I was there when they first met – he delighted in showing off, she was the centre of attention

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The Independent Online

The story of Neil Hamilton is the story of Neil and Christine. Everything that happens to one of them happens to both of them.

"We work as a team" has been the constant refrain since Neil showed off his fiancée during the Tory selection process in the Tatton constituency, which he won at the 1983 election.

I think I was present when they first met 12 years earlier. I was with Christine as a fellow York University delegate at the national Conservative student annual conference when we met Neil for the first time. She was loud and vivacious and always the centre of attraction. Neil was a show-off, delighting us with his mimicry of Enoch Powell and Adolf Hitler.

Rumours of a liaison abounded in the early 1970s but somehow Neil let her slip through his fingers and he disappeared from the scene for several years. Christine, meanwhile, had been whisked to the Commons by the maverick Tory MP Sir Gerald Nabarro, where she settled into the role of bossy, Sloaney secretary for a succession of MPs. The relationship with Neil heated up again when he stood for the no-hope seat of Bradford North in 1979. By 1983, things were at full throttle and the pair were a constant item thereafter. That election brought into the Commons several of their friends from student days – all sharing similar views and a collective adoration of Margaret Thatcher.

I usually see the Hamiltons in the social circle of Peter and Gail Lilley, Edward and Mary Leigh, Lord and Lady Forsyth and – until recently – the Portillos. In the heyday of Thatcherism they were her chief courtiers and members of the No Turning Back group, which was social as well as political. Neil could always be relied upon, as court jester, to break the ice when the rest of us were too tongue-tied to answer Mrs Thatcher. Christine, was Neil's parliamentary secretary and an enthusiastic member of the MPs' wives set.

We often only saw the cheeky chappie and the jolly japer in Neil, but Christine was anxious he be recognised for his serious abilities at policy making, writing and speaking in the Commons. While most of his contemporaries became ministers, he continued to languish on the back benches. Christine felt Neil was not being taken seriously enough and did much to promote his cause.

Their personal kindness, even at moments of great stress, knows no bounds. Neil and I are godparents to the Leighs' daughters. A fortnight after the alleged incident in Ilford, I was dining at the Leighs with the Hamiltons. Neil is besotted with his god-daughter and remembers Christmas and birthdays better than me. When I resigned over a tabloid story in 1994, Neil telephoned me while abroad on a ministerial visit. Only last week Michael Portillo told me how guilty he felt when he received a letter from them lamenting his failure in the leadership election. Like many others, he had distanced himself from the Hamiltons after the "cash-for-questions" saga.

When Neil was finally trusted with ministerial office, Christine was delighted and probably imagined herself being promoted to a "cabinet wife". So when it all turned sour, after his resignation in 1994, she was determined to support him in his unwise attempts to seek legal redress. One less besotted, or aware of his flaws, might have talked him out of it.

Most couples would have parted after the traumas they have since endured. But both still adore each other and live for each other. Never was the phrase "for better or for worse" more appropriate.

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