From fears to regrets, an emotional Keir Starmer reveals what drives him

The photo that ‘tells you everything’: Keir Starmer at a Taylor Swift concert with his wife Victoria, who he says brings out the best in him  (Keir Starmer/X)
The photo that ‘tells you everything’: Keir Starmer at a Taylor Swift concert with his wife Victoria, who he says brings out the best in him (Keir Starmer/X)

Keir Starmer has given the most revealing interview yet on his fears for his family, his regrets, and the inner anger that drives him to want to change the country.

The Labour leader has often been accused of being too robotic or lacking passion and personality.

But with Starmer on the cusp of entering No 10, he has given an emotional interview to Geordie Greig, editor-in-chief of The Independent, where tears welled up in his eyes as he expressed his innermost feelings about his life and his family. He addressed:

  • How his wife Victoria is his “rock”

  • How his teenage children fear their lives will dramatically change as he prepares to move the family into Downing Street – and how they “take the p***” out of their father

  • How he decided not to take advice from the Blairs about life in No 10

  • His regrets at never telling his late father he loved him

  • How his mother’s determination to overcome her lifelong ill health fuels his own drive to bring change

  • How he took on homophobic thugs who beat up a gay friend and was beaten up when he intervened

The Labour leader admitted his greatest fear about becoming prime minister is its impact on his children, as he confirmed that, if he wins on 4 July, he will be moving his family into Downing Street.

“It’s been a cause of concern for me about the impact on the kids in particular. I’m not going to pretend that they are not worried about this, because they are. Our girl is 13 and a half, our boy 15, nearly 16. It is very impactful. They’re just sort of exploring their independence, and suddenly, if we get over the line, that is going to be hard.”

Political editor David Maddox and editor-in-chief Geordie Greig interview Keir Starmer (Independent)
Political editor David Maddox and editor-in-chief Geordie Greig interview Keir Starmer (Independent)

He and his wife discussed getting their children to talk to Tony Blair’s children, but decided not to go down that route.

“I did think about it. A lot of people said that would be a good thing to do. Vic and I thought about that, but in the end, I decided that if they talked to previous children who did that and the experience wasn’t good for those children, that might reinforce in our children how big a change it’s going to be. So you never know if you have done the right thing.”

‘We are like two sides of the same coin’

Starmer explained that his relationship with his children is one of the things that keeps him grounded: from the moment he walks through the front door, “the leader of the Labour Party goes down, and it’s Dad who is fair game for them”.

“They tease me about everything. If I’m doing speeches, they say it’s rubbish. They take the p***. Why would anybody listen to me? If I win an award, they say they would have done better. I must have blagged it. Everything, what I wear, what I do, what I watch, my lack of knowledge on the things that are important to them, everything is sort of fair game to them, and I want it to be that way.”

He described a recent picture of himself with his wife Victoria at a Taylor Swift concert as bringing the joy she gives him out into the open.

“She is my rock – we are like two sides of the same coin.

“She is sassy, down to earth, [and gives] brilliant advice. We just bring out the best in each other. She certainly brings out the best in me. That photo tells you everything.”

But it is his family’s struggles when he was young that have shaped him – the snobbery that made his father reclusive; the rare, debilitating disease that his mother battled all her life.

In a rare moment in the election campaign, Starmer’s emotion broke through on one of the televised debates after the audience laughed when he mentioned that his father Rodney was a toolmaker.

Influence: Starmer with his parents, Rodney and Josephine (Starmer family)
Influence: Starmer with his parents, Rodney and Josephine (Starmer family)

He admitted: “I felt a sort of flash of emotion.

“I actually thought it was laughing at my dad... maybe through me.”

With barely suppressed anger, he continued: “It was so core to my dad, that he felt disrespected. And it wasn’t just a casual thing. It affected him. He hated that conversation, ‘What do you do for a living?’ It affected his behaviour. So we didn’t have people round for dinner. He didn’t go out with people for dinner, he withdrew into himself – it had a really profound impact.”

‘I’m going to change this’

Starmer spoke of his hatred of snobbish behaviour and putting people down.

“It’s the same if people say ‘thick’ – because my brother had difficulties learning.

“I will never accept people who look down on others because of their perceived academic abilities. These are not minor injustices for me. They drive me.”

Reflecting on those who criticise him for showing a lack of emotion in public or passion in parliament, he said that he is driven by an inner anger and a desire to tackle injustice, which began in his childhood.

“I know people say, ‘We don’t see you doing speeches [on this topic] in the Commons, shouting and screaming.’ No, they don’t. But it creates in me this inner determination that I’m going to change this.”

That sense of injustice, and the desire to stand up to bullies, also extends to friendships. He recounted the story of stepping in to stop his childhood friend Graham from being beaten up because he was gay.

With Tony Blair: Starmer said he had decided against asking the former PM for advice about living in the spotlight in No 10 (PA)
With Tony Blair: Starmer said he had decided against asking the former PM for advice about living in the spotlight in No 10 (PA)

“I was 16 when he first told me he was gay – he was about 15. He had been pretty well disowned by his family. We then went away together; we were 18 – me, another friend and Graham in a nightclub. He is obviously gay, and a number of blokes decided they were going to beat him up. So we then we got into a fight ... and we all got beaten up. I’d do it again.”

He was reminded of that experience more recently when his niece was the victim of a homophobic attack.

“When my niece got married, it was the first same-sex marriage that we’d gone to with our children. It was fantastic. And then she got beaten up in the street for being a lesbian. And I can’t tell you the anger that went through my body when I heard about what had happened to her.”

There is one family member, though, whose experience drives him more than any other and that is his late mother Josephine. She had a debilitating condition called Still’s disease, which she battled all her life.

“My mum was really, really ill towards the end of her life. Had her leg amputated; couldn’t get out of bed. My dad put hoists in to get her out of bed into a wheelchair. She couldn’t eat on her own, [or go to the] toilet on her own. But nonetheless, my dad was going to get her out of that bed into a wheelchair, into the car, which is modified, and drive her to parliament, so she could sit in the [press] gallery and watch me being sworn in.”

With tears springing into his eyes, he recalled: “She died two and a half weeks before I became an MP, so never saw that.”

‘That sense of injustice drives me’

He apologised for welling up again: “It drives me... That sense of injustice, wanting to put it right. For my mum and dad, I carry more of them than I think I properly understood until quite recently. With my mum, it’s the courage, the resilience.

“She was told as an 11-year-old, ‘You’re not having children, you’ll be in a wheelchair by your twenties and you won’t walk.’

“As it happens, she got a steroid drug, which helped her get through those years. She went through I don’t know how many operations with the same diagnosis, ‘You won’t be walking, you won’t be walking again.’

“She said, ‘I will, I will, I will, I will get up.’ I saw her exercising every day.

“So when I have a problem, when I have a challenge, something which is difficult, that I think, ‘This is hard, Keir,’ I think about my mum. And a better me says, if she can get up off that bed and walk again, as she did, I can go and do whatever I need to do. And that drives ... that anger about inequality.”

But his love for his family does not mean he would be prepared to jump an NHS queue for them, even if they were in agony and had a long wait.

Determined: Starmer says he is driven by anger about inequality (Independent)
Determined: Starmer says he is driven by anger about inequality (Independent)

“I’ve got many relatives who are on the waiting list. I mean, as has everybody – waiting for hips, for knees. That’s the story of my family and my extended family. I was only operated on a few years ago because I tore my meniscus, and I had the scan. I waited my turn. I had the operation.”

Starmer insisted there is a vital distinction to be made between requiring a knee operation, as he did, and requiring acute care. “The NHS is the best place to be for life-threatening illnesses. That’s why private hospitals actually refer to the NHS when they get to that critical care plan ... because they know the NHS has got the capacity to deal with it in a way that they don’t have.”

Starmer has spoken before, movingly, about his difficult relationship with his father, revealing in a biography earlier this year that neither had ever told the other, “I love you.” Speaking of how Rodney will never see him enter No 10, the Labour leader’s thoughts turned again to that lost opportunity: “There’s the last bit of the conversation I never had with him.

“That could never be had – but might have been had now, if I’d got over the line.”

Read part two of our interview with Keir Starmer tomorrow as the Labour leader is grilled on politics and policy