'It's like being Guy the gorilla': Curtains drawn against 'The Sun', David Mellor endures the first day of the rest of his life

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The Independent Online
THE CURTAINS are drawn. On a sunny day in his tidy terraced house in Putney, the artifical light lends an air of unreality. David Mellor is using up his modest daily ration of four cigarettes rather earlier than usual. But otherwise life is normal.

On the first day of the rest of his life, Mr Mellor is still fending off intrusion by press photographers. 'It's like being Guy the gorilla,' he says. He frets about whether the photographers will go away if he poses for just one picture outside.

Aptly perhaps, among the books and papers cluttered on the floor of the living room, housing hundreds of Mr Mellor's famous 2,000 CDs, there is a copy of The Barbarians at the Gate by Bryan Burrough.

The smiling and indefatigable Judith Mellor puts coffee on the table before going out shopping. The doorbell rings, first with a large consolatory bouquet of flowers, secondly with Anthony, the Mellors' 12-year-old son. His father asks him calmly to make himself a drink and change into a blazer for the afternoon's trip to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea.

Mr Mellor has nothing but praise for John Major. Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the Tory 1922 committee - 'very helpful thoughout' - had finally made it clear that, while Tory MPs had every confidence in his ability, the publicity had gone too far. By that time he had warned Mr Major that he thought his time was up.

Had the Prime Minister tried to persuade him to stay during the 7.30am phone call last Thursday?

'I think he was very reluctant to see me go. He felt all along that what was being said was unfair. He knew that I deeply regretted the de Sancha episode, and the embarrassment that had caused, but he didn't think it was something that should have caused me to resign.' He adds: 'Our friendship hasn't been destroyed by this. Of course not.' It had been 'typical' of Mr Major that he walked through the lobby with him during the division on Thursday evening to show his support. But his continued support 'was not just an old pals act, it was also the view of Norman Fowler and senior Cabinet colleagues throughout that I should stay'.

He still largely blames the tabloid press for cutting off his Cabinet career, although he remarked 'I have no criticism of the way most journalists carry out their function'.

But he is highly critical of the bugging of telephones, or the buying of bugged and taped calls, along with a catalogue of other perceived abuses: 'the purchasing of revelations known to have been spiced up to make them more saleable, or the watching and besetting of my house - which continues even now - and of the homes of elderly relatives. All this amounts to an alternative justice system far more remorseless than the real thing and bound by no concepts of fair play or decency.

'I don't think anyone can have any idea how offensive it is for friends of mine to be rung up and told that there is money available if they are prepared to give any information. The fact (is) that we have to sit here with the curtains drawn to avoid further intrusion. What more do they now want? After all, I've resigned.'

But hadn't the Tories thrived on the use of the very tabloids he was now condemning? 'I suppose 'those who live by the tabloids die by the tabloids' has a ring about it. But that's for others to decide. If people decide to set aside any criticism I may make of Conservative newspapers because I was perfectly happy for them to support the Conservative Party when it suited me, then fair enough.'

He had been 'touched and moved' by what leading figures in the arts, sport and heritage had said. 'Contrary to what has been said in some tabloids, for which no allegation is too vile, I did not become a figure of fun as far as these people were concerned. Right up to the last minute.'

So what about the more substantial allegations that he had accepted free air tickets and holidays? Did he regret it?

'No I do not, but I accept others may take a different view. That's life. I think as one or two people have made clear . . . there's been quite a lot of cant about that. I mean this is just a convenient stick with which to beat me. It was the unfortunate conjunction of the Antonia de Sancha revelations and the trial which had been hanging around for two years coming at the same point . . . if it hadn't been for the trial, I think they would have found it difficult (to find) the ammunition with which to prise me out.'

Could it be that the de Sancha revelations had been the result of a set-up: 'Well, it would be interesting if anyone could prove that, but I can't really comment on all that - though as Henry Kissinger once remarked, even paranoids have enemies. I am anxious not to be paranoiac about all this.

'I think that (in) conducting that relationship I was reckless, and the author of my own misfortunes. I made it clear in the House that I take full responsibility for that.

'I do not go in bitterness. I have some observations about the circumstances and certainly views about the fairness of a lot of what has been done, but I am not wallowing in a pit of bitterness thinking that everyone is at fault rather than me.'

Mr Mellor said he had 'no plans' to seek a return to the Cabinet. But he would 'definitely' remain as an MP. He was not against MPs having other financial interests 'and, even as we speak, it's perfectly clear that there are people who may want me to do things. But we shall have to wait and see about that.'

Yes, he was off to watch Chelsea as usual. 'I'm not going to change the course of my life. What I like doing I like doing. I don't do it for effect as an adjunct of being a Cabinet minister.

'I shall have more time for my friends and my interests. I shall pursue them with vigour. I am someone who loves life and loves the things I'm able to do. And, of course, as has been made abundantly clear to me, particularly since my resignation, there are a whole lot of people who respect me and like me and want to be with me and want me to get involved with things. And that's what I'm going to do.'

A chap has to go, page 4

Leading article, page 24

(Photograph omitted)