Matt Hancock insists he is NOT seeking forgiveness for Covid

‘It was an affair of the heart with Gina… my political judgement was off’: Matt Hancock bears his soul in first interview – insisting he is NOT seeking forgiveness for how he handled Covid but IS for ‘human error’ of breaking guidelines to hug his lover

  • Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock asked for forgiveness in the interview
  • He was caught breaching Covid rules by kissing his girlfriend 18 months ago
  • Mr Hancock admits he made a ‘human error’ but does not regret Covid policies 
  • He has just finished his I’m a Celeb appearance and is releasing a new book 

Matt Hancock wants forgiveness. He asked for it, poignantly, during his time in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! when this ‘detestable’, ‘vile’ former Health Secretary (as the Twitterati see him) actually showed himself to be a rather decent, likeable man.

So much so he received the sort of support from the public that countless politicians would give up their second homes for, surviving until the final where he received more than two million votes.

This is the former Health Secretary who, 18 months ago, caused many of us immeasurable distress when, flying in the face of his own lockdown guidance, he was caught on CCTV in a passionate embrace with the woman he loves ‘very deeply’ — Gina Coladangelo.

When that clinch was filmed on May 6, the rest of us were being told not to socialise indoors and to refrain from hugging loved ones.

‘It doesn’t matter the explanations I give for it. I put my hands up. I take responsibility. It’s why in camp [on I’m A Celebrity] I asked for forgiveness.

‘I want forgiveness for the human error I made breaking the guidelines when I fell in love with Gina, but I’m not asking for forgiveness for how I handled the pandemic.

Matt Hancock has said he does not ‘seek forgiveness for falling in love’ with girlfriend Gina Coladangelo

Former Health Secretary Mr Hancock has revealed all in a soul-bearing new interview

‘I woke up every single morning determined to do the very best I could in the most impossible circumstances until I needed to go to bed at night. I did that for 18 months.

‘There is a good, honest explanation for every single decision I made, whether it turned out to be right or not. Everyone who has any self-reflection knows you can’t get all your decisions right in life.

‘The forgiveness I seek is that, right at the end of the pandemic I went against the guidance I’d signed off for reasons many people will understand, but are not an excuse.

‘It was a failure of leadership. I don’t seek forgiveness for falling in love with Gina because I love her very deeply.’

Indeed, when I see them together in their Brisbane hotel room, there’s an easy shorthand between them that’s part loved-up teenagers and part old friends.

Gina, 45, is actually the sort of sparky, bright woman you’d enjoy having a glass of wine with. She has known Matt since their days at Oxford University, where they met doing student radio.

He was, he says, ‘like a labrador — over-enthusiastic and loving life. I was a bit much. Gina was extraordinarily beautiful. She was also kind, empathetic and charismatic. She’s incredible.’

In the years after Oxford their ‘paths continued to cross’, largely through a mutual university friend, Dom Pardey, who was, Matt says, ‘the most charismatic man I’d ever met’.

Mr Hancock was toppled as Health Secretary by the scandalous revelation he had been having an affair with aide Ms Coladangelo in breach of his own Covid rules 

He suffered a stroke at the age of 28, but remained the ‘social fulcrum for my friends because he holds ­parties a couple of times a year and that’s when everyone gets back together’.

They spent a weekend with their old gang at Center Parcs in February 2020 when the pandemic was in its infancy and Matt, in the face of ridicule from other government departments, set upon the ‘vaccine mission’ that would, in time, become world-beating and save many hundreds of thousands of lives.

Gina, skilled at communications, was initially brought in as a volunteer before being employed as a non-executive director on the board of the Department of Health, and she advised Matt on how to ‘speak in an emotionally intelligent way’ to engage the public.

During this time, Matt worked around the clock, getting up at 6am to have breakfast with his family, leaving home at 7.30am and returning at 9pm, ‘doing my [red ministerial] box and then making sure I got into bed by midnight’.

Such were the demands of his job that, at the height of Covid, aides had to factor ‘loo breaks’ into his diary.

‘We’d been involved in an incredibly intense time; also Gina’s job was to help me reach emotional depths I couldn’t reach on my own,’ he says. ‘When four or five or us were writing my speeches [delivered from behind the podium throughout Covid], Gina’s job was to stop me when I was reading it out and say: “What do you mean to say? How does that make you feel?” We talked to each other and communicated at a very profound level.’

It was April 2021 when, he says, ‘we both realised we had feelings for each other which were as strong as they were. It was very sudden and took us both by surprise’.

The former Conservative MP has just finished his appearance on I’m a Celebrity in Australia

As Matt and Gina were both married with three children, the devastation was immeasurable.

‘I understand more deeply than you can know the pain that was caused because of what happened. This hasn’t been easy for me or for those I love. I don’t seek sympathy because I brought it on myself. I felt every conflicting emotion because I was in love but, at the same time, I was causing immense pain to the people I loved.

‘Anyone who has been through this knows the consequences of falling in love with someone who is not your spouse, particularly when you have three children each.

‘We realised what was happening was of huge consequence that would last for the rest of our lives, but,’ he claps his hands together with force, ‘this was an affaire de coeur and therefore my political judgment was off.’

When we meet shortly after Matt emerged from the jungle to find comfort in Gina’s arms on the bridge, I wonder what happened for this seemingly thoroughly decent man to betray his family and the wider public as he did.

For Matt, 44, is not the sort of bloke who, you sense, would usually let his heart rule his head. He has a huge, analytical brain that not only, as he demonstrated in the jungle, makes him a wizard at solving puzzles but also gained him a place at Oxford University a year ahead of his peers and, after he graduated with a first in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, a job at the Bank of England.

He entered politics 16 years ago at the request of former Chancellor George Osborne, who told him, ‘you could teach me economics and I’ll teach you politics’, and has since held six different ministerial portfolios.

Today, that affaire de coeur has cost Matt his place at the centre of government and — after he absented himself from Westminster for a three-week stint on I’m A Celebrity… and a reported fee of £400,000 — the Conservative Party whip.

But while he insists there was nothing he could have done to quell his feelings for Gina, he is sorry for breaking the Covid guidelines he and his party imposed on the British people.

Mr Hancock pictured leaving Westminster on December 2 – after returning to Parliament following his TV appearances. His decision to appear on I’m a Celeb lost him the Tory whip

I tell him about my lovely sister, Samantha, who died of cancer during the pandemic. One of the saddest moments of my life was seeing my dear 82-year-old father standing by her grave at her forest funeral reciting Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’, while grief made him unsteady on his feet. The rules prevented my brother and me from so much as reaching out a hand to support him.

Mine is just one of many thousands of examples of the heartache experienced throughout the country because of the strict Covid rules.

Does Matt appreciate how sickened we were to see him breaking the guidelines, which he’d signed off, in that excruciatingly graphic CCTV footage — be it an affaire de coeur or a fleeting fancy?

‘I am so sorry.’ He looks genuinely affected and takes a while to gather himself. ‘I can see the [CCTV] brought back those awful memories and obviously I regret that pain, too, but the rules had to be in place for a reason — to save lives.

‘The clinical advice was very clear that funerals were very dangerous places to catch Covid. But sometimes, the rules were interpreted more strictly than we intended and funerals are the most awful example of that.

‘I did not need the media to tell me that a boy — a boy who was a year younger than my son — being laid to rest by four men in hazmat suits was unbelievably wrong and painful.’

He is referring to the impossibly sad funeral of 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab who, during the first 2020 lockdown, was laid to rest without his closest family members present because they were self-isolating.

‘To lose a child is the worst thing that could ever happen. Not to be there to lay him to rest is unimaginable.’

Matt wells up. He may have what he calls ‘an analytical layer’ but there is an emotional depth, too.

Mr Hancock is reuinted with Ms Coladangelo following the end of his I’m a Celebrity appearance

Until April 2021, Matt had been an assiduous follower of the rules he’d signed off on. So much so, he was one of the few members of Boris Johnson’s inner team who did not attend the Downing Street lockdown parties that effectively led to the termination of Johnson’s tenure as prime minster.

‘I didn’t know anything about them because I wasn’t invited,’ he confesses, with a wry roll of his eyes. ‘I’m sure the reason I wasn’t is because I’d maybe have made people very uncomfortable. Not that I would have gone anyway — I banned alcohol in my department.

‘The irony is not lost on me that I was quite an assiduous rule-follower until I made a mistake. It wasn’t until April that things changed. It was at the end, as the rules were loosening up. We were all looking at our lives afresh.’

His voice is husky with emotions.

‘This whole thing is a love story with all the consequences that love stories gone wrong have. How do you explain it?’

He clears his throat. Takes a deep breath.

‘It was in April. I can remember every moment of it. Gina had a medical appointment and called me afterwards. I was the first person she called. I’m like, “F***, she called me first.” And she’s like: “Oh my God, the person I wanted to call was Matt.”

‘It made us suddenly both think there was something else — more than a relationship between old friends and more than a relationship, obviously, between colleagues.

‘I think we both suddenly realised how much we both mean to each other. We were coming out of the pandemic and the medical issue made us both think about what was important to us and that you only have one life.’

Despite their realisation, he says they didn’t have any physical contact until May 2021.

‘We didn’t break any laws. We thought we were being supremely careful, but I broke my own guidance. I blame myself because it was my job to know what the guidance was. I missed a thing in the rules which is that a work bubble doesn’t apply if you’re not working.

‘If we’d waited just two weeks [the guidance about hugging changed on May 17 — 11 days after their shared kiss] what we did wasn’t against the guidance.’

Matt says for the following six weeks he felt ‘massively conflicted’.

He adds: ‘I was wrestling with my conscience. We both were. We came to the view over that six weeks that we wanted to make a life together. It was a really big decision. We have six children between us. The thought of hurting them was . . .’

He doesn’t finish the sentence. There is no need. The anguish is writ large on his face.

On June 24, Matt received a missed call from the editor of The Sun, who told him the newspaper had the pictures of him and Gina. Matt knew he had to tell his wife immediately.

He did so after phoning Boris Johnson who was, he says, ‘incredibly warm and emotionally intelligent. We’d just spent 18 months talking to each other several times a day and had become quite close’.

Matt went home to face his wife, Martha. So-called friends of hers briefed the media that he woke up his son to tell him the news which, he says, ‘is not true. He was awake’.

His torment is palpable. Today he is wearing a woven friendship bracelet that his daughter made for him. You know he wishes with every fibre of his being that he could have spared their anguish.

For ‘practical reasons’ Matt decided to leave the family home that night. He felt, he says, ‘bereft. ‘I didn’t want to be there when the cameras descended. I wanted to protect them as much as possible. I thought this was the best way’.

Matt barely slept a wink that night, waiting up until 2am for the picture to be published. Seeing the intimate footage from the video was, he says, ‘terrible’.

A few days later, Matt began to receive ­messages ‘from people I like telling me their lockdown experiences. It made me realise it was impossible to stay on’.

He went to see Boris Johnson shortly after lunch. ‘I was in tears in the car,’ he says. ‘Then I pulled myself together to go and see him. He was, after all, the Prime Minister.’

After he had resigned his ministerial post, Matt returned to his temporary home. Today, he continues to live alone in a rented flat. He and Gina grab precious moments together when they can but never, he says, as much time as they’d like.

‘The irony is that as a consequence of our decision to live life, we have then had a shockingly awful 18 months because of the CCTV — especially for Gina’

In truth, the vitriol rained upon them has been terrible, particularly since the twitterati began to work themselves into a frenzy over Matt’s decision to go into the jungle.

More than 1,100 complaints were made to Ofcom, insisting that he should be sitting in Parliament representing his constituents rather than performing bushtucker trials on reality TV.

As the woke liberal elite’s hate campaign intensified, Matt had the Tory whip suspended while Gina was asked to step down from her role as trustee for a charity.

‘It’s been absolutely horrific, especially for Gina,’ says Matt. ‘I love that woman and what does she get out of it? All she gets is me.’

He is genuinely upset on her behalf.

‘I’ve had an absolute bucket of s*** poured over my head,’ he says. ‘The even bigger bucket of s*** has been poured over Gina’s.

‘She’s given up everything other than her children and, just when she was putting her life back together, she lost an unpaid, ­positive charity role because I was going on I’m A Celebrity.’

Matt says he went on the show to ask the public to ‘look at me as a human. I was the face of the ­pandemic — the good bits and the ugly bits.

‘Some people hate me because I was the number-one cheerleader for the vaccine, others because of lockdown, but I know, in my heart, that’s not me. I wanted to win ­people over by being myself.’

Which, of course, he did — ­triumphing in trials and weathering what many of us perceived to be bullying behaviour in camp.

‘I didn’t feel bullied at all in the jungle,’ he says. ‘I formed an extraordinary bond with Seann Walsh in a short period of time, and then it took a few days to work through and develop relationships with the rest of the camp mates.

‘Whatever he says about me, I think Boy George is wonderful and I did not expect to say that about him because we have very different backgrounds, to say the least.

‘It took us a few days but we had, what I would call, grown-up, respectful discussions.

‘Some of them, I could tell, didn’t take to me straightaway but it ­softened over time. Being in the jungle also gives you lots of time to think about what really matters. I thought about how much I care for the people I really love.

‘Each day I was voted in I was really pleased to stay, but I missed my children desperately. It’s the longest I’ve gone without seeing them in their lives, and I missed Gina. I felt guilty I was leaving her at the end of the bridge, day after day after day, on her own,’ he says.

‘There’s often a media frenzy, particularly in the Westminster bubble, that doesn’t reflect how the public feel. I knew it was a risk the whip would be suspended — after all that is the precedent [when Tory MP Nadine Dorries went into the jungle] — but I didn’t expect it and went out of my way to go and see the Chief Whip before coming here.

‘I haven’t seen everything Rishi [Sunak] said, but I do agree that public service is a noble profession. I think it’s vital MPs connect with the electorate, including the large swathes of people — especially younger people — who don’t ­connect through the traditional political media.’

Yesterday, Matt returned to Westminster, without having the whip reinstated, for the second reading of his Dyslexia Bill, having spent Thursday in his constituency of West Suffolk. He says he loves being an MP, representing his constituents, and hopes to continue to do so.

As if on cue his phone pings with a text. It’s from a fellow MP saying his teenage daughter, who watches TikTok, thinks people like Matt.

He smiles broadly. ‘I’ve managed to make the connection I was ­looking for.’

And what of the forgiveness he sought?

‘I don’t know if I’ve achieved that, but I have shown people who I really am — not just the Matt Hancock on the podium.

‘I’m very much looking forward to working in Parliament and in my constituency. The wonderful thing about a democracy is how long I do that isn’t a choice for me — it’s the people’s choice.’

Matt Hancock’s book sale royalties will be donated to NHS Charities and good causes relating to dyslexia. 

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