Michael Brown: Their saga has moved from tragedy to farce

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The Independent Online

I knew Christine Hamilton long before she married Neil, when we were students at York. She was vivacious, attractive, loud and bossy and was destined for the high life of politics the moment she caught the eye of Sir Gerald Nabarro MP and he whisked her off to London to be his secretary.

Neil appeared on our radar at student Conservative conferences and was a hit with us as a comic and a mimic. He threw his cap at Christine who kept him waiting for 12 years before agreeing to marry him during the election campaign in 1983 when he first stood for Tatton. "We work as a team," he told the selection committee and, from the day they were married they have been – and will remain – inseparable.

They were the life and soul of every party. Neil had a flair and personal loyalty that made him a chief courtier during Margaret Thatcher's finest hours. He was one of the best Commons speakers I have ever known and it was his wit and humour which secured his place in the junior ranks of John Major's government. But this humour would sometimes get the better of him, especially when he overdid his Hitler or Enoch Powell impersonations. It was a talent which would later land him in some trouble when he was filmed by Panorama doing the Sieg Heil salute. But Neil was never a Nazi, just a bit of a narcissist.

The Hamilton saga has moved from success to tragedy to farce. But their resilience in adversity knows no bounds. And their continuing personal kindnesses to others facing disaster have been over-looked. Only a fortnight ago, Michael Portillo received a letter from them lamenting his failure in the leadership campaign. Like most of us, Mr Portillo has had few dealings with them since 1997. "I felt so guilty when I heard from them," he told me last week.