Nigel Evans not guilty: Profile of MP who rose to the top – despite warning over friendships with young colleagues

The former deputy speaker's sexuality was an open secret in Westminister

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The Independent Online

Speaking at a Christmas party following his decision to come out as gay, Nigel Evans delighted his many admirers in the House of Commons and the media.

Taking a swipe at the MPs expenses watchdog IPSA he quipped: “The moment they said I couldn't claim for a closet, I had no choice.”

It had been a long journey for the Swansea-born politician who liked to joke that not only was he isolated by his sexuality growing up in 1960s working class South Wales but also his politics – the only gay Tory in the principality.

Read more: Nigel Evans cleared of rape

His decision to speak publicly of his homosexuality, becoming the Commons’ 22nd MP to do so was widely welcomed across the political spectrum, although it was only his boss David Cameron who was said to be actually surprised by the 50-something bachelor’s announcement.

It had not been an easy decision having harboured the truth even from his parents since his early teenage years, he was later to remark.

In the newspaper article in 2010 Mr Evans said he wished to set the record straight and reveal his “anguished soul” after being threatened with exposure by an unnamed Labour MP. “I could not afford it to be used as leverage against me. I couldn't take the risk. I don't want any other MP to face that kind of nastiness again,” he said.

He told the Mail on Sunday that a chance conversation with constituent Coronation Street’s Vicky Entwhistle, who accompanied him to court during his recent trail, persuaded him that it was OK to share his secret, and that he had also chatted with gay Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas.

The founding member of ParliOut, an organisation set up to promote sexual tolerance in Westminster, also expressed regret over his support for the notorious Section 28 legislation which prevented schools teaching about homosexual lifestyles.

But it emerged during the five weeks of evidence at Preston Crown Court that a public self-outing had been suggested by party officials including then Opposition Chief Whip Patrick McLoughlin the previous year following complaints by a junior Westminster worker who alleged he had been sexually assaulted by the MP.

Despite his sexuality being an open secret in Westminister and top level concern over his drinking and fraternisation with young members of staff, he went on to be voted deputy speaker following the 2010 general election. The victory offered a promising new direction to a career which had stalled after he found himself outside the shadow cabinet under Michael Howard after previously serving as front bench spokesman for Wales.

As early as 2001 he had been talked about as a possible successor to William Hague. The ambitious Tory whose family run the Evans the News convenience store on a council estate in Swansea, had enjoyed his first taste of politics serving on the West Glamorgan County Council rising to become deputy group leader.

But his party’s toxic electoral status in Wales resulted in him losing in his bid for a Westminster seat in 1987 and 1989. This was followed by a crushing defeat in a Ribble Valley by-election in 1991 where he squandered an 18,000 majority inherited from his predecessor. Yet he managed to win at the general election the following year rapidly advancing through the junior ranks before joining the shadow cabinet under Ian Duncan Smith.