The sad reality of putting yourself in the public eye

Watching Sally Bercow's affair with her husband's cousin get exposed by the press has made for painful viewing

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The Independent Online

Poor Sally Bercow. Poor John Bercow. Poor us for knowing about them. I’m not denying the pain also felt by John’s cousin Alan, or particularly his wife, Erica, but this rather tawdry story of adultery and betrayal would never have reached the voyeuristic gaze of the public had it not been for the fact that the Bercows had already stepped forward and identified themselves as willing participants in a reality-based soap opera.

For those who don’t know, Sally Bercow has been having an affair with Alan Bercow for more than a year. Reportedly, their romance developed over “a mutual appreciation of fine wine”. We shouldn’t be too hard on them. Which of us hasn’t got into trouble over “a mutual appreciation” of strong drink? It was our shared interest in Long Island Iced Tea which did the trick. Love sometimes blossoms in the most unlikely environments, but, for many, licensed premises can play a significant part.

No matter. This is a very real, human drama, and anyone with a heart who saw the front page of The Sun yesterday couldn’t fail to look beyond the headlines to see a personal calamity that was almost too much to bear. There was Sally on the brink of tears, unkempt, her face contorted with anguish, looking every bit like a grief-stricken victim of a natural disaster. Which, in some ways she is, even if it is a catastrophe largely of her own making.

There will be those who have no sympathy for Mrs Bercow. As wife of the Leader of the House of Commons, she might have been expected to lead a private life concomitant with the spouse of a senior political figure: instead, she has sought the fame that is on offer these days for anyone willing to get on the media travelator. If she’s happy to pose in a salacious manner for a magazine wearing nothing but a bedsheet, she can hardly complain when newspapers take an interest in what else she does in the bedsheets.

So now, estranged from husband and with her lover high-tailing back to his own wife, she is left with only her crutches for support (she broke a leg while skiing).

The Speaker, uncharacteristically, is lost for words, or at least is preserving his dignity. He is not the most popular man at Westminster, and many Tories, who believe him to be a secret Labour sympathiser, would prefer it if someone else held the post. But now, against this background of personal strife, who would be so heartless as to launch a putsch against the Speaker?

More important is what will become of sad Sally, now skewered by a media who once embraced her flirtatiousness and plain-speaking? Through the pages of the tabloids, she’s been trading insults with the wife of her ex-lover. It’s a grubby, depressing story of the modern world.

Watching Mrs Bercow dissemble in full view is rather like seeing someone fall apart in the celebrity jungle or in the Big Brother house. Is that what the world has become? A great big reality show? Sometimes, when we survey these people on the front pages, it’s difficult to remember that this is  not a plot line, but a story of real, human torment.