Tuesday, March 19, 2013
So Jacob, did you really go canvassing in a Bentley with your nanny? No! It was mummy's Mercedes: JANE FRYER meets the poshest man in politics
The honourable member for Somerset North East, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is enjoying a bit of a purple patch.
He has recently been described as a ‘mini Boris’ and the ‘undisputed star of the backbenches’, constantly perking up dreary Commons sessions with his brilliant speeches and wonderfully dry humour (often in Latin) and sitting (very elegantly) back down to cries of ‘More! More!’ from both sides of the chamber.
Quite a feat considering 43-year-old Jacob — second youngest child of the late Sir William Rees-Mogg — must be the poshest man in politics, alternately known as The Mogg, a Bertie Wooster throwback, ‘David Cameron’s worst nightmare’ and ‘the honourable member for the early 20th century’.
He is so unashamedly upper-class he’s rumoured to wear wing-collared pyjamas in bed, has never knowingly been seen in casual clothes and, at Tory Party conferences, tethers his plastic security pass to an elegant gold watch chain.
He has also been surgically attached to his briefcase since his first day at Eton and, during the 1997 General Election, took his nanny canvassing during his failed bid to win the safe Labour stronghold of Central Fife.
Of late, he’s caused quite a stir by commuting from his home in Mayfair (he also has a rather lovely pile in Somerset) to Westminster in a grey 1968 Bentley that he bought at auction for £8,000 when he was just 22.
‘I usually drive my Lexus around town, but it’s been broken recently. In fact,’ he adds with a joyful cry, ‘I’ve got two Bentleys — the 1968 one and a 1936 model.’
And, er, which Bentley did he and Nanny take canvassing in Fife in 1997?
‘Oh, no. That was wrong. Well, the Nanny bit is right. Of course she came canvassing; she’s part of the family after all — she’s been with us 47 years. But we took my mother’s Mercedes Estate. I don’t think a Bentley’s a suitable campaigning car. As much as anything it was the petrol consumption: six miles to the gallon.’
In the flesh, as he dollops clotted cream and jam onto his scone in the House of Commons tea room, Jacob is just as posh as you’d expect, indescribably polite and old-fashioned, very young looking and extremely funny and self-deprecating (‘Oh no, my Latin is awful — I just know a few useful phrases’), despite clearly being terrifyingly clever.
This is, after all, the man who last year stunned the House when he casually dropped the word ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ into a debate on the remuneration of EU staff.
He’s always been bright — aged eight he was reading the FT and playing the stock market with the help of a £50 inheritance from a distant uncle. Nanny telephoned his broker on his behalf.
One Eton contemporary recalls him as ‘immaculately turned out, and with a brain so large you could almost see it throbbing’.
Aged 11, he had turned the £50 into £3,500 and was terrorising the City with regular appearances at company AGMs. At one GEC shareholders’ meeting, he castigated the chairman about the company’s ‘pathetic dividend’.
Soon, he was giving regular interviews to the media, telling the public about his plan to be ‘a millionaire at 20, a multi-millionaire at 40 and Prime Minister at 70, when I’ve made enough money to be able to afford to waste some on politics’.
In a moment of frivolity, he revealed that he loved Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, had made three wills and was obsessed with Dallas. And that the people he’d most like to meet were: ‘Margaret Thatcher, the Queen, Geoffrey Boycott and Larry Hagman, in that order.’
Thirty years on, he hasn’t made much progress. ‘Of the four, I’ve only met one of them — Margaret Thatcher. And Larry Hagman’s dead.’
What, not even the Queen? ‘No! I was supposed to meet her the other day at Buckingham Palace. I went in the Bentley because I thought you should go in a proper car if you’re meeting the Queen, but she was ill, so I missed her by a whisker.’
After his 1997 defeat in Fife — where he canvassed tirelessly and enthusiastically and won 9 per cent of the vote — he tried again in 2001, losing The Wrekin in Shropshire to Labour’s Peter Bradbury, and later failed to be selected in the fantastically posh London borough of Kensington and Chelsea for ‘lacking the common touch’.
But in 2010 it all finally came good in Somerset North East, where his family has lived for centuries. ‘The party hierarchy didn’t want me to be the candidate,’ he says. ‘The timing was unfortunate — they’d just launched a big thing to change the image of candidates and then they immediately selected me.’
Which is why, he maintains, he’ll ‘never, ever, ever’ be offered a place in David Cameron’s Cabinet. ‘I had more chance of becoming the new Pope. Though I don’t think my wife would be very happy if I became Pope.’
It must be a bit frustrating — to be stuck on the backbenches, with his enormous brain and all that energy courtesy of seven coffees a day and endless Creme Eggs (yes, still).
‘No, no, no! I love being on the backbenches. My office is the size of a broom cupboard, but I’m right in the thick of it. And I’m much freer. For example, I can say to you that I’d love the Tories to do a deal with UKIP, whereas ministers can’t really say things like that.’
So what does he think of Nigel Farage? ‘I think he’s one of the ablest politicians around and says things — a great deal of which, but not everything — I agree with.’
Would he be tempted to defect? ‘No! Never, never, never! I was born a Conservative and I shall die a Conservative.’ He has certainly remained impressively committed. At Eton, where he was frequently teased (‘in a nice, jolly way — I still am, and I most likely deserve it’), he was once sent out of class for sporting a large Tory rosette during the 1983 General Election.
‘It’s pretty sad, isn’t it, that the most serious, worst, naughtiest thing that I’ve ever done is wearing a Tory rosette in class? In fact, no! I got sent out twice at Eton,’ he says, looking pleased. ‘The second time was for an argument with a beak [teacher] over the infallibility of the papacy. I seem to recall mine was a very hardline view.’ Jacob is a committed Roman Catholic.
After Eton came Trinity College, Oxford, and then a very successful career as an investment banker. He still works 30 days a year for Somerset Capital Management for a reputed £10,000 a month, presumably to service the Bentleys.
Not renowned as a ladies’ man, everyone was a bit surprised when he met and, in 2007, married Helena de Chair, daughter of the late, very rich Somerset de Chair and the former Juliet, Marchioness of Bristol.
‘We met at a campaign for a referendum on the EU constitution, as you do. And then we met a few times subsequently, and here we are — four children later.’
He proposed in front of one of her mother’s five Van Dykes. (Apparently the two Stubbses were on loan to a gallery. According to a friend, the engagement was lengthened at Juliet’s request until they were returned so the wedding guests could admire them.)
Of course, there’s no disputing Jacob is, well, different. Some people have questioned whether anyone could really be like that, or if he is playing up to the public perception of him.
‘I’m just me,’ he insists. ‘I just carry on doing what I’ve always been doing.’
There are so many (presumably) apocryphal stories doing the rounds that I ask if I can run through a few and see which, if any, are true.
‘Of course! What fun. Why not?’
OK, here goes . . . did he, or did he not ever pay a boy at Eton to shield him with an umbrella on a cross-country run?
‘No. I wish I had. What a good idea!’
Did Nanny and his maid really take turns to stand behind him shielding his neck from the sun at Glyndebourne with a book?
‘That’s true, though I’m afraid I can’t remember which book it was.’
Did he and the King of Spain have sole access to an exclusive hidden upstairs loo at Claridges?
‘Yes! You can’t have too many people using a special loo or it’s no longer special — but it’s now a disabled loo, so anyone can use it.’
Does he dress for dinner at home?
‘Not every night, no. And not on my own. And, yes, the ladies do leave when the port comes in.’
Does he possess a pair of jeans?
‘No I don’t! What on earth would I do with them?’
Is his favourite food still Cadbury’s Creme Eggs.
‘Oh, I love Creme Eggs. And ready salted crisps — my ideal supper.’
Did he try to change the last four digits of his phone number to 1649, the date of the execution of Charles I, to make it more memorable?
‘I didn’t try to, I did.’
And finally, did his wife, Helena, really sport a tongue stud when they met?
‘Yes she did! She got rid of it when our eldest, Peter, was born. She thought mothers ought not to have tongue studs.’
Gosh, was it a bit, well, startling when he first encountered it?
‘Oh, goodness! I think she told me before I, er, spotted it.’
We both go pink. Presumably he doesn’t have any piercings himself?
‘No, not so far. And not any tattoos either — yet. I’m still waiting for my rebellious stage.’
Yes, Jacob is 43 going on 60, but that’s half his charm. He’s also kind, courteous, hard-working and unfailingly patient when faced with a raft of silly questions.
Despite his penchant for nannies, Bentleys, ridiculous private loos and preposterous poshness, I’d love him to be my MP.
Unlike David Cameron, I’d love him and his throbbing brain to be in the Cabinet. In fact, forget that — Jacob Rees-Mogg for Prime Minister!