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‘Bonkers’ Covid plans, Boris’ vaccine dance and post-affair ‘misery’: 13 bombshells from Matt Hancock’s memoir

 (ES)
(ES)

“A grotesque cash-in”. “Misleading and self-serving”. “A despicable monetisation of failure”.

These are just some of the (publishable) insults that have been thrown at Matt Hancock’s so-called new memoir, described by critics as “deluded”, “nauseating” and “utterly shameless” ahead of its publication this week.

The disgraced former health secretary releases his bombshell book, Pandemic Diaries: The Inside Story Of Britain’s Battle Against Covid, tomorrow — but teaser extracts have already started coming to light thanks to the book’s exclusive serialisation in the Daily Mail and Mail+.

That he blames care staff for the crisis in care homes, that Tory peer Michelle Mone threatened him over Covid tests, and that Boris Johnson gave him “personal advice” on how to cope with his extramarital affair with Gina Coladangelo are among the bombshell claims in the book so far.

Political journalist Iabel Oakeshott ghostwrote the book with Hancock and commentators have already been quick to criticise many of his claims — not to mention his writing of it in the first place — questioning his honesty, integrity, and the appropriateness of his commenting on a Covid response that is currently the subject of a public inquiry.

Matt Hancock’s book is trying to ‘rewrite history’ (Matt Hancock/Biteback Publishing)
Matt Hancock’s book is trying to ‘rewrite history’ (Matt Hancock/Biteback Publishing)

Critics have accused him of trying to “rewrite history” and “put the blame on the care staff”, while others say he deserves to tell his own side of the story and note the fact that the royalties from the book will at least be going to NHS charities.

It’s already trending in Amazon’s Contagious and Infectious Diseases category — so not quite troubling the New York Times bestseller list just yet.

From power struggles in Downing Street to breaking the news of his affair to his wife, here are the most explosive revelations we know about so far.

Ministers initially shrugged off the potential Covid death toll

Hancock says Boris told him that Covid ‘will probably go away’ (AFP via Getty Images)
Hancock says Boris told him that Covid ‘will probably go away’ (AFP via Getty Images)

Hancock’s first revelation dates back to January 2020, when rumblings of a virus in China first came to attention in the UK. In the book, he claims that then Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been reluctant to engage with the issue, telling Hancock: “You keep an eye on it. It will probably go away.”

Hancock claims he raised the issue again a month later, warning the PM that it was “more likely we’re going down” with the virus in the UK than containing it. “Bash on” was reportedly Johnson’s reply.

The former health minister claims that even Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty’s warnings were met with a shrug. On January 28, two months before the country went into lockdown, Whitty reportedly spelled out some shocking figures at a meeting with officials.

“In his characteristically understated way, sitting at the back peeling a tangerine, Chris Whitty quietly informed everyone that in the reasonable worst-case scenario as many as 820,000 people in the UK may die. The transmission is so high that almost everyone would catch it,” Hancock writes. “The whole room froze. We are looking at a human catastrophe on a scale not seen here for a century.”

Hancock says he shared Whitty’s forecast three days later, on January 31, at a Brexit Day Cabinet meeting in Sunderland, but was largely met with shrugged shoulders. “The reaction was somewhat ‘shrug shrug’ - essentially because they didn’t really believe it. I am constantly feeling that others, who aren’t focused on this every day, are weeks behind what’s going on,” he writes of his feelings at the time.

Dominic Cummings was ‘irresponsible’ and saw the virus as a ‘distraction’

Hancock’s dislike of Dominic Cummings is clear throughout the book (BPA MediaBC/)
Hancock’s dislike of Dominic Cummings is clear throughout the book (BPA MediaBC/)

It wasn’t just Johnson who shrugged off the seriousness of the virus at first, according to Hancock.

The book also sees him throwing former Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings under the bus, claiming that Cummings thought, “Covid was a distraction from our official withdrawal from the EU next week. That’s all he wants Boris talking about”.

Hancock’s obvious dislike of Cummings is clear throughout the book. “Cummings is deliberately ignoring my calls and messages. Extraordinary,” he writes in a diary entry from November 1, 2020. “We’re in the middle of a national crisis in which hundreds of people are dying every day and I’m in charge of the health service. Yet he won’t talk to me. It’s pathetic, petty, and downright irresponsible.”

On November 13, 2020, Cummings resigns. “Cummings has gone!” Hancock writes. “I am elated and, more than anything, relieved for the sake of the vaccine and the country. He’s been such a frightening, damaging, negative force for so long.”

Hancock blames infected staff for bringing Covid into care homes

Hancock blames staff for the fact one in four elderly people in care homes died of Covid (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Hancock blames staff for the fact one in four elderly people in care homes died of Covid (Jonathan Brady/PA)

In a move that is unsurprising to many of Hancock’s critics, the former health secretary reportedly uses the book to point the finger at care home staff for the spread of Covid inside care homes in the early months of the pandemic — as opposed to his own decision to release care home residents from hospital without testing.

“The vast majority of infections were brought in from the wider community, mainly by staff,” he writes in the memoir, adding in his extract from April 2: “The tragic but honest truth is we don’t have enough testing capacity to check anyway. It’s an utter nightmare, but it’s the reality.”

He claims that in mid-July he received a “startling note” suggesting most care home cases were brought in by staff whose managers allowed them to continue working, which he says happened in at least 40 care homes and describes as “scandalous”.

There was a ‘bonkers’ plan to free prisoners during lockdown

Justice secretary at the time, Robert Buckland (Reuters)
Justice secretary at the time, Robert Buckland (Reuters)

From “scandalous” to “bonkers”. Another claim made by Hancock in the book is that he came under pressure to accept the release of thousands of non-violent prisoners during Covid in a “bonkers plan” to ease pressure on the justice system.

“After about the third iteration, I called [Justice Secretary] Rob Buckland, who to my astonishment told me he’d been advised that I was the one who wanted to release them,” he writes.

“Unfortunately, this still wasn’t the end of the matter. Clearly, someone in Whitehall still thought it was a good idea and kept pushing it, to the point that the PM asked to talk to us both. I made my views crystal clear.

“We cannot lock up literally everyone in the country except prisoners, who we instead release, I spluttered.”

Johnson ‘did a little jig’ when Pfizer’s Covid vaccine was approved

Boris Johnson getting vaccinated post-jig (PA)
Boris Johnson getting vaccinated post-jig (PA)

Most of us remember the day the first Covid vaccine was announced, but Hancock’s book offers an insight into what reportedly took place behind the scenes the day before.

On December 1, the former health secretary writes: “Jim [health minister in the Lords] came to tell me he’d just formally signed the Pfizer vaccine off. I walked into the Cabinet Room, where the PM was standing behind his chair with Rishi, Simon Case, and a few others dotted around. ‘We have a vaccine! It’s been formally approved!’ I announced as I walked in.”

According to Hancock, Boris Johnson “danced a little jig, his jubilant moves giving every impression that he hadn’t had much dance practice of late”, while then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak gave him a “man-hug” and “thanked [him] for pulling off the vaccine”.

“Tomorrow is going to be massive,” he adds.

There was a scare over lorries carrying vaccine supplies being hijacked

Hancock was worried ‘rogue actors or hostile states’ would ‘hijack’ the vaccine (PA Wire)
Hancock was worried ‘rogue actors or hostile states’ would ‘hijack’ the vaccine (PA Wire)

In Hancock’s diary entry from November 3, 2020, he writes of a “cloak-and-dagger operation” to get the first 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine into the UK.

“We weren’t taking any chances. Imagine if rogue actors or hostile states tried to hijack the vehicle or seize the goods?” he writes of Government fears that lorries carrying the new jab might be hijacked.

“At lunchtime, a drama: in hushed tones, officials told me that the team was switching route ‘as a precaution’ following a credible security threat,” Hancock continues.

“It was amazing work by our intelligence agencies and the private-sector company who first spotted it, and just goes to show that we were not being paranoid. Then, mid-afternoon, came confirmation that all 800,000 doses were safely in the UK. Relief!”

An Arab royal family asked Nadhim Zahawi for 400 shots of the vaccine

Nadhim Zahawi was besieged with requests for vaccines from foreign VIPs (Getty Images)
Nadhim Zahawi was besieged with requests for vaccines from foreign VIPs (Getty Images)

In the same day’s diary entry, Hancock makes a second new revelation: that he and his team began to get “sheepish requests [for the vaccine] from VIPs around the world”.

“A Middle Eastern diplomat reached out to Nadhim Zahawi [vaccine deployment minister] asking if we’d be willing to send 400 shots for the royal household,” he writes.

“Nadhim sounded embarrassed and assumed we’d have to find a polite way of saying no. In fact, I’m up for these small diplomatic efforts — so long as the Foreign Office agrees, of course. Done appropriately, it pays dividends for international relations. Nadhim sounded relieved, saying that the king himself is asking.”

Gina told him to ‘stop being so buttoned up’ before his famously tearful TV interview

Hancock’s famously emotional interview on Good Morning Britain (GMB)
Hancock’s famously emotional interview on Good Morning Britain (GMB)

Sources have long suggested that Hancock consults Coldangelo before he “does anything big” and his TV interview in December 2020, following footage of the first British citizen to be inoculated with the Covid jab, was seemingly no exception.

“Gina and [SPAD] Damon accompanied me to the broadcast studios,” he writes in his entry for December 8. “‘You need to relax’ was Gina’s advice, by which she meant: ‘Stop being so buttoned up.’ What she did not mean was that I should lose it altogether, which unfortunately is exactly what happened.”

“Suddenly I completely lost it, blubbing away, battling to regain my composure as tears streamed down my face. ‘For Christ’s sake, pull yourself together,’ I told myself desperately. Then the camera was back on me, my microphone was live, and my watery red eyes were there for all to see. When I tried to answer the next question, my voice came out in a weird sort of croak.”

Hancock adds, “Gina said at least I’d shown how I felt” — a comment that fits many commentators’ suggestions that Coldangelo has been the brains behind Hancock’s string of attempts to show a more “human” side, from his I’m A Celebrity appearance to the release of this very book.

Tory peer Michelle Mone was ‘aggressive’ in her lobbying over Covid tests

Hancock says Michelle Mone ‘threatened’ him over contracts (AFP)
Hancock says Michelle Mone ‘threatened’ him over contracts (AFP)

Johnson and Cummings aren’t the only big names Hancock accuses in the memoir. Another prominent figure he mentions is former lingerie tycoon Baroness Michelle Mone, often nicknamed “Baroness Bra”, who he says sent him an “extraordinarily aggressive email complaining that a [lateral flow test] company [she was] helping [wasn’t] getting the multi-million-pound contracts it deserve[d]”.

Hancock writes that Mone claimed the firm had had a “dreadful time” trying to cut through red tape and demanded “urgent help” before details of the saga ended up in the media. “I am going to blow this all wide open,” was Mone’s threat, according to Hancock. Mone is currently under investigation for allegedly failing to declare an interest in the firm PPE Medpro, which won a £200m government contract during the pandemic.

“By the end of the email, she seemed to have worked herself into a complete frenzy and was throwing around wild accusations. ‘I smell a rat here. It is more than the usual red tape, incompetence, and bureaucracy. That’s expected! I believe there is corruption here at the highest levels and a cover-up is taking place... Don’t say I didn’t [warn] you when Panorama or Horizon run an exposé documentary on all this’,” Hancock continues, in his diary entry for June 18, 2021.

“She concluded by urging me to intervene ‘to prevent the next bombshell being dropped on the govt’. I read the email again, stunned. Was she threatening me? It certainly looked that way. Her tests, I am told, have not passed validation — which would explain why the company hasn’t won any contracts. I will simply not reply. I won’t be pushed around by aggressive peers representing commercial clients.”

Hancock broke his own lockdown rules because he ‘fell in love’

Accusations of Matt Hancock and Gina Coldangelo’s affair hit the headlines (PA Wire)
Accusations of Matt Hancock and Gina Coldangelo’s affair hit the headlines (PA Wire)

“We realised we had feelings for each other which were as strong as they were. It was very sudden and took us both by surprise,” Hancock writes of his affair with Gina Coladangelo, a married former university pal who’d been hired to assist him with his handling of the pandemic as an adviser.

“We realised what was happening was of huge consequence that would last for the rest of our lives but… this was an affaire de coeur [affair of the heart] and therefore my political judgment was off.”

Part of Coladangelo’s role was helping Hancock with his speeches and — in a particular line that has made many critics squirm — he claims that she helped him “reach emotional depths [he] couldn’t reach on [his] own”, adding: “We talked to each other and communicated at a very profound level.”

Hancock blames “[falling] in love” with Coldangelo for his “mistake” in breaking his own rules and being caught kissing Coldangelo on CCTV and asks for public forgiveness for that “mistake”, not for his handling of the pandemic.

“I want forgiveness for the mistake I made, the failure of leadership at the end of the pandemic when I fell in love with Gina and I broke the guidance that I’d signed off,” he writes. “I want forgiveness for the human error I made... but I’m not asking for forgiveness for how I handled the pandemic.”

He denies breaking social-distancing rules with Coldangelo because “nothing happened between us untli May, after legal restrictions ended”, but says he was forced to quit after colleagues failed to back him and he found himself “increasingly isolated” politically.

Johnson gave him ‘personal advice’ on how to cope with the affair

Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock in Downing Street (Yui Mok / PA)
Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock in Downing Street (Yui Mok / PA)

Johnson is no stranger to infidelity, which some say makes Hancock’s claim that the former PM gave him “personal advice” on how to cope with the exposure of his and Coladangelo’s affair one of the most plausible.

“I called the PM: no stranger to personal turmoil and, it turned out, the kindest of confidants in these ghastly circumstances. He was thoughtful, considered and as supportive as he could be for everyone involved,” Hancock writes.

The former health secretary added that Johnson “listened carefully” before saying: “‘First, I’m going to talk to you as a friend, and then we’ll talk about the politics’. He gave me some personal advice, after which he assured me that my private life should not affect my public position.”

The following day, it became clear that Hancock’s position was untenable. Johnson’s reported reaction to Hancock’s decision to resign? “Time to dive beneath the ice cap,” according to Hancock.

Telling his wife about the affair was the ‘worst conversation’ of Hancock’s life

Martha Hancock leaves her home in north-west London after news of her husband’s affair (PA Wire)
Martha Hancock leaves her home in north-west London after news of her husband’s affair (PA Wire)

Another extract sees Hancock detailing the moment he received a call from The Sun, telling him they were about to publish the photos of him kissing Coladangelo.

Hancock says he “knew immediately what [he] had to do”, adding: “I needed to tell Martha right away, because it needed to come from me and nobody else. I also knew I had to tell the children – it was going to be incredibly painful, but I couldn’t hide away from them forever.

“Having the health secretary for a husband or father during a global pandemic has been incredibly tough for the family, and I feel wretched,” he writes, adding that he was in “utter turmoil” as he returned home to his wife Martha, having spoken with Johnson about the affair.

“It was – and remains – the very worst conversation of my life.”

Public anger over his affair made his and Gina’s life ‘miserable’

Hancock was criticised for recreating the infamous hug scene on ITV (James Gourley/ITV/Shutterstock)
Hancock was criticised for recreating the infamous hug scene on ITV (James Gourley/ITV/Shutterstock)

The final ounce of salt in the wound, for most Hancock critics? His self-pity for the abuse he and Coldangelo received for their so-called “mistake”.

The former health secretary claims that public anger over the affair made his “life miserable” and that he and his new partner have had a “shockingly awful 18 months” since.

“As a consequence of our decision to live life, we have had a shockingly awful 18 months,” he told the Daily Mail this weekend. “It’s been absolutely horrific. I’ve had an absolute bucket of s*** poured over my head. The even bigger bucket of s*** has been poured over Gina’s”. Cue the violin.