Who would vote to be an MP's child?
The children of four politicians talk to Decca Aitkenhead about growing up in the glare of publicity
Thursday 01 February 1996
"I've never voted Conservative in my life. I helped dad to canvas sometimes, if he was short-handed, but God, I'd never talk to anyone. How could I? I didn't believe in it. I'm not a political animal at all. For me, politics and the news are the boring bits between the records on the radio.
"I don't remember him being elected - he just seemed to seep into it, and both sides of my family have been in politics since the beginning of time. Dinner-table conversations were always really rocking - lots of good table-banging, because dad wanted us to know our own minds and question things.
"He wanted me to go to Eton, and that was the first time I ever said no to him. I didn't want to got around with a bunch of tight-buttocked guys in frocks. So I was sent away to Malvern, but I hated the whole public school thing - it pissed me off that people would automatically assume, because I was an MP's son, that I was some plummy army boy.
"I dropped out of university after a term, grew dreadlocks down my back, wore make-up, joined a band - did the full post-punk bit. That upset my dad a bit.
"It wasn't ever hammered home to me that I had to watch my step because of dad, but I knew the score. When Olivia Channon died [of a drug overdose], I remember they told me to make sure I was always careful. When I did the bum thing on TV, the News of the World got on to my mum and dad, but they just thought it was funny.
"I see dad as a rebel, too, and that's why he's comfortable with my life. It would have been different if he'd been a typical Tory MP, brown-nosing to Thatcher. But I'm very proud of him - never more than when he helped to get rid of Thatch. He's a cool guy."
Victoria Scott (above), 29, a disability rights campaigner, is the daughter of Sir Nicholas Scott (below), Conservative MP for Kensington and Chelsea since the year she was born. They clashed publicly in 1994 over his part in defeating the Disability Rights Bill.
"Being Sir Nicholas's daughter has been difficult for me. A lot of people are distrustful of me - it was always seen as rather easy for me to be radical, and often I haven't been taken seriously because of it.
"At boarding school it was nice - you'd be sitting together in the hall doing prep, and suddenly your Dad would be on the TV news. When you're that age, and desperate to stand out from the crowd - and I was wearing Clarks' shoes, so I was never going to stand out for any other reason - it was great.
"But when I got to poly and set up an anti-apartheid society, I met left- wing people. Until then, everyone I knew thought Che Guevara was a dish. Suddenly, I began to realise that issues of equality were perhaps in conflict with my father's party politics.
"There were some pretty tearful phone calls home. Every Saturday my parents would be watching TV, waiting to see me carted off from another march. I gatecrashed a speech my father made to the Oxford Union about Northern Ireland, and questioned him about strip searches. But he never gave any hint that I was causing him political embarrassment. I never even thought about it.
"When the disability row broke out, I made no pretence of my anger and disappointment. I had a job to do. But where's the point in letting political differences interfere with your relationships? I'm never going to get him to leave the Conservative Party, so why let it get to you?"
Johnny Yeo (above), 25, a portrait painter, is the son of Tim Yeo, MP for Suffolk South (below). As environment minister in January 1994, Tim Yeo was revealed to have fathered a Tory councillor's baby. Johnny was suffering from cancer at the time; his younger sister was recovering from a brain haemorrhage.
"I quickly got bored of politics. After the first election, when I was 12, I didn't do any more of that 'pose as the MP's son' kind of thing. He was very good about it - he didn't use us in the way I think other MPs use their families. And there was never any lecture about how to behave so as not to disgrace Dad. But when I was in my late teens and obviously experimenting with drugs, I really felt a pressure not to get caught.
"When the scandal broke, we were hounded by the press. I felt sorry for Dad: the coverage was so one-sided and he was horribly pilloried. Having said that, politicians, expose themselves to that, so they have to expect it.
"We knew about the affair before it broke. It had been such an odd year - I had been so ill with cancer, it all seemed unreal. The scandal went on for weeks No one can imagine what it was like. I went downstairs at one point, weeks after it broke, to help my Mum in with some groceries, and suddenly 70 or so journalists came pouring round the corner with cameras and a film crew, shouting out the most unbelievably hurtful things. You never forget about that.
"I think people think I've had it easy, which is the most irritating thing of all. Yes, it helped to invite his rich friends to my early exhibitions - I bumped into Peter Bottomley at one of my Dad's parties, and he asked me to paint Virginia. But, on balance, it's been slightly unhelpful. Artists are meant to be bohemian and starving, if they're to be taken seriously.
"Everyone has views about politicians, so you are aware that everyone will react differently to the news of who your father is. I've learnt never to volunteer the information. Even now, at dinner parties, people will attack me quite arbitrarily for it."
David Prescott (above), 25, a journalist, shares a flat with his father, John Prescott (below), deputy leader of the Labour Party since 1994 and MP for Hull East since 1970.
"I knew he was different, because my earliest memory of him, when I was four or five, is him on the the TV. I knew he liked celery, so I went and got some from the fridge, and tried to feed it into his mouth on the telly.
"You used to get called names at school - 'What does MP stand for? Mucky Pig' - that sort of thing, but no worse than being called chubby, or thin, or whatever. And it was funny when you got the election stuff through the post, and there was this picture of you and your family. All your mates would take the mickey.
"John missed us growing up, and I didn't always understand that at the time, but looking back it was obviously for the greater good. There's a phase all politicians' children go through, when you want to rebel and be who you are for yourself, but that's just puberty, and your hormones calm down soon enough.
"The name's quite distinctive, and invariably you get asked if you are related. But being John's son has closed more doors, professionally, than it has opened. It's different for Labour kids - we don't get the patronage you see Tory kids getting on newspapers.
"On my first day at work for a news agency in Leeds, I effectively had to doorstep my own mum. A story was going round that John was having an affair, and the agency was desperate for a quote. Obviously, family comes first, but I knew they were going to be outside the house until they got something. So I got the quote.
"It certainly affects your relationships. You don't know whether a woman is talking to you because you're a nice bloke or because of who your dad is. You can get quite paranoid. There have been times when I was used, but also times when I've been completely wrong.
"I would never put myself in a position where I could disgrace my family. I've been offered coke and other things, but I would never take them.
"The worst thing about being a Labour son, though, is you drink champagne, you drink white wine, you go to the Groucho club - and suddenly everyone's saying you are a ponce.
"And it was very hard when John became deputy leader, and you started getting some old vinegar-tits fashion editor comparing your mum's dress sense with Cherie Blair's.
"Everyone thinks it must be great - you must pull great women, all that. But that's rubbish. On the other hand, I've had Michael Foot and Tony Benn stay at our house. It could've been worse. I could've been David Mellor's son."
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