When Britain’s new First Family are handed the keys to the flat above Downing Street this week, we can only hope the cleaners have been warned about the chaos that could ensue.
Whether they’ll take the flat at Number 10 or 11 is yet to be confirmed (No 10 is the tradition, but many PMs with families have opted for the more spacious flat at No 11), but either way, after the modest, unflashy calm of the Sunaks and the newborn and toddler mayhem of the the Johnsons, the teenage “madhouse” that is the Truss household might take some getting used to.
“Clothes everywhere”, “kids running with pancake pans”, and “like a bomb has gone off” are just some of the phrases one close friend of our new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, 47, has used to describe the state of her family home with her husband, Hugh O’Leary, 48, and their two daughters Frances, 16, and Liberty, 13.
Until now, the family are believed to have split their time between their London pad, a white terraced house just around the corner from business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in Greenwich, and their constituency home, a £250,000, three-bedroom house in the market town of Thetford in Norfolk. Unsurprisingly, Frances and Liberty are said to be excited and intrigued by the idea of a new life behind Britain’s most famous front door. “My younger daughter keeps asking would she be able to have sleepovers if I get into No 10,” Truss joked before she was elected.
Less is known about O’Leary’s true feelings on suddenly being thrust into the spotlight. The London School of Economics (LSE) graduate and chartered accountant was seen cheerfully patting his wife on the shoulder when she was announced as Prime Minister this morning, one of his first appearances since the leadership race began. But were there nerves mixed in? And what exactly do we know about him and the daughters set to grow up under the spotlight of Downing Street?
Compared to many political spouses and offspring, very little. Unlike Boris and Carrie Johnson, the new PM and her husband have kept public appearances to a minimum so far, with commentators questioning how much we’ll actually see of the man behind our country’s new leader. Staffers say O’Leary is “just lovely” and makes a “great team” with Truss behind-the-scenes. “Both are keen cooks and very good cooks,” says close friend and cookery writer Mallika Basu. “She does lovely roasts, he does a good curry.”
The father-of-two is said to be preparing to take a more visible role as his wife’s public profile increases, but some who’ve met him are less convinced, describing O’Leary as an “earnest”, “quiet”, Philip May-type character, perhaps even less comfortable in the limelight than May was.
“He was very unassuming... he didn’t look like he wanted to be there,” says one of Truss’s constituents, who attended a private jubilee garden party with the PM and her husband last year.
Of the few facts we do know about O’Leary: that he grew up in Liverpool before his family moved to the Wirral; that he studied econometrics and mathematical economics at LSE; and that he attempted his own political career before turning to accountancy (he stood unsuccessfully as a Tory candidate in the local council elections in 2002 and still often canvasses with the Tories in Greenwich).
He and Truss met at the Tory Party Conference in 1997 and married in 2000, and the couple seem to have patched things up following her now-public affair with married former Tory MP Mark Field between 2004 and 2005.
The new PM keeps their relationship private, though. Despite Truss’s (very active) Instagram account, there are more pictures of the new leader with Westminster’s cats than there are with her husband (good news for Larry the Cat at Number 10).
Just one of her 47-plus posts features O’Leary: “Love of my life,” was the simple caption on a picture of the couple posing together in glammed-up evening attire at Blagdon Hall, in Northumberland, on Valentine’s Day in 2019.
Little is known about O’Leary beyond that photo and basic facts, but this week a former neighbour described him as “much more serious” than his two younger siblings growing up, adding that he was “very earnest and very quiet but a lovely boy”. Others have called him “dry-witted” and say he has been happy to take a back seat in the leadership race, preferring to stay at home as a house-husband.
Truss, meanwhile, was never going to be a politician who wanted to take a back seat. Her politically active parents, John and Priscilla Truss, raised the PM and her siblings on a diet of “left of Labour” politics. tThey attended anti-Thatcher protests and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marches - so much so that then-Lib Dem Truss would go on to tell her peers at Oxford University of her ambition to be PM. She graduated in 1996 and switched from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives, much to the dismay of her parents.
Truss’ s parents divorced when she was 28 and have taken very different views on their daughter’s political career since then. Her father, a maths professor in Leeds, is said to be “so appalled” by his daughter’s “conversion to extreme right-wing politics” that it has impacted their relationship, according to his colleagues, while Truss’s mother, a nurse and teacher, has been more supportive. The now-elderly Priscilla Truss was pictured attending a campaign event alongside her daughter in July and Truss says she believes her mother voted for her.
“She’d agonised over whether to support her because she was her daughter, or not to support her because she was a Tory. In the end, she decided that family ties should win out,” a former neighbour recalls of Priscilla’s dilemma over whether to support her daughter after the divorce.
Much less is known about Truss’s three younger brothers, Chris, Patrick and Francis, aside from a comment by Francis to Radio 4 that his sister “had to win” board games growing up. But Truss and O’Leary’s daughters, Frances and Liberty, have been an increasing feature of the PM’s media interviews.
“Frances is maybe a bit more centrist, and Liberty is maybe slightly more Conservative, but they are both very supportive of me,” Truss recently said of the teenagers, who reportedly attend selective state schools, presumably in London, and are keen to advise their mother with her political campaign.
While her idol Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol was known for complaining she felt neglected, the new PM says she has involved her daughters in her job since they were babies “so they’ve been brought up on politics”. She describes the teenagers as her “friends” and her “unpaid therapists” and insists she “pretty much tell[s] them everything”.
Liberty has apparently been “giving general political advice” and has long been acting as her unofficial fashion guru (Truss says the 13-year-old is “very into the idea of a pop of colour”, introducing her to shops like New Look and River Island), while her older daughter, Frances, is helping with her digital campaign.
“[Frances has] done a computing GCSE so she’s helping out on that”, Truss said in July. Could the 16-year-old be the brains behind the Tory leader’s stepped-up Instagram efforts? And could a Downing Street TikTok page be coming soon?
Either way, one thing seems certain: the girls are clearly keen to keep their own lives (and faces) out of the political spotlight, for now. Truss has been careful to only ever share pictures of their birthday cakes or the backs of their heads on her Instagram page, and the only picture that did show their faces (taken at the Commonwealth Games last month, on what the MailOnline called a “family day out”) was promptly removed from the internet after a legal warning confirming that Truss “objects to the publication of her teenage daughters”. Will that change when the family pose for a Blair-style photo on Downing Street steps — or will that fierce protection of their rights to privacy continue now she’s in office?
Liz Truss - In pictures
Truss’s refusal to share details about her private life might seem at odds with her very public Instagram persona, but it is likely the Field affair had something to do with it. Field and his wife divorced over the incident, with friends of his claiming Truss “gave the impression they were going to run off into the sunset together”.
But Truss and her husband chose to stay together and have remained fiercely tight-lipped over the affair ever since. In 2006, he told reporters, “I don’t want to talk,” and she has since told interviewers that she is “really happily married”, preferring to recount stories about their first date in which she invited him ice skating and he sprained his ankle.
Since then, the the couple has presented a united front who are devoted to their daughters. “They are a great team,” says Basu. Thursday night is reportedly pizza night in the Truss household and Truss is said to cook the family Mexican, Chinese and Sichuan food. She recently revealed they hosted a “family Come Dine With Me thing” over lockdown, too. So can her husband and children expect the same treatment as Thatcher’s husband Denis, whose wife was known for rushing up to the Number 10 flat to cook for her husband in the evenings?
Probably not, if recent months are to go by. “I do enjoy cooking as a way of relaxing but I haven’t been doing very much of it recently, to be honest,” Truss said in July. She says he’s “incredibly supportive” when it comes to childcare, working from home as a house-husband alongside nannies and au pairs, and taking the girls to Disney World in Florida without her this summer while she focused on her leadership bid. Insiders expect him to take more of a behind-the-scenes role as Britain’s new first gentleman, with Truss joking that their shared love of economics “means whenever I want a late-night discussion about supply-side reform, there’s always someone on hand”.
Truss’s Instagram paints a picture of a wholesome family life split between London and Norfolk, baking pastries, walking along Brancaster, Hunstanton, and Holkham beaches, and checking into greasy spoons for an English fry-up, though locals tell a different story.
“We don’t see her around here much at all - the only time we know she’s been is when there’s a picture of her in the local paper,” a Lib Dem councillor and Scout leader in Truss’s constituency told the Evening Standard last week. “Most people I speak to are just worried we’ll see even less of her [now she’s elected], to be honest. Her constituency work doesn’t seem to be a priority for her.”
Many in the area agree. Graham*, a finance exec living with his Tory-voting husband in Downham Market close to Truss’s home, says there was a “collective groan” when Truss made a recent speech about how brilliant it would be to see a Norfolk MP in Downing Street. “She’s not somebody we’ve seen walking through town or out shopping, like other MPs do. She already forgets us, she doesn’t know us, and now she’ll never know us.”
Graham says the Truss’s Thetford home always looks “like nobody lives there” when he goes past, though some locals suggest her mother, Priscilla, stays there occasionally. Will she and her ex-husband be forced to take on greater grandparents’ duties now their daughter is in office? Friends and family say the wider Truss family are still close, despite their political divisions, while those who know Truss and O’Leary describe them as a “very tight family” with Christian values, who like to relax in front of TV dramas, including Line of Duty, Game of Thrones and The Bridge.
As she was with her brothers growing up, Truss clearly remains the most competitive family member today. “I was in favour of having scorecards but I’m afraid the rest of them weren’t,” the new PM recently admitted of their lockdown Come Dine With Me competition. Out with the Sunaks’s Peloton bike and in with the baking tins, then. Let the Truss era at Number 10 (or 11!) begin.