Cuddly Mo Mowlam becomes truckers' pin-up

Photographs of the Northern Ireland Secretary adorn the cab of many a Geordie's lorry, reports Marie Woolf
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The Independent Online
MO MOWLAM, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has become a national icon for lorry drivers - after remarking that she liked Geordie truckers.

Ms Mowlam, who made her comment in a BBC interview with Michael Parkinson a fortnight ago, has been receiving fan mail from drivers, and the switchboard of the Road Haulage Association, which represents more than 10,000 British truckers, has been jammed with requests for autographed photos of her. "I think she's a very warm person. You can see her behind the counter of a greasy spoon," said one fan. "Mo looks like a trucker's babe should. We love her."

The RHA, overwhelmed by the requests, has asked the Northern Ireland Office for a batch of signed photos. In a letter sent last week, it also invited Ms Mowlam to meet some fans and to test-drive a 44-ton lorry. "It's Mo-mania here," said a spokesman for the RHA. "The only time our members see a minister talking about the haulage industry is when they're criticising us or telling us they are going to put up our taxes or fine us for bringing in stowaways. To have a minister saying she likes truckers is a breath of fresh air."

Most of the photo requests have come from drivers from the Newcastle area, where ministers are not popular at present because of plans to increase road tax for heavy goods vehicles. John Francis, who runs a fleet of 17 lorries outside Newcastle, said Ms Mowlam was "cuddly" and he admired her for her honesty.

The Daily Mail columnist Lynda Lee Potter described Ms Mowlam as looking like an "only slightly effeminate Geordie trucker" in an article in 1997. The paper apologised after learning that she had put on weight because she was recovering from a brain tumour.

In Parkinson's BBC TV interview, he referred to the comments: "There you are putting on weight because of your treatment and some tabloid journalist says you have all the charm of a Geordie trucker." She replied: "I like Geordie truckers."

Her comments have raised Ms Mowlam in popularity in the trucking world alongside the Princess Royal, a qualified haulier, who recently came out top in a survey of drivers about who they most wanted to be their "trucker's mate".

The MP for Redcar is currently working to stop "punishment" attacks in Northern Ireland and to keep the peace process on track. She was unavailable for comment, but an aide said: "I am sure she would be really pleased."

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