‘The pro-life lobby got into a real mess’
Sassy is the word which comes to mind as I see Louise Mensch walking towards me. She’s dressed in smart casual leggings, jacket and flat-heeled boots – all in black – and her blonde hair is tied back in a loose ponytail. She wouldn’t look out of place in one of London’s funkier districts; in the glassy political shopping mall which is Westminster’s Portcullis House she cuts a stylish dash.
“Absolutely fearless” is how a mutual friend of ours had described her to me. Mensch insists that she isn’t, confessing to being a terrible flier and rattling through a litany of saints she prays to during plane journeys: “Padre Pio, St Bernadette…” She switches briefly to explain that her grandmother, who had a devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes, once gave her a prayer card, a sepia photograph of St Bernadette which purported to have a tiny piece
of her habit on it, which she has since lost, before returning to her list of saints, barely pausing for breath: “St Vincent de Paul, St Louise, John Paul II…”
Not one to shy away from the difficult, she discloses with disarming candour that as she is not in a state of grace herself – following a divorce from her first husband, she married for the second time, to rock band manager Peter Mensch earlier this year – she is reliant on the grace of God when traversing the skies.
With her glamorous back story, including a stint working in the music business before she turned to writing chick-lit, Louise Bagshawe (as she was called when elected to Parliament in 2010) was one of Westminster’s most high-profile politicians. Yet although news of her low-key wedding caught gossip columnists on the hop, they weren’t slow to pick up on the parallels between her life and the glittering tales she had spun as a writer for the aspirational female market.
In truth, there’s much of Mensch’s life that is worthy of the storyteller’s art, not least her family background, for the Woldingham-educated high-flier hails from a family of prominent English Catholics and notable Nonconformists. Her forebears include 17th-century Presbyterian minister William Bagshaw, who was known as “the Apostle of the Peak”, and Charles Robertson, one of the co-founders of Westminster Cathedral (though she only learned about the latter when her Wikipedia page was amended to include his details, she tells me with a grin).
Mensch’s mother was a convert to Catholicism and Toryism, twice breaking her union-activist Anglican printer father’s heart. Mensch’s grandfather worked for the Daily Mirror, which brings me neatly to another quirk in her story: her role as one of the inquisitors into press malpractice on the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
Mensch zoomed into public consciousness in July when, in the same week that her coolly incisive questioning of the Murdochs before the committee was impressing seasoned Westminster watchers, she received an email from someone claiming to be a journalist alleging that she’d taken drugs in Ronnie Scott’s nightclub with violinist Nigel Kennedy in her 20s. If it was an attempt to smear her, it backfired spectacularly, for whereas many other MPs would have panicked, Mensch released the emails, declaring that the incident sounded “highly probable”; not only shutting the story down but wowing her fans into the bargain. [more]