In focus

My uncle was Mary Wilson’s companion – Harold had affairs, yes, but she had her own secret life too…

When news broke this week that Harold Wilson’s closest aides had kept his affair with a colleague secret for 50 years, thoughts turned to his wife. But, says Rowan Pelling, those who knew her never found her long-suffering and she was quite different to the ‘mousy’ wife people thought her to be

Saturday 13 April 2024 06:00 BST
Mary, unlike her husband, was keen to stay away from the chaos of British politics
Mary, unlike her husband, was keen to stay away from the chaos of British politics (Getty)

There are many less glorious epitaphs than the simple yet sincere statement “she made him happier than he had ever been”. This is what the Labour peer Bernard Donoughue said this week of Janet Hewlett-Davies, who was Harold Wilson’s deputy press secretary during his second term as PM and, as we have all just learnt, his lover.

The affair was a closely guarded secret for half a decade until Hewlett-Davies’s boss at Downing Street, Joe Haines, revealed it this week. 

Some may baulk at the idea of a woman in her thirties making an older man happy (Wilson was 22 years Hewlett-Davies’ senior), but I’m with Donoughue, who told me shortly after the story broke that he believed giving someone else happiness is “a human value and asset, not to be discounted as worthless”.  

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