UK Politics

Profile: Sally Bercow

Sally Bercow
Image caption Sally Bercow - at an earlier court hearing - says she 'regrets' sending the tweet

The spouse of a House of Commons Speaker is not normally a public figure, let alone a minor celebrity.

But there has never been a Speaker's spouse like Sally Bercow.

Whether posing in a bed-sheet in front of Parliament, appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, being pictured in the tabloids on a raucous night out or sending provocative comments to thousands of followers on her now defunct Twitter account, Mrs Bercow has rarely been out of the headlines.

Her husband John holds one of the most important jobs in the Houses of Parliament - keeping MPs in order and deciding who gets to speak in debates.

A former Conservative MP, he is meant to be politically neutral.

His wife's vocal support for the Labour Party has been an occasional source of tension with Tory MPs, some of whom have never hidden their dislike of the couple and are convinced the Speaker's neutrality has been compromised.

She has also faced criticism that her love of the limelight has undermined the dignity of his office.

'Not my chattel'

Mrs Bercow has always insisted she is her own woman and her husband's job will not prevent her from speaking her mind.

Her husband has also defended his wife's right to express herself, once telling reporters: "The obligation of impartiality does not apply to my wife who is not my chattel."

The daughter of a builder's merchant, Sally Bercow was born in Sutton, Surrey, in 1969.

When her father, Ronald Ilman, died, she used her inheritance to pay her own way through exclusive private school Marlborough College, in Wiltshire, but later claimed she never fitted in with her well-heeled classmates.

She dropped out of Oxford University after two years and embarked on a career in public relations in the City of London, and then in advertising.

They were, by her own account, wild years.


She has confessed to a drink problem, telling one reporter: "I had no stop button."

"I was an argumentative drunk, picking arguments with my bosses over stupid things. Plus, I'd lose my judgement and put myself in danger... I'd get into unlicensed minicabs in the early hours. All the things we'd tell our daughters not to do."

Image caption Mrs Bercow was the first to be evicted from Celebrity Big Brother

She has also confessed to having had a number of alcohol-fuelled flings: "It was all very ladette - work hard, play hard."

She first met John Bercow at an Oxford University Conservative Party event in 1989 - she defected to New Labour in 2007 - but they did not marry until 2002, by which time he was MP for Buckingham.

She put her drink-fuelled years behind her but not her ambitions to get into politics, standing unsuccessfully for Labour in the St James Ward of Westminster City Council in the 2010 local elections.

The Bercows, who live in a large grace-and-favour apartment in the Palace of Westminster, known as Speaker's House, have three children, one of whom is autistic. She is a patron of the Ambitious for Autism charity.

In February 2011, she shocked the Westminster establishment by telling the London Evening Standard Mr Bercow had become more sexually attractive since becoming Commons Speaker.

Celebrity Big Brother

Pictured wearing only a sheet, Mrs Bercow said it was "sexy" living in an official residence near Big Ben and that power was an "aphrodisiac".

But the reaction to that interview was nothing compared to the storm of criticism a few months later when it was revealed she was to be a contestant in Celebrity Big Brother - in defiance of the wishes of husband John.

Image caption John Bercow has always defended his wife's right to express herself

She admitted John did not want her to take part in the show but she said had she wanted to raise money for the autism charity and "stick two fingers up to the establishment".

She was the first to be evicted, after being nominated by fellow housemate, former pop star Kerry Katona.

"A lot of people didn't want me to go in because it's not something that 'The Speaker's Wife' does," she told Big Brother presenter Brian Dowling, but she had no regrets and raised £100,000 for charity.

By now more than 50,000 people were following Mrs Bercow on Twitter, which proved the perfect medium for someone with opinions to spare.

Libel judgement

But in November 2012, she was forced to suspend her account when she sent a message - "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*" - at the height of speculation about the identity of a former Tory politician who had been, wrongly as it turned out, linked to child abuse.

A few weeks later, she found herself in hot water again when she named the alleged victim in a child abduction court case, whose identity is legally protected.

When her mistake was pointed out, she said: "Apparently, I shouldn't have tweeted that. You need a law degree to be on Twitter nowadays. It's ridiculous."

Now she is facing a damages bill after losing a libel battle with Lord McAlpine over the "innocent face" message.

She was not in the High Court court to hear the judgement. She said in a statement that she regretted her tweet but was "disappointed" by the ruling.

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