Other people’s marriages, eh? Charles and Nigella, Rupert and Wendi, Bill and Hillary, John and Sally. We’ve seen in recent weeks how the intensely private can be paraded for the scrutiny and delectation of a voyeuristic public. As the great man said, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. So it is a pretty futile exercise to try and guess.
Nevertheless, it’s a safe bet to assume that, over the tea and toast, there was tension in the air in the Bercow household last week. In fact Sally Bercow – back on Twitter, like the addict who just needs one more hit before she finally, irrevocably, for sure, for ever, gives up – tweeted that it had indeed been “a tough week for me and J (my fault)”.
As we know, she’d been pictured snogging a man called Clinton Baugh who has been described variously as “a fitness adviser”, “a DJ” and “a professional dancer” at 2am in a London night club. She was wearing a brunette wig, presumably to go incognito, although her appearance with the multi-talented Mr Baugh on the front page of The Sun meant that this plan was not entirely successful.
She’s not only back tweeting – she’s back drinking. Only wine, she insists, but after 10 years on the wagon, she reckons she’s got it all under control.
She told her followers that, after giving up alcohol in 2001, she was now “drinking like a normal person”. Hold on a minute. A normal person? That’s an interesting yardstick. After spending time in Westminster, with its subsidised bars and its captive clientele, Mrs Bercow’s idea of what constitutes normal may be slightly skewed.
Nevertheless, who are we to judge what Mrs Bercow – a private individual who, as she says, married a man called Mr Bercow and not one called Mr Speaker – gets up to in her leisure time? Of course, Sally Bercow can’t have it both ways. Anyone posing in a bedsheet for a magazine wants to catch the public eye and the reverse side of that coin is that it brings unwanted attention. Hence she can’t go out for the night, have a few sherbets and end up in a clinch on a dancefloor without it reaching the tabloid picture desks.
The fact is that, in a world of homogeneity and conformity, Sally Bercow adds to the gaiety of public life and her unapologetic, unabashed reaction to the criticism she gets makes her, to my mind, a very attractive person. “I know I’m deeply unsuited to being the Speaker’s wife,” she told an interviewer last year, “but what am I supposed to do? Divorce the man I love?” And now, following last week’s snog-gate, this 44-year-old mother-of-three said she “couldn’t give a damn what people thought” and that her marriage would outlast attempts to destroy it.
I really hope the Bercow marriage survives. John Bercow may not be the most popular man in the Palace of Westminster, but he has been resolutely supportive to his wife, and indulges both her contradictory (to his) political views and her desire for self-expression. Unlikely though it may seem, John Bercow may just be a feminist icon for our times.