The young John Major and the older woman

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The Independent Online
Light was yesterday shed on a mysterious corner of John Major's early life with a claim in the magazine Esquire that he had a relationship in his early 20s with a divorced mother of two who was 14 years his senior.

Michael Crick, a senior reporter on Panorama, paints a touching picture of the future Prime Minister befriended by Jean Kierans, a school teacher and "beautiful brunette", who helped groom the young John Major for his rise to Downing Street.

Downing Street yesterday declined to comment on the report which details how John Rennie, a banking colleague of John Major's in Nigeria, accompanied Mr Major home after a car accident smashed his leg, to find the future Prime Minister met by "one of thebest-looking women I have ever seen" - "older than John, dark hair, white skin and extremely refined in manner".

It was, Mr Rennie is quoted as saying,"hand-holding and tender loving care and all of that".

Mrs Kierans had moved in opposite the Majors in Brixton in 1963 when he was about 20 and she 33, the pair forming an instant bond, with Mr Major escaping his cramped flat in which he lived with his mother, sister Pat and her husband, to study for his banking exams at Mrs Kierans' home.

She later told Mr Rennie, according to Esquire, that the couple had "a very worthwhile and satisfactory affair" while, when he met them in 1967, Mr Rennie reported that her children Siobhan, then 12, and Kevin,15, were "obviously devoted" to Mr Major.

At one point, however, when the couple planned a romantic Spanish holiday, Mr Major's mother insisted on going along as a chaperone. All three appeared to have had a good time.

Mr Crick suggests the affair explains the mystery of the registration by Mr Major of 14 Templar Street in Brixton - the home of another friend and where he did not live - as his address for the 1968 council elections.

His family had by then left Brixton, and John Major was living in Mayfair. A local address was needed for him to stand.

He could not, however, use Mrs Kierans' address, despite staying quite frequently with her, for in a tight-knit community disapproving of unmarried couples, it would have advertised "his close relationship with an older woman and divorcee at that", Mr Crick reports.

Not long afterwards, according to Mr Crick, the romance petered out, and by 1970, Mr Major was dating his future wife Norma.

But by providing the confidence and contacts that John Major needed after leaving school at 16 for jobs with no prospects and a spell of unemployment, Mrs Kierans, herself a reasonably active Conservative, "may be more responsible than anyone else for putting an aimless young man on the road to Number 10," Mr Crick suggests.

Mrs Kierans, now 63 and retired, politely refused to talk or discuss the relationship with Mr Crick beyond confirming that she knew Mr Major.

Her daughter Siobhan, now 39, still feels loyal to him, despite having been a peace woman at Greenham Common and voting Labour or Green.

Mr Crick reports a friend as saying that "Jean's still got a soft spot for him".