Owl posts this review because it focuses on the Swires and their way of life. To Owl it raises the question as to why on earth the local Tory activists “dotty as the stalwarts in the Vicar of Dibley” chose Hugo Swire as the candidate for East Devon in 2001? It also raises the question as why the electorate thought that he would do anything for the constituency and consistently voted for him? His interests were always elsewhere.
Richard Kay www.dailymail.co.uk
How frightfully unfair it is on gorgeous, glamorous Sasha Swire to judge her by her conversations with those famous politicians — royals, too — after she jotted down every lip-smacking detail night after night in her secret diary.
How much fairer to remember the willowy beauty who mesmerised men — such as David Cameron — with a sway of her slim hips and a whiff of her expensive perfume. Or flirting with a plutocrat at a Buckingham Palace banquet and noting approvingly to herself — after he offers to whisk her to Corsica on his superyacht — that it’s ‘nice my husband thinks I can still pull’.
Sex, discussing it and complaining about the lack of it is a constant feature of Sasha’s newly published Diary Of An MP’s Wife. ‘David talks a lot about sex,’ she says of our former prime minister in one Bridget Jones-style entry.
But he’s not the only one. At a Chequers dinner party Lady Swire, 57, whose father Sir John Nott was Defence Secretary at the time of the Falklands War, enlivens the company by announcing: ‘I enjoy sex much more in my 50s than in my 40s.’
Perhaps this, then, is how she should be recognised, as a towering show-off and attention-seeker. As well as someone with a fear of losing her allure and an obsession with money — although thanks to the staggering indiscretions in her diary, she will now be having it delivered by the sackful.
Financial reward may, however, be the one compensation for putting pen to paper. Friendships have been broken and bridges burned on such an epic scale that all those glossy invitations to the smartest house parties are likely to vanish.
As one Tory grandee who entertained Sasha and her husband, former MP Sir Hugo Swire, at his country home said: ‘When she came to stay we had no idea she was keeping copious notes so we could appear in her diaries. They are a lovely couple but Sasha has a ruthless streak in her.’
Sasha Swire was a willowy beauty who mesmerised men — such as David Cameron — with a sway of her slim hips and a whiff of her expensive perfume
Another ‘victim’, a former Cabinet minister with whom she used to exchange intimacies, recalled how in recent years, whenever she saw Sasha, she was bombarded with questions about her sex life. ‘I now think she was looking for nuggets for her bloody book,’ she says.
‘I feel very used. She goes out of her way to get you to open up emotionally. And I know others feel the same way.’
One figure says he and his wife came to dread going to dinner with the Swires. ‘The first thing she’ll say is, ‘Do you still sleep with your wife?’ It’s so disarming.
‘She seeks to be friendly but it’s actually humiliating and it comes across as sheer bloody rudeness.’
For ten years at the epicentre of a social salon at the top of the political tree, Sasha Swire had a ringside seat in the management of Britain thanks to her husband’s friendship and support of David Cameron.
And all that time she was scratching away in the room at her Devon manor house she calls her ‘writing tower’, overlooking the landscaped gardens she designed herself.
Her name is on the book and the words are certainly hers, but it has been a joint enterprise. Sir Hugo, a former debs’ delight who once dated Jerry Hall (when the Texan model was on the rebound from serially unfaithful Mick Jagger), was no mere passive observer.
It must, therefore, have been that much harder to include — amid all the lewd banter, cruel mockery, Negronis at dawn and withering put-downs — a reference to a suspected affair between her husband and an unnamed woman.
As the Mail reported yesterday, this was one social indiscretion Lady Swire was reluctant to enlarge upon.
Many wonder if this book will be the equivalent of the Alan Clark diaries of the Thatcher and Major years of the Eighties and Nineties? Clark, of course, found himself an object of contempt and derision over his sordid, and to many people, repulsive revelations about his sexual depravity.
Lady Swire’s wicked disclosures are, so far, only registering shock and dismay but the final judgment could yet be merciless. All the same, the Clark parallel does resonate. There is nothing in her memoir to match the grubbiness of Clark’s ‘coven’ — a mother and her two daughters with whom he slept. But some will see in this undoubtedly gripping diary an example of the seediness of life at the top of Britain.
And there is also the possibility that her diaries might one day be televised as Clark’s were. ‘She’s imagining a little mini-series,’ says a Devon friend.
Such chutzpah suggests that she feels she has done nothing to be ashamed of. ‘Yes, of course there were a few tears when the criticism began rolling in, but not for long and not very many,’ says a confidante. ‘Sasha’s very pragmatic. She’s looked at what’s been said about the diaries and concluded that it’s mainly of a political nature.’
The journalist Petronella Wyatt, whose father Woodrow published a posthumous and outrageous account of private conversations with the great and the good, says Lady Swire — a friend of more than 20 years — had initially been upset at the reaction. ‘She doesn’t think the criticism is justified,’ adds Wyatt. ‘It’s a fun book. It’s not nasty. No one should take offence.’
Others may disagree. Mr Cameron, for example, was left squirming over Lady Swire’s tales detailing his personal feuds, drinking and sexual innuendos.
Of the incident in which he allegedly joked that her perfume made him want to push her ‘into the bushes and give you one’, he prudently said he had no memory.
However, the former prime minister and his wife, Samantha, who in one passage is described as having ‘gin-sodden breath’ following her husband’s resignation after the EU referendum, are said to have been ‘astonished’ by the betrayal of so many friends and confidences. They were aware that the diaries were coming. Others were not so fortunate.
At the same time it does seem extraordinary that the Camerons hosted the couple at their home in Cornwall for a weekend only a fortnight ago.
And that just last Saturday — 24 hours before the first instalment appeared in a Sunday newspaper and in which the ex-PM was said to have made smutty jokes about dogging and mocked for his fitness fads — he and Sir Hugo, 60, were shooting grouse together in Yorkshire with other senior Tories.
‘This actually tells you more about the Swires than the Camerons,’ says a figure. ‘Sasha is shameless and has this breathtaking confidence that Hugo is swept along by. It was the same when they met.’ Their meeting in 1996 had something of a coup de foudre about it says the friend. ‘Hugo had been a dashing army officer in the Grenadier Guards and was making his way at Sotheby’s and there were no shortage of girlfriends.’
At one stage he was a ‘walker’ for the separated Duchess of York. ‘Along came Sasha, this leggy blonde with a mind of her own and he was smitten.’
With Sasha pregnant with their first daughter — not a good look for a Tory seeking a parliamentary seat — they were married quickly.
Only five people were at the ceremony at the Royal Hospital chapel in Chelsea in 1996 where the best man was Lord Michael Cecil, youngest brother of the Marquess of Salisbury.
A church service in Kensington was followed by a reception in the Long Room at Lord’s cricket ground. Among the guests were the Tory donor Anthony Bamford, owner of the JCB digger company and now a member of the House of Lords.
The Swires’ daughter Saffron was born five months later and a second daughter, Siena, came along in 2001, shortly after Hugo’s election as MP for East Devon. (He had contested the hopeless Labour seat of Greenock in 1997, the year of Tony Blair’s landslide.)
Cameron was also part of that 2001 intake and, although Hugo is seven years his senior, he saw leadership qualities in his fellow old Etonian and the two became friends.
‘Despite that, Sasha was always gunning for Dave,’ says a former minister. ‘She feels to this day that Hugo should have been given a job in the Cabinet. She thinks the only reason he isn’t is because of the Eton connection and that it didn’t fit in with the Cameron modernising agenda.’
The source adds: ‘It actually had nothing to do with that; the truth is Hugo wasn’t good enough, which is why he was sent to Northern Ireland as minister of state.’
An old friend says: ‘She was fantastically glamorous and one always felt she was looking for a suitable husband. Hugo was good looking and funny and, though they were not an obvious pairing, they hit it off’
But then the outspoken Sasha not only knew her mind, she was also from a political family herself, and her school years had often been spent on the campaign trail supporting her father.
During elections she would turn up for lessons sporting a blue rosette, and out of school delivered leaflets.
She grew up in Cornwall and her father was friends with the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who is said to have dedicated two poems to Sasha. She used to go fishing with Hughes and her father.
With two brothers — Julian, a musician who later made millions composing the scores for Wallace And Gromit and Peppa Pig animated films, and William who is in the oil business — Sasha was determined to win the approval of her father, to whom she was devoted.
‘She was like the pupil who always has their hand up in class trying to catch the teacher’s eye,’ says a Nott family friend. ‘She always wanted to impress her father.’
Her book, of course, will do just that. Nott cared little for party political sensibilities, once walking out of a TV interview with Robin Day who had accused him of being a ‘here today, gone tomorrow politician’.
And he also walked out on Margaret Thatcher by quitting the Commons to her dismay — though she refused to accept his resignation after the Argentine invasion of the Falklands and he oversaw the huge success of the British task force to liberate the islands.
‘He’s chomping at the bit to read the book,’ says the friend. ‘His attitude is ‘that’s my girl’ and he won’t give a fig if it has upset some people in the Tory Party.’
Strikingly good looking, his adored daughter was sent to Cranborne Chase, the fee-paying girls’ school near Tisbury, Wilts, which has since closed and was never noted for its academic qualities.
Sasha is remembered as being ‘a cracker’ and the prettiest girl of her year.
If John Nott provided her political education, she inherited her sense of outrage from her Slovenian mother Miloska, whose own background is heroic.
In the war, her father was a partisan, running a hotel where the Gestapo liked to eat by day, and smuggling Jews and others wanted by the Nazis to safety by night. Five months before the end of the war, he was caught and sent to Dachau concentration camp where he died.
Miloska met her husband in Cambridge, where she had been sent to learn English — at her engagement party to someone else.
In Nott’s memoir, Memorable Encounters, she recounted his exact words to her. ‘He said ‘I love you and I am going to marry you’, and then he went. I went home and wrote in my diary: ‘What a cheek, what a conceit, what a presumptuous male.’ ‘
Nevertheless they were married in 1959, the year Nott was president of the Cambridge Union. ‘Miloska is unbelievably frank, strong-minded, impetuous and forthright,’ says an acquaintance. ‘It’s clear that’s where Sasha gets it all from.’
After leaving school, she launched herself with gusto on the London social scene. ‘She was always the life and soul of a party with a drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, having fun — and, with her looks, she had a queue of boys wanting to take her out,’ remembers a friend.
One event fondly recalled is a party at Admiralty Arch — which her father had the use of — at the time of the wedding of Charles and Diana, a venue which overlooked the route. She was also a regular at the then achingly hip Camden Palace party venue in North London.
But though portrayed as a dippy aristocrat — her title comes from Swire’s knighthood, his consolation prize for not making the Cabinet — she was determined to make her own way and trained as a journalist, first in Lincolnshire and then at the Nottingham Post, where an admirer was known as ‘Forest’ because of his love of the local football team.
By the early 1990s she was in Hong Kong where one article for the South China Morning Post had the headline: ‘Would you sleep with a stranger for $1 million?’ Notable citizens were asked for their opinions, including the late socialite David Tang.
Back in London she became interested in political reporting and was often to be spotted with some of the livelier lobby correspondents. Another admirer was the architect and interior design guru Willie Nickerson, but until meeting Swire there were no serious love matches.
An old friend says: ‘She was fantastically glamorous and one always felt she was looking for a suitable husband. Hugo was good looking and funny and, though they were not an obvious pairing, they hit it off.’
But money was always an issue. A businessman who sat next to her at a dinner recalls: ‘She was extremely cross about the fact that politicians did not get enough money, saying that they should be paid more.’
Despite sharing his name with the famous Swire business conglomerate, which owns Cathay Pacific, her husband is only distantly related and has no financial connection.
Two years ago she confided to friends she had been keeping a diary and that she had written more than a million words since 2010. When Swire stood down as an MP last year, she sought a publishing deal.
Not everyone is surprised by what she has done. One well-placed Tory source said: ‘She came to dinner once with a video camera wanting to record the evening. We had to tell her to switch it off. I thought then: ‘How odd. Is she doing a documentary about us?’ ‘
A former Tory backbench colleague of Swire told us: ‘Sasha used to have a favourite phrase at the end of a week in Westminster: ‘What contributions do you have for our pension fund?’ In other words, she wanted Swire to reveal joyous indiscretions about life in the Cameron camp. He duly obliged.’
Her diaries may be unfair for their searing portrayal of the Cameron era as a frivolous, privileged elite playing at government but being more interested in sex and drinking. And for those who feature in the book’s pages it will be chiefly remembered for her grotesque breach of the etiquette of politics.
Frances Osborne, ex-wife of former Chancellor George Osborne, is understood to be dismayed at her depiction as a dull, downtrodden spouse. Both women grew up in the South West. She considered Sasha a friend.
The diaries, however, with their mix of treachery and snobbery, will provide gleeful pleasure for readers. As for Sasha Swire, she is already planning her next publishing sensation — a novel she hopes to complete by Christmas.