Edwina Currie: "My younger self would be disgusted there weren’t more men in my life"
The 16-year-old me would be very surprised that I didn’t become a scientist like my heroine, Marie Curie. I grew up in a highly orthodox Jewish family – you can’t eat that, you can’t do that on a Saturday, you can’t see that boy. My mother was a homemaker, a submissive wife – I didn’t want a life like hers. All I could think was, how do I get out of this without upsetting everybody? The obvious answer was to go away to university. That was unheard of for a Scouse girl but I did it. I won a scholarship to Oxford.
My other obsession back then was boys. My younger self would be disgusted that there weren’t more men in my life. I got plenty of it but I didn’t flirt much. I liked talking, then going to bed, then talking again afterwards. I only once woke up thinking, ‘Who the hell is this?’ and I didn’t like it. But I do credit my younger self with taste. I hung around with the entire rowing eight at St John’s College – they were gorgeous. And not one has betrayed me since; they were good men.
If I met the teenage Edwina now I’d tell her to lighten up a bit. She was a serious girl, always planning her life in too much detail. She needed to let her hair down a bit more. I enjoy intellectual confrontation but I’m naturally cautious. I’ve never smoked a cigarette. I never tried drugs. I missed a chunk of the 1960s, there’s no doubt about that. Part of me now wishes I’d dabbled just a bit, within safe boundaries.
The orthodox Jewish way I was brought up confers three duties – to family, community and God. For a long time I felt community was strongest – that’s why I stood for parliament. It wasn’t about ego or money. My dream was to have some great achievement named after me. I grew up with the Butler Education Act of 1944 – I would have loved to have had an important piece of legislation named after me. The Currie Food Safety Legislation act, perhaps. But it didn’t happen.
My only regret as an MP is that I didn’t manage to persuade my colleagues that we had to take some action over the salmonella crisis in 1988. We had people dying. My feeling was one of disgust that my colleagues were being so irresponsible.
In many ways my affair [with John Major] was a classic work romance. No one was exploiting anyone: it was a match of equals. He told me all the gossip, how to get things done behind the scenes. And I told him how to do TV and raise his profile. I don’t think we did any damage. But I think when he became PM he should have brought me right back into government and he didn’t. He may have been a little bit scared of me. Perhaps he also took advantage of my good nature, assuming we’d always stick to the deal and never tell.
The teenage me would be thrilled at how my daughters have turned out. That’s probably because I played very little part in bringing them up.
My young self would never have believed I’d end up being close to my mother. But when she turned 80 she turned into a thoroughly civilised, intelligent human being and we became extremely close. We stopped relying on phone calls and made arrangements to meet regularly. It became fun. And I do the same with my daughters now. I look in the mirror now and, God help me, I see my mother. With a decent education and a bit of money and a different life.
In 1962, the year Edwina Currie turned 16... The first James Bond film, Dr No, is released... Marilyn Monroe is found dead in her Los Angeles home... The Rolling Stones make their live debut at London’s Marquee Club... Britain’s first casino opens in Brighton...
Edwina Currie Diaries: Volume II is available from September 18 (Biteback)