In the news: Edwina Currie: No regrets over career scrambled by eggs

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The Independent Online
EDWINA CURRIE had eggs for breakfast yesterday "as a slightly defiant gesture". She also considered having a glass of champagne, but rejected the idea - presumably because she knew the day would be frantically busy.

Nearly 10 years on, salmonella in eggs was back. Or to be more precise it never went away. New Scientist reported this week that one in 650 eggs still contained the disease.

So, while preparing for her late-night Radio Five show and dashing off another chapter of her latest novel, the former junior health minister enjoyed a blast from the past.

The sudden media interest took her back to her two years as a health minister, she said, "except I haven't got a huge press office to back me up". Instead, she navigated her own way through an interview with Radio 4's Today programme, Jimmy Young's Radio 2 chat show and a host of calls from the media.

In December 1988, Mrs Currie caused a furore by announcing that "most of the egg production in this country is affected by salmonella". Sales dropped by 10 per cent and many egg producers went out of business. So did Edwina, who was forced to resign. In the wake of the episode, 2 million chickens were slaughtered. So did she regret speaking out all those years ago? After all, she might have made Cabinet status if she had kept her mouth shut, and the effect might have been no different. There were around 32,000 salmonella cases in 1997 compared with 27,000 in 1988, though the figures may not be entirely comparable. Mrs Currie stood by her words, though: "I can look at myself in the mirror most mornings, and I thank God I can. In the end, you have to deal with yourself."

And after all, she did not remain in the shadows for long. Even before she lost her Derbyshire South seat she continued to make headlines. She backed Michael Heseltine against Margaret Thatcher in 1990, turned down John Major's offer of a Home Office job in 1992, wrote a bonkbuster novel about Westminster life in 1993 and launched a bid to lower the homosexual age of consent to 16 in 1994.

Some people might have thought they had heard the last of her when she lost her seat in 1997 but they were wrong. Four months later she was back, with a new book, She's Leaving Home, and an announcement that she and her husband Ray were to separate after 25 years of marriage.

Now she hosts a Saturday and Sunday night show on Radio Five, Late Night Currie, and is finishing another book, though she coyly refused to give details yesterday.

The BBC insisted she say goodbye to her political career, at least for now. A Europhile, she had entertained thoughts of becoming an MEP. In any case, she said yesterday, her views would have hindered her selection in the anti-European Conservative Party and the prospect of serving about 5 million constituents did not appeal. "I would be sitting in some committee room somewhere listening to some Belgian droning on and thinking I could be doing six hours of broadcasting and getting paid for it, or writing chapter 14. I am grateful that I had 14 years in Parliament and I have always been grateful for all the opportunities I've had in my life," she said.

FLIGHT OF FANCY

Edwina Currie first made headlines at the 1981 Tory conference when she brandished a pair of handcuffs at Willie Whitelaw, then Home Secretary. The then arts minister, Lord Gowrie, was reported to have experienced "a bat's squeak of desire".

TIMELY TIPS

On how the old could avoid hypothermia: "Wear woolly hats and long johns." On how businessmen could guard against Aids when travelling abroad: "Take the wife." On how young women could avoid cervical cancer: "Don't screw around."

SECOND THOUGHTS

In January, four months after announcing her marriage split, she said: "If I had the chance, I would marry Ray all over again ... Ray and I now have a very good relationship, mostly because the fighting has stopped."

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