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Monday, June 21, 2010

Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Chris Huhne leaves wife for mistress

The Coalition was last night rocked by its second Cabinet sleaze scandal in three weeks as Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced that he was leaving his wife for his mistress.

Multi-millionaire Mr Huhne ended his 26-year marriage after confirming he had been having a long-term affair with media adviser Carina Trimingham, a former Press officer for the BBC’s Top Of The Pops.

His wife, senior civil servant Vicky Pryce, 57, knew nothing of the affair until he had to come clean in the face of media inquiries.

Mr Huhne is understood to have been conducting the affair with divorcee Ms Trimingham, campaigns director of the Electoral Reform Society, at his constituency home in Eastleigh, Hampshire, for more than a year.

Enlarge chris huhne and mistress

Chris Huhne with mistress Carina Trimingham at Waterloo station yesterday. They are believed to have travelled up to London from Mr Huhne's constituency home in Eastleigh

chris huhne and mistress

The pair prepare to enter the cab. Mr Huhne is understood to have been conducting the affair with divorcee Ms Trimingham, campaigns director of the Electoral Reform Society, at his constituency home in Eastleigh, Hampshire, for more than a year

Enlarge chris huhne and mistress

Ms Trimingham holds her head while her lover gazes out from the other side of the taxi. The affair follows the expenses scandal that forced Lib Dem Treasury Chief Secretary David Laws to resign last month

The affair follows the expenses scandal that forced Lib Dem Treasury Chief Secretary David Laws to resign last month. He quit after it was revealed that he had paid £40,000 of his Commons second- home allowance to his male partner.

In a brief statement, 55-year-old Mr Huhne said last night: ‘I am in a serious relationship with Carina Trimingham and I am separating from my wife.’

Chris Huhne and wife Vicky

Split: Chris Huhne, pictured here with wife Vicky in 2005, had been married for 26 years


Mistress: Carina Trimingham has been described as 'actually quite intimidating'

Coalition sources said there is no question of him being asked to resign as Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

Senior Lib Dems have known about the affair for some time. Friends of Ms Trimingham say she had hoped to get a job as a spin doctor with the Coalition, but believe she was blocked by officials who feared the affair could be exposed; and that any revelation would cause even more embarrassment to Nick Clegg if she worked in the Government.

The scandal has echoes of former Labour Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s affair with his secretary Gaynor Regan, which was exposed in 1997, months after Tony Blair came to power. Labour officials forced Mr Cook to choose immediately between wife Margaret and Ms Regan to limit the public relations damage to the Government.

Coalition sources insist no such ultimatum was made to Mr Huhne. However, like Mr Cook, he chose his mistress.

On Friday, her 44th birthday, Ms Trimingham was seen taking the train to Mr Huhne’s detached constituency home, arriving at around 8pm. The pair spent the evening alone inside. Meanwhile Ms Pryce remained in Clapham.

Mr Huhne was due to conduct a constituency surgery yesterday, but cancelled it at the last minute. Later in the morning he and Ms Trimingham left the house separately, minutes apart, and headed to the station. On the platform they stood apart. When the train pulled in, they boarded different carriages.

Huhne and Cameron

Rising star: Huhne, left, with David Cameron, who named the Energy Secretary as the 10th most powerful man in the Cabinet


Carina Tirmington

Carina Trimingham, the former head of publicity on BBC television’s Top Of The Pops, has been described as jolly, vivacious but ‘actually quite intimidating’.

Aged 44 – she celebrated her birthday last Friday – she is 13 years’ younger than Chris Huhne’s wife and is said to wear her short, dark hair in spikes to accentuate her youthful looks.

One acquaintance said: ‘She is very assertive in her manner and quite well-built, sturdy and tall.’

Miss Trimingham, from Hove, Sussex, married in 1999 but later divorced.

She started off as a political reporter and producer for Sky News, before spending two years in Los Angeles as a journalist covering American’s West Coast. She later returned to London to work as a correspondent for the BBC.

More recently, she worked as a Press manager for Mr Huhne during his failed leadership bid in 2007 before taking on the same job for Liberal Democrat candidate for London mayor, Brian Paddick.

In her work as a London-based freelance publicist, Miss Trimingham has looked after Press relations for soprano Renée Fleming and rock band The Who.

She is the current campaigns director of the Electoral Reform Society.

Miss Trimingham had yesterday taken down her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

As the train set off for London Waterloo, Mr Huhne made a phone call, then joined Ms Trimingham in the first-class carriage where they breakfasted together.

At Waterloo they kept their distance, walking a few yards apart and leaving by different exits. They met up again at the taxi rank, got into a black cab and headed into the city.

It is believed their relationship started in May 2009, two years after they met during the Lib Dem leadership battle, when Ms Trimingham worked on Mr Huhne’s campaign team. He was narrowly beaten by Mr Clegg.

Mr Huhne and his Greek-born wife have three children together and two daughters from her previous marriage. She is chief economics adviser to Mr Huhne’s Lib Dem friend and colleague, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary and also joint head of the Government Economic Service, overseeing 1,500 public sector economists.

They married in 1984 shortly after she divorced her first husband. In 2006, Mr Huhne refused to say whether he had been responsible for the break-up of his wife’s first marriage, which occurred shortly after she met him. Ms Trimingham is a former political journalist for Sky News and the BBC.

She handled Mr Huhne’s constituency Press relations during the General Election, has been a publicist for Carling lager and The Who rock band and was a media aide to former Metropolitan Police Commander Brian Paddick, who stood for the Liberal Democrats in the 2008 London mayoral elections.

Tenth in the Cabinet pecking order, Mr Huhne is one of the richest MPs in Westminster, with an estimated £3 million fortune, built up during his previous career as a City economist.

Nicknamed ‘seven homes Huhne’ he owns five properties in London and Oxford, which he rents out according to the Register of Members’ Interests, as well as his five-storey Clapham townhouse and his constituency home. He also has a share of a holiday home in France, while his wife owns a property in Greece.

There was no answer yesterday from Ms Trimingham’s London flat, a two-bedroom loft warehouse conversion in the fashionable Barbican area, which is currently up for sale at £600,000.

One neighbour, who refused to be named said: ‘She has lived here for some time with another woman and they appear to be quite close.

‘However she put the flat up for sale about two months ago. We haven’t said two words to her in all the time we have been here and she keeps very much to herself.’

Last night there was no one at Mr Huhne’s constituency home, which has a wind turbine towering 8ft above the roof and a flag of St George flying from a pole in the back garden.



Vicky Pryce was once described as the ‘defiantly invisible’ wife of Chris Huhne. Well, yesterday that – and almost every other aspect of the life which she regarded as safe and certain – changed.

Because yesterday she learned that her husband of 26 years had been unfaithful for at least the past 12 months. She learned that he was having an affair with a woman she knew, one she no doubt trusted and had often spoken to over the phone and in person at political events.

She learned that this betrayal was about to become public, that it was the subject of a tabloid exposé and that this, rather than some moment of moral clarity, was the reason she was being told. Oh, and she learned that her husband had made his choice: his mistress and his career over his wife and family.

All this was delivered to Vicky as fait accompli, a perfectly wrapped parcel bomb.


Carina Trimingham with Brian Paddick, campaigning for London mayor

It used to be that when politicians in office were exposed for having affairs they resigned. These days, as Vicky has discovered, it is the wife who loses her position.

It happened to Margaret Cook in strikingly similar circumstances. It is 13 years since Robin Cook peered over his coffee cup at Heathrow’s VIP lounge and told his wife that he was having an affair with his secretary, Gaynor Regan, and that he was leaving her.


Chris Huhne’s Greek-born wife of 26 years, Vicky Pryce, 57, has enjoyed a glittering career with stints as chief economist at City giant Exxon Europe before moving into the public sector in 2002.

She is now one of the country’s most powerful civil servants as Director General, Economics and Joint Head of the UK Government Economic Service within the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

However, she is understood to have recently accepted a job back in the private sector with FTI Consulting, the US public-relations and business consultancy, in the role of senior managing director.

She and Mr Huhne met ‘on the economics circuit’. Until now, the marriage was seenas one of the more solid relationships in Whitehall based on a meeting of minds.

At their wedding in 1984, there were jokes, Huhne has recalled, ‘about howwe’d be discussing GDP figures in bed’.

Sunday lunch at the Pryce-Huhne table (she has retained her surname from a previous marriage) is said to be a ‘formidable’ affair.

According to friends, the couple are fiercely protective of their three children, aged 17 to 25, who are all bilingual.

It was previously thought that the only issue to divide the couple was the European single currency. Huhne is for; Pryce is passionately against.

The news was about to become public and, in an attempt to hold on to his political career, he was jettisoning his marriage.

Some years later Mrs Cook said: ‘It was one of the worst things that had ever happened to me. It was bewildering.’ Sentiments that must surely chime with Vicky.

With a conversation that lasted only a matter of moments, the Cooks’ 28-year marriage came crashing to an end. Margaret felt humiliated and furious. In the days and weeks immediately after the announcement she couldn’t sleep. She lost weight.

She worried, more than anything, about how it would affect their two grown-up sons. She maintains to this day that she was grateful that at least they had left home and were established.

Vicky doesn’t have quite that comfort. Her three children with Mr Huhne range in age from 16 to 23. (She has also two children from a previous marriage.) But, like Margaret Cook, she is a woman of fierce intelligence and professional success.

Vicky is the first female chief economic adviser at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (formerly part of the Department of Trade and Industry) and, according to those who know her, she is ‘frighteningly bright’.

Right now, such prowess may only add to the sting of the fact that her husband has turned her into a victim. But over time those inner resources will no doubt kick in, as they did with Margaret.

Three weeks after her husband’s affair became public, Margaret returned to work as a consultant haematologist at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, West Lothian. It gave her focus. It reminded her that she existed beyond her defunct marriage.

She once said: ‘At first you feel as if you have nothing. But you have to make up your mind whether you want to be lonely and sit watching television, or make an effort.’

The reality, she said, came in waves. Perhaps the same will be true for Vicky. Disbelief gives way to anger, to a desire for revenge, perhaps, and rage. She knows the woman, as Margaret Cook knew Gaynor. It might make Mr Huhne’s lover Carina Trimingham an easier target for anger than her husband at first.

Margaret Cook channelled her anger into a memoir. For a while she became a sort of professional ‘wronged wife’, dishing out advice and reliving her betrayal in print. But her ultimate revenge, she has admitted, was in the happiness she found with a new partner.

Thoughts of a settled future must seem very distant to Vicky Pryce this weekend. But Robin Cook ended his political life considered a man of principle because of his stance on Iraq. He died in 2005 after marrying Gaynor in 1998.

And Margaret found happiness in a new relationship, with another man called Robin. She once said: ‘The key message is never to assume that life is over – because it isn’t. My world didn’t come to an end. It just started again.’



The revelation of Chris Huhne’s affair with the campaigns director of the Electoral Reform Society is the latest evidence that the Liberal Democrats have not been properly vetted.

Before the Election, rumours of Lib Dem scandals were greeted with a yawn. But, now they are Ministers, they’re news – and they’re not ready for the media exposure.

After David Laws’ resignation, there was incredulity in Tory circles that the problem had not become apparent earlier. Once the expenses scandal was revealed, a special unit comprising David Cameron’s most trusted aides went through the files of top Tories to check there were no pre-Election embarrassments to come.

They found one Shadow Cabinet member had put a kennel on expenses. Tory high command took steps to limit this Shadow Minister’s exposure to the media, and his photo opportunities with David Cameron.

The Lib Dems have never been quite so prepared. However, having said this, Mr Huhne should be able to brazen out this scandal. Unlike Mr Laws and his secret partner, there is not believed to be any expenses angle to this story.


Carina Trimingham's stylish apartment in the Barbican area of Central London

It means Mr Huhne should be able to claim that his private life is his own business, and carry on with his job as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

On the other hand, if Mr Huhne did go, it would strengthen rather than weaken the Coalition. Unlike with Mr Laws, there is no Tory fondness for Mr Huhne. They regard him as an opportunist. During the Coalition negotiations, they joked that he was so keen for a job he’d be happy to become the Downing Street janitor.

But beneath this mockery, there was a fear of how destabilising Mr Huhne could be to the Coalition.

He challenged Nick Clegg for the leadership of the Lib Dems in 2007 and ran him very close. If it had not been for a postal error which meant that many ballots arrived after the deadline, he might have won.

It has always been clear that Mr Huhne is a man with a high opinion of himself. He has his hair cut at Vidal Sassoon by a woman who tells clients she votes Lib Dem because of how eloquent he is. His suits hang perfectly from his wiry frame.

If he had walked out of the Coalition in objection to its policy on nuclear power, an area under his control, he would have been in a strong position to rally Lib Dem resentment about the Coalition. Now he is a busted flush.

He might be able to hang on as a Cabinet Minister, but Mr Huhne, whose star has waned since 2007, is no longer a credible alternative leader. He holds his Eastleigh seat thanks to Labour supporters lending him their votes to keep the Tories out. His majority is less than the amount by which the Labour vote fell at the last Election.

Mr Huhne was always going to lose most of these votes at the next Election. But now he’ll also lose votes from those offended by his adultery. If he wants to stay in politics he is going to have to conduct himself with a great deal more care in the future.