THE GOOD, THE GREAT & THE UGLY No. 100 Virginia Bottomley

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The Independent Culture
I see it's Good Health Day on Tuesday. I suppose that'll mean another opportunity for Virginia Bottomley to give us all a lecture?

Isn't every day? When David Blunkett was her Labour shadow, he got so fed up that he said she was like "Mary Poppins on crack".

That's not the only rude name people have given her, is it?

No. Blunkett also calls her Golden Virginia, for her reluctance to take firmer action against the tobacco industry. Richard Ingrams calls her Mrs Lobottomley. And the Daily Mail calls her Nurse Bossyboots.

And what do the public think of her?

A survey last year branded her Britain's least sincere politician.

And has she always been so bossy?

Undoubtedly. When she was six, she threw the au pair out of the kitchen and cooked the family's breakfast herself because it wasn't being done right.

What sort of family did she come from?

Comfortable, bright, liberal, with a tradition of changing the world. "That's all we ever talk about, in a humble way," her father once said.

And how did she go about doing that?

She went to Essex University, studying sociology, where she is remembered as "a very strong-willed student with left-wing sentiments".

So, she was infected by the ethos of the Sixties, then?

In more ways than one. She and Peter Bottomley had their first child three months before getting married. This only came to light when, as Health Secretary, she launched a campaign against teenage pregnancy.

Oh dear. And how did she get into politics?

She was a psychiatric social worker and magistrate in Lambeth when she was approached to stand for parliament. She got in, at her second attempt, in 1984, in Surrey South West.

And did it take her long to be noticed?

What do you think? Within four years she was a junior minister. Peter Bottomley offered to resign from government to make way for her, but he didn't need to: Thatcher sacked him. Virginia has been nanny to the nation since 1992.

And does she practise what she preaches?

"Plenty of fruit and vegetables, and avoiding fats, are key elements in our diet," she once said, and who could doubt it?