Richmond resident Ffion Hague talks to Yorkshire Life
PUBLISHED: 00:20 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:11 20 February 2013
Ffion Hague - wife of William Hague and resident of Richmond - talks to Tony Greenway about womanising prime ministers (well, one womanising prime minister) and why her North Yorkshire home is the best place to be.
Ffion Hague is the glamorous face of British politics - without actually being a politician herself. 'I'm definitely not an MP!' she splutters.
Well, no. But Cardiff-born, Oxford educated Ffion is married to a rather famous one: William Hague, the Member of Parliament for Richmond in North Yorkshire. And what was that other job he had a few years back? Oh, yes. That's right. Leader of the Conservative Party (1997- 2001). He's currently shadow foreign secretary and a senior member of David Cameron's front-bench.
Ffion, a former fast track civil servant, is now director of the specialist headhunting firm Hanson Green, which, she says, is 'terrific fun'. She also appears on an advisory committee for Barclays Private Bank, is involved with several charities including being on the board of the Outward Bounds Trust, and holds a number of voluntary positions in the arts.
And now Ffion is an author too. Her first book, The Pain and the Privilege, about the women who spiced up the life of early 20th century liberal prime minister Lloyd George is published this month. How she fits everything in is beyond us. 'I believe that, if you live with a busy person, you best keep busy yourself,' she says in her melodic Welsh lilt (we bet she's got a nice singing voice). 'How do I juggle everything? To be honest, I don't really know. I suppose the trick is to be disciplined - and to enjoy what you're doing.'
Q: The publishing blurb for your new book says that the story of Lloyd George and his various women has many parallels with your own life. Such as?
A: My intention originally was to write about Lloyd George's first wife, Margaret. Like her, I was brought up a Welsh-speaker and a Calvinistic Methodist, and I was intrigued by the journey that took her from rural North Wales to No 10 Downing Street. But I found I couldn't write Margaret's story without taking into account Lloyd George's long-standing mistress and secretary, Frances Stevenson. As it happened, like Frances, I was a civil servant and a private secretary to a cabinet minister. And, like Margaret and Frances, I'm married to a politician. From there, it became an obvious step to include all the women in Lloyd George's life. And there were many.
Q: That's the thing! We had no idea he had such an eye for the 'ladies.' It turns out that he was cited in two divorce cases and was rumoured to have fought a duel over a woman in Argentina.
A: He was a famously charismatic man who, from the very beginning, built up a support network of women which started with his mother and grandmother, his wife, mistress and daughters and numerous women in between. The book is really about what their lives were like, the choices they made and what happened when that support network unravelled.Which it did, quite spectacularly.
Q: How long did it take you to write?
A: It's taken me about two-and-a-half to three years, which is pretty normal for a book of this size. It's a substantial work. I loved the research which was fascinating. I was able to look at the original documents and read the letters the characters in the book wrote to each other. That was an amazing way to connect very directly with the subjects. It was huge fun - like piecing together a detective story. As for writing it, I have a study in Yorkshire with spectacular views and I was able to spend many happy days in there working on my PC.
Q: William has written a couple of weighty biographies as well. Did he give you any tips?
A: Having him around as an experienced author was an immense help. I saw the satisfaction and success he had with his books and I realised I didn't want to put writing this one off any longer. Now it's finished, it's my firm intention to write another one.
Q: What about a novel?
A: Mmmm-hmmmm.Well, all options are open.What do you recommend?
Q: Well, you know. That Iain Duncan Smith wrote a thriller called The Devil's Tune. Perhaps something like that. Or not. Tell us, is it true you met William when he asked you to teach him the words to the Welsh national anthem?
A: Ha ha ha ha! Well, the way we met was this: I was private secretary to the secretary of state for Wales, and I was appointed to that role in 1994. So when William was appointed as secretary of state in 1995, I was already there.
Q: William happily retired from frontbench life - or so it seemed - in 2001; but he accepted a senior role in the shadow cabinet in 2005. Did you think: 'Oh no. Here we go again'?
A: Ha ha ha ha! I was happy to support him. That's what he wanted. He's enjoying the role very much.
Q: You could be a politician, you know. What did you think of Yorkshire when you first came here? Was it a culture shock?
A: Well, I hadn't been to Yorkshire very often before we got married (in 1997) and so I consider myself to be exceptionally lucky.William was a sitting MP when I met him, so I could have ended up anywherein the country; but I ended up in absolutely the best place in England I could ever want to live.
Q: Oh, go on! You're just saying that.
A: No, really! I'd been to York before, when I was at university, I'd sung with my college choir at the Minster. I enjoyed that very much.What can I tell you: I'm Welsh. I sing a lot. I had been to other parts of Yorkshire before I met William but not to Richmond which is where we now live and I'm very happy here.
Q: Is Yorkshire similar to Wales?
A: In many ways. It's a very agriculturally based society and there's a strong sense of community and a strong sense of identity. I feel very much at home here. I spend most of the middle of the week in London and as a long as I can at the weekend in Yorkshire.We live in Yorkshire. It's very much our home.
Q: Do you have a favourite place in Yorkshire?
A: The challenge is to narrow it down really.We've a long list of places we absolutely love. One of our favourite walks goes from the middle of Richmond, along the river and back around the town. It's a special place.
Q: Is there a restaurant you could recommend?
A: I do. I don't know if you've been to The Station in Richmond, but you absolutely must go. It's only been open a few months and it's a brand new venture led by members of the community and it's been a huge success. It's a complex which makes use of the old Richmond station. It's a light and flexible space with two cinema screens, umpteen businesses, an art gallery and the most amazing restaurant. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Q: This is an unfair question - but then life's not fair, so we'll ask it anyway. Yorkshire... or Wales?
A: Ha ha ha ha ha! Both!
Q: That's just so diplomatic.
A: I love Yorkshire. I will always say it's the only place in England I want to live.
The Pain and the Privilege: The Women in Lloyd George's Life by Ffion Hague is published by Harper Collins on June 2nd.