HOW WE MET: DEREK DRAPER AND CHARLOTTE RAVEN

New Labour commentator Derek Draper recently achieved notoriety when the 'Observer' newspaper accused him of boasting of his contacts in the Government. Draper, 31, began his political career at Manchester University and went on to be chief researcher to Peter Mandelson MP. He wrote the controversial 'Blair's 100 Days' before moving on to political lobbying and, latterly, broadcasting. Charlotte Raven, 29, is a 'Guardian' columnist and commentator on women's issues. She began her journalistic career on the 'Modern Review', where she famously attempted an editorial coup after beginning a affair with its owner, Julie Burchill. Last year she re-launched the magazine, which has just folded after six issues

DEREK DRAPER: I was first conscious of Charlotte not as an individual but as part of a gang. It was 1988, I was 20 and heavily involved in Manchester University Student Union Labour Club. I was a right wing labour person (a "moderniser") and she was one of the middle-class Trotskyists who opposed us. She used to dress all in black and pose, cigarette in hand, lecturing the workers.

The second time I was aware of her was when I was being hounded out of office as the Student Union's Communications Officer. The forces were against me for various misdemeanors. The hard left put up their motion at the Committee Meeting and Charlotte seconded it. I remember saying in the meeting: "And who the hell is Charlotte Raven anyway?" Then when I saw her I thought she was very beautiful. She was tall and elegant and severe, with short black hair and a pale, imperious face. I was tape recording the meeting because I felt they were trying to libel me, and I still have this tape. I came across it a couple of years ago and played it back to Charlotte which made her laugh.

I was eventually kicked out of the Student Union and went to work in Newcastle as researcher to the Labour MP Nick Brown. That summer, I was on holiday in eastern Europe with a friend and I sent Charlotte a postcard. It said: "On reflection, as I tour the bastions of fallen communism, you are the only person I feel has the capability of running the Union since my departure." On my return there was this amazing letter waiting for me. At the end of it she announced: "I will come and visit you in Newcastle but remember discretion is the better part of valour." Of course, any liaison between us would be seen as a political betrayal on her part.

So she came to visit me and we started having an affair, a relationship which lasted on and off for about four years. Leaving aside the sexual attraction, we were actually always better at being friends. Our interests don't really overlap. Charlotte likes to examine and criticise things all the time whereas I don't. She'd be sitting there on a Sunday wanting to discuss an article she'd read in the papers or the way the light fell on the trees. I like to look at a few newspapers, watch a bit of television and not have a single thought. Despite my big mouth, I can go for long periods being quiet. It used to drive her bananas.

We split up just before the beginning of her relationship with Julie Burchill. At the time the newspaper diaries all said "Derek Draper dumped for Julie Burchill". It seemed pointless to go around saying: "No actually, we finished 11 days earlier." So I live with the supposed ignominy of having been dumped for a woman.

These days it's unusual for Charlotte and I not to see each other at least once a fortnight. When we go out we talk a bit about politics and about our personal relationships. I will be outlining what I'm thinking and she will question it. She always starts off: "But darling ..." and invariably tells me why I'm wrong. She knows everything about me and I trust her completely. When I spoke to her about the Observer story the first thing she said was "Boasting Boy Caught Drinking Champagne", which not only summed up in one sentence what I felt about it but also made me laugh my head off.

Charlotte could never be defined, she's just Charlotte, unique. She has exacting standards for herself which means that as a friend she can be very critical. She's always casting aspersions on my motives, but at the same time manages to be supportive. The other day I'd written something and she was having a go at me about it. I said: "I think it's a bit unfair of you to be quite so nasty," and she bleeped me afterwards and said: "Forget what I said earlier. I'd have said the same to Charles Dickens." Of course, were I to make any criticism of her she would be very upset. I'd have to make up for it with a shower of flattery. She can appear to be spoilt, a bit of a princess. Her parents dote on her, and, to an extent, I do, and because of this, she likes to pretend she's incapable of doing things like buying a fax machine or a computer. But the truth is that she's incredibly practical and strong.

CHARLOTTE RAVEN: I got to know Derek by reputation first. When I arrived at Manchester University he was in his second year and incredibly famous. Universities are small, intense societies. Everyone knew who he was and everybody had an opinion about him. To us First Years, he was terrifying.

I eventually met him through the Labour Club which controlled the Union at Manchester and had hundreds of members. I went along as a fresher thinking it was all so radical and exciting. And I fancied myself as a bit of a radical. There were the modernisers - this was in Kinnock's time - led by Derek. Then there was the hard left opposing them.

The meetings were acrimonious. Everyone would be shouting and trying to beat their opponents by any means available. And Derek was king of this environment. I suppose some people would have hated it, but to be honest it knocked me out.

I was sitting around with my friends in the coffee bar afterwards when Derek strode over and said "Hello" in his strong Lancashire accent, "what are you all doing here?" and made some joke while we sat there mumbling. I remember walking back to my hall of residence and thinking "Oh hell. He's going to think I'm the same as everyone else," and feeling at that point that I wanted him to know that I wasn't.

We were never friends in the Union. But I used to spend a lot of time chatting about Derek Draper. Politically, he was our absolute nemesis. His friends would sit on one side of the coffee bar and we Trots would be on the other. He would stride through shouting. I remember the dinner ladies loved him because he always ate sweetcorn with tomato ketchup; they thought he was a bit of a lad.

As a leading light in the Labour Club, Derek was surrounded by fawning acolytes and his behaviour became worse and worse. Like all petty tyrants, he mistakenly believed himself invulnerable. We managed to oust him from his post of Communications Officer on a technicality. But people had wanted rid of him for a long time.

Then, when he got the job with Nick Brown MP, he wrote me a flattering letter which I really shouldn't have responded to. I was the women's officer and any capitulation to the monster that was Draper would have ruined my credibility. It's hard to explain why I did respond. In spite of his obvious faults, something in Derek struck a chord with something in me. Superficially we are very different - he is a pragmatist, I'm an idealist - but at some very basic level we're the same. We are both nonconformists by instinct. He also makes me laugh more than anyone I've ever known.

Derek practised old-style seduction and was very good at it. He understood all the old cliches about how all women want is for you to flatter them but in a way that makes it look like that's not what you're doing. Compared to the boys you came across at university it all seemed rather sophisticated.

The affair was eventually discovered and I was politically discredited. My Trotskyist friends threw me out of the house. I refused to resign as Women's Officer but people said I should. Derek was the only person I could turn to. We went out on and off for three or four years up to the point when Derek was working with Peter Mandelson and I was at the Modern Review with Julie and Toby Young. But the friendship was always the stronger element. It sounds sentimental but it's almost like being brother and sister.

I am much more self-conscious than he is. I think that's partly what I envy about him. There's something astonishing about somebody who enjoys their own company as much as he does. So many people are flat and predictable and you know what they are going to say before they say it. As a friend, Derek is challenging, and complex.

He's also one of the cleverest people I've met. But he is completely to one side of everything: part of it is his class, part of it his absolute candour. In spite of his reputation as the King of Spin, he is actually more honest about his motives than most people. So when he said to that Observer journalist that as a political lobbyist all he wanted was to stuff his pockets with pounds 250 an hour - who wouldn't? It's just that nobody dares say it.

When we first met Derek was a philistine, his only interest was politics. Now he is much more interested in the cultural side of things. A few months ago we went on holiday to Florence and spent hours walking round the Uffizi gallery. In London, we mainly go out to dinner and gossip about the media and politics, but also we talk about our personal lives and I tell him what I think he ought to be doing. It doesn't affect our friendship when one of us is in a relationship, I think because our friendship always remains separate.

In spite of our differences - which have been considerable over the years - Derek has been the most loyal, consistent person in the sense that whatever I did I knew he would always stand up for me. And I've only ever experienced that kind of relationship before with my family. It's unconditional. And that's very reassuring, I think.

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