Publicity 'butterflies' escape the captivity of bankruptcy

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The Independent Online

Some of Neil Hamilton's more surreal public appearances over the past three years have been at the rear end of a pantomime horse, on the cover of GQ magazine with his modesty protected by a fig leaf, and at last month's Erotica 2004 festival in Manchester as a master of ceremonies.

Some of Neil Hamilton's more surreal public appearances over the past three years have been at the rear end of a pantomime horse, on the cover of GQ magazine with his modesty protected by a fig leaf, and at last month's Erotica 2004 festival in Manchester as a master of ceremonies.

But on the stroke of midnight yesterday the former Tory MP was finally able to put behind him such humiliations. The hour marked the discharge of his bankruptcy, bringing to an end a three-year period during which he could obtain no credit above £250 and was compelled to pay all income above "reasonable domestic needs" to the official receiver.

Bankruptcy has not been easy for a man once tipped for great things in the Conservative party. Mr Hamilton's wife, Christine, revealed that her best recent holidays had been in Cornwall: a fact of life "when your husband is bankrupt and you are freelance". But release from the receiver's grasp has apparently put an end to that kind of abstinence already. "The bankruptcy term is over and they are out of the country," a family friend said yesterday.

Mr Hamilton, unable to undertake legal or political work, was forced to resort to less serious lines of work during his period of bankruptcy. His Manchester Erotica appearance, carrying a woman in pink underwear on his shoulders, confirmed how far he had travelled since his days as a trade minister. "It's dirty work but somebody's got to do it," he said.

That was the nearest the former Tatton MP has come to recognising his descent into parody, although the appearance was nothing compared to advertisements for the VH1 television channel's Valentine's Love-In programme, which featured him and his wife kissing at the cinema.

The period of bankruptcy was imposed at Macclesfield County Court after Mr Hamilton's failed libel action and subsequent appeal against the Harrods boss Mohammed Fayed left him with debts rumoured to total £3m.

It enabled the receiver to acquire the Old Rectory, the Hamilton residence in the Cheshire hamlet of Nether Alderley, which bears the Latin inscription Deus nobis haec otia fecit (God made for us this life of ease) above the door.

The couple held on to the place for three years as they struggled to find a selling price acceptable to the receiver, but when it finally went for £1.25m last year they turned to their bolthole, the Battersea flat that Mrs Hamilton has owned since 1961.

While Mr Hamilton has faced financial constraints, his wife's earning power has soared as she has established herself as the star of their bizarre media machine. A toe-curling appearance on the BBC's Have I Got News For You established the couple's utter lack of sense of how they appear to others. Greater humiliation followed on Who Wants to be a Celebrity Millionaire, but then Mrs Hamilton discovered an unexpected reality television niche, winning millions of unexpected votes during an extended stay in I'm a Celebrity ­ Get Me Out of Here! two years ago.

Her television appearances are sporadic but she is milking them for all they are worth. "I've been very busy recently commenting on the third series of I'm a Celebrity," she says on her website. "People often ask me how I describe myself now ­ to which I say 'media butterfly ... if it is legal, honest and faintly decent I am up for it'!"

Whenever possible Mr Hamilton doubles up with her, from the back of the panto horse to his book Neil Hamilton's Great Political Eccentrics, a sequel to his wife's Book of British Battleaxes.

How much he has earned in the past three years is difficult to establish, since details of any payments from him to the receiver are not in the public domain.

Erotica industry insiders suggested yesterday that someone "not particularly famous" such as Mr Hamilton might earn £3,000 for cutting a ribbon. His share of the pantomime proceeds may have been £6,000, but GQ indicated that its cover stars are not paid.

Mrs Hamilton's website suggests hers is no mean income. "As the solvent family breadwinner, I could have arranged to buy Neil's half [of the Old Rectory] had we wanted to stay," she says.

But their "forthcoming appearances" list suggests the diary is not packed. The single up and coming item is an appearance on Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen. "Neil and I ... are not taking part in the programme ­ just enjoying the food on that one evening!" Mrs Hamilton says on the website.

There was also a warning from the Bankruptcy Advice Centre last night that Mr Hamilton's discharge may not be the end of his penury.

"If you want to apply for more than £500 credit you have to tell the bank you have been a bankrupt and that usually means they won't let you have it," said the centre's Phil Stone.

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