- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

LONDON In an echo of the Cabinet sex scandals that helped topple his government, former Prime Minister John Major admitted yesterday to a four-year affair with a colleague while both were married.
Edwina Currie, a flamboyant back-bench lawmaker and later health minister in Margaret Thatcher's government, was quoted by the London Times newspaper as saying she and Mr. Major began a relationship in 1984, while he was a parliamentary whip, and ended it shortly after his promotion in 1988 to Mrs. Thatcher's Cabinet.
Mr. Major, a Conservative, was prime minister from 1990 until 1997. He was long considered one of Britain's most personally upright politicians.
The paper quoted Mr. Major, 59, as saying that his wife, Norma, had known of the matter for many years and forgiven him long ago.
"It is the one event in my life of which I am most ashamed, and I have long feared it would be made public," he was quoted as saying. "Neither Norma nor I has any further comment."
Mr. Major's reserved demeanor prompted the press to dub him "the gray man of Westminster," and he was never implicated personally in the series of embarrassing sex and corruption scandals that dogged the Tories and helped drive his government from office in 1997.
As prime minister, he called for a return to traditional values, a campaign he named "Back to Basics."
Allies say he never meant that as a comment on politicians' personal lives, but it was widely seen as such, and several of his Cabinet ministers were forced to resign after their extramarital affairs became public.
Michael Brown, a Conservative forced to give up his parliament seat after a tabloid reported in 1994 that he had a homosexual affair with a youth under the age of consent, said "the course of events might have been very, very different" if Mrs. Currie had made her revelation before Mr. Major became prime minister.
"There might never have been a John Major premiership," he told Independent Television News.
Mrs. Currie, 55, a showy Conservative politician who was never publicity shy during her years in Parliament, described the relationship in personal diaries excerpted in the London Times and soon to be published as a book, "Edwina Currie Diaries, 1987-1992." The London Times also interviewed her.
"Part of the fun [of the affair] was the thought that there John was, sitting in the whips' office, sometimes discussing other people's affairs, and keeping very quiet about his own," Mrs. Currie told the newspaper. "And I loved that feeling."
She said she initiated the affair, which was conducted in clandestine meetings in London and, she says, began to wind down as Mr. Major grew busier with political work.
"I ended it in early 1988 when it became clear that he was a rapidly rising star in the government," she wrote. "We could not continue without risking discovery."
Mr. Major stepped down as Conservative Party leader after Tony Blair's Labor Party won the 1997 election in a landslide. He gave up his Parliament seat last year.
Mrs. Currie, who held relatively junior ministerial jobs but courted controversy and maintained a high profile, expressed irritation in her diary excerpts that Mr. Major did not give her a position in his government.
She wrote two steamy novels in the 1990s about the exploits of a female legislator whose marriage was breaking up, and she now hosts a late-night weekend show, "Late Night Currie," on British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

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