It is already being described as a publishing sensation, four days before going on sale. And a quick glimpse at almost any one of its 544 pages instantly reveals why. Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MP’s Wife, in which she unceremoniously dishes the dirt on Tory “friends” from David and Samantha Cameron, to Michael Gove and his wife Sarah Vine as well as George Osborne and Boris Johnson, is so full of spice, gossip and disloyalty that it is hard to know where to start.
Swire is a former journalist, the wife of old Etonian MP Sir Hugo Swire and daughter of former Tory defence secretary Sir John Nott. They live opulently in a huge pile in the West Country. However, Hugo never made it to the cabinet, even under the premiership of his old friend Cameron, and something clearly rankles.
In the twilight of her husband’s career, Swire has now made up for the couple’s relative lack of notoriety (in the lofty circles in which they exist) and struck out. Throughout her memoir the anecdotes flow about sex, alcohol and lewd behaviour in the ruling Tory elite. Past indiscretions and very private jokes between old friends, in their rarified snobby world, are told as if the original acts and then the telling of them are both entirely normal and to be expected.
The competition for most embarrassing revelation is stiff indeed. But one stands out. Swire claims that during a coastal walk with the former prime minister in Cornwall in 2011, Cameron told her to stride behind him rather than ahead on the path because “the scent you are wearing is affecting my pheromones. It makes me want to grab you and push you into the bushes and give you one”.
Swire adds: “This is not flirting by the prime minister. This is probably lewdness. But hell, I’m so starved of masculine interest at my age it made me smile.”
If that tale – and that fact that she has put in print – is not startling enough, her attempts to play the innocent in an interview with the Observer are perhaps even more so. “Maybe I was naive. But I’m terrified of causing trouble,” she tells Rachel Cooke (New Review, page 16). She fears the subtler, finer messages of her book will be misunderstood, and lost: “People are going to make this all about David; they won’t see the integrity of the diary as a whole.”
Throughout the book she refers to Cameron chummily as Dave, saying he loves a combination of drink and dirty jokes. Their time together in Cornwall was filled with barbecues, loads of booze and “a lot of sex talk” from Cameron and her own husband. After he lost the Brexit referendum she says he hit the bottle and “chomped on cigars” and that Samantha could only join him as he made his resignation speech after a large negroni cocktail.
Already the falling out has begun. The Swires stayed with the Camerons again in Cornwall only a couple of weeks ago. But will they be invited again? The former PM is clearly seething. “I don’t recall that conversation,” he said of the walk story when asked about it an interview with Times Radio last week. But he felt unable to deny it outright: “If someone wrote down all your banter in private over the years, there probably might be a few bits and pieces that weren’t very flattering.”
Vine too has hit back at Swire with force in her columns in the Daily Mail. Swire’s suggestion, as Vine put it, that she was “always meddling” and “making fish pie while Samantha swanned around being glamorous” got the Mail columnist’s blood boiling. The whole thing was not only unforgivably disloyal. It was also horribly snooty and partial. “It’s a bit like someone writing an account of Winston Churchill during the war years, and only ever mentioning the cigars and the Pol Roger,” Vine wrote.
Amid the glut of smut, there are interesting revelations. She says Cameron as well as Osborne believed that Brexit could be stopped in early 2018 and that Samantha Cameron favoured another referendum. She implies Cameron was sympathetic to a second vote too.
In the diaries, Swire describes Dominic Cummings as “stark raving mad”. She tells the Observer: “It will all go tits up with him, it always does. He’ll explode.” And of Theresa May, she says: “She didn’t have an original idea in her head. And no friends, either.”
At one point in the interview, she insists that she is not going to say any more about her “friends” than is in the book. But then she can’t resist. Asked if she stands by her view that Gove is bonkers, she says: “Actually, I love Michael. I can forgive anything if they’ve got colour. The more dangerous, the more alcoholic, the madder they are, the better.”
She then pauses. “Where Michael is slightly dishonest is with his ambition. He’s always lied about that. He’s a typical hack. He loves being at the scene of the crash. I think he’s quite dangerous,” she says, not, of course, meaning to upset anyone or cause a stir.