­ten­tion to leave pol­i­tics at the 2001 elec­tion. I was not that sur­prised — con­sid­er­ing all she had been through.

Then in 2002 Mo be­gan to suf­fer at­tacks of dizzi­ness and tem­po­rary con­fu­sion. Fol­low­ing fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, she was di­ag­nosed with low sodium and pre­scribed hy­dro­cor­ti­sone. At first, this seemed to con­trol the at­tacks. She made her liv­ing will in 2003, but for the next twoandyears she seemed fit and well.

It wasn’t un­til au­tumn last year that I be­came re­ally wor­ried again. I no­ticed her me­mory and bal­ance were get­ting worse. It was as if she had sud­denly aged 20 years, fall­ing asleep in the car when­ever we went shop­ping.

The con­sul­tant dis­closed the pos­si­bil­ity that the ra­dio­ther­apy had caused the blood ves­sels in her brain to shrink. He warned Mo that if this was the case, there would be no cure and that her con­di­tion could only de­te­ri­o­rate fur­ther.

Be­tween April and July 2005, Mo be­came con­sid­er­ably worse and at a far swifter rate than the doc­tor had pre­dicted. For the first time she be­gan to talk about not want­ing to live. I think I knew when I saw her face on the morn­ing she fell that this was the be­gin­ning of the end.

Af­ter her death my grief was mixed with the re­lief that she no longer had to suf­fer.

Mak­ing the ar­range­ments for her funeral, I re­alised I must do some­thing that re­flected Mo’s tremen­dous pas­sion for life.

I sent out in­vi­ta­tions stat­ing ‘No black ties al­lowed’ and chose John Len­non’s Work­ing Class Hero in­stead of tra­di­tional hymns. Mo’s body was com­mit­ted to the in­cin­er­a­tor to the sound of The Kinks and Laz­ing On A Sunny Af­ter­noon.

I don’t yet know what my plans for my own life will be now. Life af­ter Mo is hard for me. I don’t want to sell the house which Mo and I bought to­gether only about two months be­fore she died. But it is also very re­mote and makes me more con­scious of her gap­ing ab­sence.

I find my­self still think­ing about her con­stantly, al­most lis­ten­ing for the sound of her laugh­ter in the empty rooms around me. Most of all I miss her hu­mour and tremen­dous sense of mis­chief.

The other day a friend re­minded me how she kept a chil­dren’s re­mote con­trol ‘Fart Ma­chine’ un­der her desk in the Cabi­net Of­fice which she would set off when­ever some­one started be­hav­ing pompously. That was Mo. It made me re­alise I am not the only one who will miss her ter­ri­bly.

A ME­MO­RIAL con­cert will be held in Lon­don on Novem­ber 20. All pro­ceeds will go to MoMo Helps (www.mo­mo­helps.org) and the Pil­grims Hospice (www.pil­grimshos­pice.org). For tick­ets at £20, call 020 7494 5061 or visit www.momowlam.co.uk

Full of fun: Mo en­joys a hol­i­day in Sri Lanka, left, and a happy oc­ca­sion with her hus­band Jon, above

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