HOW WE MET; CLARE WHELAN AND EDWINA CURRIE

Clare Whelan, 40, has been Edwina Currie's parliamentary assistant since 1992. She is also Lambeth Council's social services spokesperson and the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for West Lewisham. She lives with her husband and two children in Dulwich. Edwina Currie, 49, has been a Conservative MP since 1983. Her second novel, A Woman's Place, was recently published. She has homes in Derbyshire, London and the Loire valley; she and her husband have two children

CLARE WHELAN: I don't think Edwina remembers the first time we met, because she was giving a talk to Dulwich Conservative Ladies' Luncheon. It was in 1988, while she was still a Minister at the Department of Health. I was just one of a crowd, and I shook her hand. It was memorable - it was one of the best ladies' lunches speeches I've been to.

Several months later, in 1989, I heard through a friend - Chris, Edwina's former secretary - that she was looking for somebody to help her with her books and put her manuscripts on disk - so I jumped, because it suited me perfectly. It would be working from home, I had two young children and I was getting interested in politics. Getting prepared for the interview took days of planning: typing up my CV and checking whether it projected the right image, and sending my navy blue suit to the cleaners.

I sat outside the interview room not able to concentrate - and then Edwina breezed in and said: "Right. Round here, it's the secretaries who choose their Members. Do you want to work for me?" Edwina put me at my ease, asking about my family. She was wearing a bright blue coat - a good Tory blue - and a shawl, and I remember thinking that she looked much smaller in real life than she does on the telly.

What I consider to have been the first important meeting, though, was the day that year when the contract for her book about health and politics, Life Lines, was signed at her agent's office. We went along there at about 11am, and had champagne, and it was terribly exciting. After that, Edwina and I went to a pub. I was conscious of the fact that Edwina had spoken publicly and forcefully about eating habits, so I had salad and a couple of slices of ham. She came behind me and said, "I'm starving," and had sausages, beans and chips, which I spent the rest of the meal eyeing enviously. I went away inspired, because I mentioned to her that my husband was thinking of standing for Lambeth council, and she said, "You should stand for the council" - and that's what I did. So that day was one of life's turning points.

When I first started working on the manuscripts, I remember thinking that I was going to be made redundant because Edwina got the hang of using computers so quickly. First I worked on two books: Life Lines, in 1989, which was about health and politics, and a book of essays, What Women Want, which was published a year later. For the next couple of years, I worked on more of Edwina's writings, things like short stories and essays. Then, in 1992, Chris left the job as Edwina's assistant; and I filled it.

Encouraging women in politics is something Edwina and I feel passionately about. We've started up a new dining club called Blue Whips: (Women Hopefuls in Politics). Edwina has phenomenal energy. At the moment, she has this book out and has been doing a lot of publicity, while at the same time she's writing the next novel. She thinks in an organised way.

Like her, I find that if I go to the gym once or twice a week it gives extra energy. Occasionally, I see her there. She's better at it than I - fitter than I am, as well as being a little bit older. One thing I admire about her is the fact that she'll take up causes because she believes in them strongly, whether or not there's any personal gain - for example, the campaign to reduce the age of consent for male homosexuals.

Edwina is asthmatic, and so's my son. She's helped when he's been in hospital, and I sometimes have to dash off at quick notice. We've also all spent lots of holidays at her house in France. Over the years I've got to know her children well; occasionally, if they can't phone their mum, they'll ring me.

The Edwina I see in the office is so different to the one I read about in the newspapers. I suspect I know the real one, and I get quite cross about it. I probably talk to Edwina more than anyone else, and one of the things about being in politics is that you actually don't get a lot of time to have real friendships outside.

I've got more confidence now than I used to have, which of course alters things a bit. Edwina has said to me on occasions, when I've started to pour her a coffee, "No, no, I'll pour the coffee. It's time you started thinking of us as equals." She's my friend and she's also my boss. It's a bit like with one's mother: one never quite grows up.

EDWINA CURRIE: Clare said she first met me when I made a speech, but I confess I can't remember it. It was at a Dulwich Conservatives Ladies' Luncheon, probably about 10 years ago. But the main way in which we met was after I left the Government - in December 1988, after the eggs business. My secretary at the time was called Chris, and the mail kept coming in in great waves. Among the pile of letters was a letter from a literary agent suggesting that I should come and talk to him about writing a book about health and politics, and we got a contract signed to write a book which became Life Lines. It was in the spring of 1989. I'd never handled a computer, so I said to Chris: do you know anybody that could help me with this book and who is computer literate? She said that she knew just the person - that's how Clare turned up.

I was impressed by Clare's Irish looks; her black hair and green eyes, and by her bouncy demeanour. She looked like she had worked all her life on a farm. In fact, she's not like that at all; she comes from Norfolk. She was bright and young; she's nine years younger than I am, and she had two small children.

And so Clare started to work with me, and I would write a few chapters and she'd type them up, or I'd type up a few chapters on my bad word processor and she'd put them on to disk. Gradually, I found that I was relying on her very heavily, and I'd say, "Clare, I've lost a whole paragraph, what happened?" and she'd say, "Did you press SAVE?" and I'd say, "What's that?"

Later, in 1992, Chris, my secretary, went off to work for somebody else, and Clare became my secretary. Fairly quickly, with anybody that starts to work with me, I'll sit them down and start asking them what they want to do in life. Clare's reaction was that she wanted to be an MP. In terms of wanting to become an MP, she had advantages and disadvantages. It's an advantage to have extensive local authority experience, which she's getting now in Lambeth - she's about to become chair of social services. It's an advantage to be a woman, in many ways; but it's a disadvantage trying to do it when you've got young children.

We sometimes have lunch together and we'll natter about politics and kids. Clare's son, Fenton, is an asthmatic and he's under the care of the Professorial unit at Kings. The rule is that if she has to go to Fenton, she switches off the computer, locks the door and goes. If I hear that he's been taken off to hospital and she's still working, I'll be very angry. Kids come first. Her kids are wonderful: intelligent, fun to be with, and very well behaved. I don't like naughty children.

I think of Clare as a younger sister, whose career I'm very interested in and who I care about very much. To me, friendship is based on trust, but it's also got to be a relationship that isn't one-way. My staff have got to be able to say to me: "Edwina, you're doing it wrong," or "This is not going down well" or "You're doing too much."

Clare's a South London politician in her own right. I get a lot of gossip from her. You should see the two of us laughing over cocoa in the tea room; she's usually telling me what some MP's been up to. Because she has a very urban point of view, it's a good counter-balance to mine.

She doesn't comment much on my books. If I want detailed comments, then I'll go to my daughter Debbie, who's reading English at university. Deb will say very sharp, clever things, but Clare will just say, "That was good." Her weakness in terms of her own career is that she's not a graduate. She doesn't have the breadth of knowledge about history and politics; three years reading history at the University of East Anglia would do her the world of good.

She sees the best in everybody. Her stamina extends to her good nature - at the end of a long horrible day she's still cheery. We're like two girlfriends who talk about slimming, and then go off and eat too much. I'm a stone heavier than I was 18 months ago, and I have a feeling that Clare is as well.

She's a super friend, great supporter and brilliant secretary - and she's going to make a wonderful MP. I think the age difference means that I see her avoiding mistakes I made and perhaps having, in some ways, a slightly easier time. When I first arrived there were fewer than 20 women in this House, I think we're up to 62 now. By the time Clare arrives - either at this coming election or at a subsequent one - the world will be very different. !

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Arts and Entertainment
Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey
booksAn early draft of ‘Atrocities’ shows the anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication
Arts and Entertainment
Actors and technicians on the march against changes made by Hollande
theatreOpening performances of the Avignon theatre festival cancelled as actors and technicians walk out
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West performed in a chain mail mask at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park
Rapper booed at Wireless over bizarre rant
Arts and Entertainment

They're back, they're big – and they're still spectacularly boring

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil