Usually it's the neck. That's the giveaway. For half an hour I'd hardly been able to avert my eyes. A naked neck, save for a chunky gold necklace, letting the world see her almost wrinkle-free, 62-year-old skin. Cripes.

We know the wonders of HRT and we know Teresa Gorman calls herself St Teresa of the Menopause and we know she is tireless in her campaign to promote its wonders, but can HRT rejuvenate necks? Or has she had a neck lift?

'Oh no, no,' she glows, girlishly. 'I think it's genetic. My mother had a good neck.'

She winks at hubby Jim on the other couch. He's been pretending to read a paper, but cocking half an ear; goodness knows what to, he must have heard it all before. Perhaps he's there to rise and thump me, should I make any further personal observations. Tall bloke, Mr Gorman, over six foot, ex-Marine, now aged 70. 'Oh do call him Jim,' she said. 'Or Poor Jim. That's what most people say.'

One of the handicaps, no let's not say that, one of the results of looking terrific for her age, and also being employed in a workplace where men outnumber women by 10 to one, is that she has to put up with a lot of personal observations.

In her book, The Bastards: Dirty Tricks and the Challenge to Europe (Pan Macmillan, pounds 5.99), which is her account of the dirty tricks used to get Maastricht through Parliament, she describes a scene on the floor of the House which can only be called sexual harassment.

Two Tory MPs came up to her. 'A woman's place is in the home,' said the first one.

'Yes, flat on her back,' said the other. 'Do you think Teresa would be any good on her back? I wonder what sort of knickers she wears?'

'Why don't you go somewhere else and find someone else to talk dirty to?' replied Teresa.

'I thought you'd be enjoying it,' said one. 'I thought that's what you liked about this place - lots of men.'

'Women should be barefoot and pregnant,' said the other. 'They shouldn't be let in here.'

Teresa has had to put up with a lot of saucy remarks from male MPs, trying to date her, asking what she's doing afterwards. 'I don't mind that sort of thing. I say I'm going home to Jim, or I'm old enough to be your grandmother, but on this occasion I felt degraded and demoralised.'

She complained to the whips. The two MPs were reprimanded and now cut her dead in the corridors. In her book, she doesn't name them. 'They could have held up publication. Two men against the word of one woman. Who would believe me? I'd thought they were friends. They know who they are. And I think they're vermin.'

Teresa is a bonny fighter, which is what she says Mrs Thatcher once called her, but she came relatively late to political fighting. She left school in Fulham at 16, daughter of a labourer who began his own demolition company. She went to teachers' training college, got married, taught for 10 years, then decided to do a degree at London University in zoology and botany.

'I was sent to look at the results board as she couldn't face it,' says Jim. 'I couldn't see her name in the Pass list and I thought, Jesus Christ, she's failed. Then someone said, 'hasn't your wife done well', and there she was, top of the list, with a First Class degree.'

Was her First a surprise? 'Yes, but I like to surprise people who downgrade women. I've had it all my life. In teaching, when I was in for promotion, women were always asked if they planned to have children, but men never were.'

Was that why you didn't have any, in order to help promotion? 'No, we never wanted children.'

'I've had a very full life,' says Teresa. 'I don't regret not having children. I'm independent, my own person, not rich but not hard up.'

It was a visit to the United States that made her give up teaching. She saw a capitalist country for the first time, so they came home and set up their own business together, making teaching aids, eventually turning over about pounds 1m. By which time she had founded the Alliance of Small Firms and Self Employed People Ltd and was into local politics as a Westminster councillor.

She tried 12 times to enter Parliament and appeared doomed never to make it, but by chance, in 1987, the Tories in Billericay were on the rebound from Harvey Proctor and liked the idea of a respectable married woman. 'It was the first time in my life being a woman helped me.' To help herself she lied about her age, saying she was 45 instead of 55. She says they would not have taken her otherwise.

She has done good work for women, even left-wing feminists agree on that, and done well at drawing attention to herself, but has failed to rise in the party. Now why can that be, Teresa? 'If the party had any sense, they would recognise my skills. I've had enormous experience of business, was a great teacher, women love me, I'm a good communicator. I should have had a big job by now.' What as? 'Party chairman. I would be wonderful.'

So what have they against you? 'I'm not considered a team player. I'm what's called a loose cannon. I do find committee work boring. The other reason is that I'm a woman. Tories do not want women MPs. They are not friendly towards women anyway - not if they grow old, which they think is a crime, or if they have children, which they consider a nuisance. I look at the way we target unmarried mothers - not fathers - as if all our troubles are caused by them.'

Perhaps there is also a certain snobbishness, hmm? Thatcher and Heath, from similar humble backgrounds, went to Oxford where they changed their accents and turned plummy. Mrs Gorman can be, how to put this, a trifle vulgar at times. The first sentence in her book reads: 'The Prime Minister's got the party by the goolies.'

'I don't think it's snobbism. I know the Tufton Buftons in the party think I'm a common-looking woman, but what about Emma Nicholson? She's classy, but it took her years to get any position. No, our party just doesn't like women.'

Teresa is accentless; neither Essex nor south London, though she can put it on when she wants, especially on the phone. 'Hello,' she said, giving a demonstration, so deep it made Malcolm Rifkind sound soprano. Did we smile.

Jim is still broad south London. He told a story against himself; how in the US he was asking the way to a bakery and someone offered him a bike. Time for Teresa to smile.

It came out that on her birthday last month Jim bought her some Portuguese language tapes, for use in the Algarve flat they've recently bought. Whereabouts? She wouldn't say. 'I don't want to sound like a middle-class woman with a holiday home.' But Teresa, you are, my petal. You also have a grand house in Lord North Street, Westminster, worth pounds 1m, the result of decades of hard graft, moving houses eight times, doing them up, then moving on. 'We're not middle class. Jim and I are typical working-class Tories who have improved ourselves by our own efforts. Mind your own business is the only moral law. I really believe in that. The Government should be there to punish crime, defend the nation and keep law and order - and let the rest of us get on with minding our own business.'

Would you therefore have no regulation over pornography or drugs? 'You can't stop those sort of things by law. I deplore smoking, but I'm against banning smoking. It's not the substances that are at fault, but inadequate people. You have to be allowed to be free in this world to be bad as well as good.'

She has been touted as a stalking- horse this autumn, but says it won't happen. 'It needs 34 people to back you for the party leadership. Nobody has asked me so far.' Shame. 'No, I'm not in the business of pulling down John Major. It's his advisers I don't like.'

HRT - hormone replacement therapy. She heard about it in her forties, after she started breaking out in sweats, unable to climb stairs, feeling rotten all the time. 'As a biologist, I was able to investigate it.' Hold on, I thought your degree was in zoology and botany?

'I happen to be an extremely well-informed scientist,' she said, sweeping on. 'The effect was stunning. I felt reborn. I can outstrip all the young men in Parliament. You see them nodding off after a late night, but not me. MPs say to me all the time, can you help me, Teresa, my wife is going barmy, constant tears and screams, so I recommend HRT, and they are changed women.

'Two Ministers of Health have put their wives on it, thanks to me. Norma Major is a fan.' You mean she's on it? 'I didn't say that. I don't like naming names, but we all know about Margaret Thatcher. She hardly spoke to me when she was PM, not knowing whether I was a tea lady or whoever, but when she left, we had a woman-to-woman chat abut HRT.'

In 1986 she helped found the Amarant Trust, a charity that works for HRT. She recently resigned after a difference with her co-trustees over the donation of pounds 10,000 from a drugs company that makes HRT, which went to her, not the charity. 'The money wasn't used by me personally. Do I look as though I need pounds 10,000? It went to help me pay for a research assistant.'

Surely it would be best to be completely removed from commercial connections with the drugs industry, or else people might suspect some of your enthusiasm for HRT? 'Listen, you get no sympathy or help when you campaign for anything to do with the menopause. Children's charities, yes, or three- legged dogs, but it's the devil of a job to help menopausal women. The Government spends nothing on research or publicity. I'm grateful to the pharmaceutical industry. I have nothing to be ashamed of.'

Jim was back to his paper. I asked how long they'd been married, but they each affected not to know exactly. She has her true date of birth in Who's Who, but no details of her marriage. 'You know the song,' said Jim. ' 'We've been together 40 years, and it don't seem a day too long.' If you ask me, it seems twice that long . . .'

Does he not become exhausted by his hyperactive wife?

'She's my pension,' he says. 'That's why I keep her at it.' To help the HRT along he's bought her some dumbbells and weights and something called Terry's Chest Expander. This is the trade name, but also a family joke. Jim has always known her as Terry. Each morning, she does her exercises, then comes out of her shower and preens herself in front of Jim as he lies in bed.

'Look at me,' she says. 'What do you think?'

Sometimes he is still half asleep, not quite taking in the floor show, so Teresa has to repeat her question.

'You are in amazing condition, darling,' replies Jim at length.

Only then can she get dressed and begin her hyperactive day.

(Photograph omitted)

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