Simon Fanshawe feels for Michael Portillo. He too has been dogged by vile rumours
All my public life I have been the victim of slurs, stories that I am sure many people took for the truth. Ugly rumours have dogged me throughout my career. There have been photographers who have claimed that I was seen in “straight” night clubs. There have been people who said that they saw me in Mothercare. Others who have claimed that I was uneasy discussing interior decoration or facial treatments. That I have, in late night conversations, expressed trenchant, pro-marriage opinions.
That when I was at Sussex University, I spent time socialising with women and was not the dashing, handsome, attractive, flamboyant, full-lipped, sexually ambiguous Flashman character that I appear today. Instead, that I was dull, unattractive and destined for a career in engineering. In other words, it has been suggested that I was of the man-on-top-get-it-over-with-quick, marrying kind.
These suggestions were vile untruths which I have been prepared to go to court to challenge. Have I ever slept with a woman? Well, I will say what I want to say. I had some heterosexual experiences as a young person. But I want to make it perfectly clear that all the time I have been in public life there has been nothing of that sort whatsoever. No women. None at all. Not even a close and prominent colleague who has been the victim of a similar whispering campaign.
Why have I been dogged by these stories, you ask? I think that they became so widespread because people set out to pass around the most damaging stories about me that they could think of. The fact that they were true makes the rumours no less vicious. They were unfounded slurs on my character, even though they were based on fact and I never told you all about them before. They were rumours because I did not come clean about them. Of course they happened, but that’s no reason for people to go round making them up.
Now is the time for truth. You may say that telling the truth is an absolute, that there is no right time and wrong time. But, believe me, if you had seen the state of the Labour party in the early Seventies, when being straight was as close to being on the management of the National Coal Board as you could get, saying I was having “experiences” with women would have been tantamount to hanging up my Save The Whale badge, packing away my dungarees, starting to eat meat again, getting off the dole and acquiring a job. I couldn’t even have got elected to the parish council, let alone fulfil my historic destiny as a radical gay comedian.
We live in more tolerant times now, times in which people are perfectly able to cope with double standards and lying about one’s past. People understand that now, apart from being on television, getting elected is the only sure sign that one exists. Yes I campaigned for single parents and against marriage but I took the view that heterosexual sex was more traumatic for a young man of 16 than gay sex. It certainly was for me. But coming clean about who I am now – even though I haven’t ever done it again promise, promise, cross my heart and hope to die – even though all my friends went to such great lengths to say that I was never involved with women, shows just how brave I am. Now I am prepared to stand up and fight for my values even though many open heterosexuals risked ridicule for years to make it possible for me for me to be straight with you now.
I know that for decades millions of them have put up with attacks and snide remarks that they were stiff-wristed or too masculine and always wanted to dress in dowdy and unflamboyant clothes. I have no regrets about that. I cannot believe that what happened a generation ago could be big news. After all, there are many married members of the cabinet now and some who, in a moment of madness, have even had children.
I was keen to put to rest the rumours. In my youth I was straight. But I am happily in a relationship with a man. And it’s all behind me now.
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