Matt Hancock has opened up for the first time about his failings as health secretary during the Covid pandemic and his highly publicised affair with a close aide.
The former minister was forced to resign last summer after CCTV images emerged of him kissing close friend Gina Coladangelo in his personal office while the country was still following the government’s social distancing guidelines.
In a tell-all interview for The Diary of a CEO podcast, Mr Hancock admitted he broke the guidelines because he “fell in love with somebody” – but insisted he did not break the law.
The father-of-three, who subsequently split from his wife of 15 years and moved in with Ms Coladangelo, who was also married with three children, was keen to stress their relationship was not “casual sex”.
Quizzed on decisions he made early on in the pandemic and what the government got wrong, Mr Hancock said one of his biggest regrets was the rule only allowing six people to attend a funeral.
He also claimed the prime minister’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings attempted to get him fired, and revealed Boris Johnson apologised after leaked text messages showed him describing the the-health secretary as “totally f****** hopeless”.
The MP for West Suffolk, who appeared more relaxed in a black turtleneck, jeans and trainers during the almost two-hour long podcast, also claimed he didn’t miss his ministerial role and was enjoying life on the backbenches.
Here are five of his biggest revelations during his sit down with entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den investor Steven Bartlett:
‘Mistakes were made’
Asked how he felt in hindsight with the knowledge 21,000 lives could have been saved if England locked down a week earlier in March 2020, Mr Hancock said: “It’s obviously something that I’ll always think about.”
He added: “If I search for what I really believe about that, the honest truth is that we didn’t know.
“Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing and it was judgement based on the balance of these two scales. I really wish we’d known then what we know now.”
He also said there were “some mistakes we made in terms of the measures” and “how they were brought in”.
“Just details about the things that really, really mattered to people,” he said.
“We brought in rules saying six people could go to a funeral, very, very restrictive. But for some people, especially people who were shielding, the rules were interpreted as in some cases even the spouse shouldn’t go to the funeral.”
He also referred to seeing footage of a young boy being buried by people in hazmat suits without his parents there. “That was just awful,” he said.
‘I never had casual sex, I fell in love’
Mr Hancock took issue with Mr Bartlett referring to casual sex during the interview as he talked about rules during the first year of the pandemic which limited contact between couples who did not live together.
A visibly uncomfortable Mr Hancock asked: “Do you think you could ask the question in a little more respectful way?”
Mr Bartlett began again, but Mr Hancock soon started shaking his head before asking if he could start the section of questioning again without the reference to casual sex.
“I haven’t had casual sex with anybody,” he said. “I fell in love with somebody.”
“This bit is really hard for me,” he added.
‘I broke the rules because I fell in love’
Mr Hancock admitted breaking social distancing guidelines during his affair with Ms Coladangelo – but denied breaking the law.
“I resigned because I broke the social distancing guidelines,” he said.
“By then, they weren’t actually rules, they weren’t the law. But that’s not the point.
“The point is they were the guidelines that I’d been proposing. That happened because I fell in love with somebody.”
Mr Hancock told the podcast he had known Ms Coladangelo for “half of my life” and that he brought her in to the department to help with public communications.
“We spent a lot of time together – ironically trying to get me to be able to communicate in a more emotionally intelligent way – and we fell in love,” he said.
“That’s something that was completely outside of my control and I of course regret the pain that that’s caused and the very, very, very public nature … but I fell in love with someone.
“It actually happened after the rules were lifted, but the guidance was still in place.
“I hold no bitterness about this because I broke the rules, I ’fess up. I broke the guidance.”
‘I don’t miss the job’
The former health secretary, who quit the prime minister’s cabinet in June 2021, revealed he didn’t miss his job.
“I actually don’t miss the job as much as I expected,” he said. “I’m actually really enjoying the freedom of being on the backbenches on the professional side and I’m absolutely in love with Gina and that helps a bit.”
Mr Hancock also claimed the reason he resigned after the CCTV images were leaked was nothing to do with pressure from media.
“It wasn’t really the press,” he said. “It was that some people I really respect got in contact and told me about things they had been not able to do like seeing dying relatives and I realised that it was unsustainable.”
He added: “Being health secretary is not nearly as difficult as worrying about your children in a very public divorce. Undoubtedly, going through that is the hardest thing I’ve ever done by a long, long way.”
‘Dominic Cummings was trying to get me fired’
Mr Hancock claimed Boris Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings tried to get him fired.
He also revealed the prime minister apologised after Mr Cummings leaked text messages saying the then health secretary had “f***** up ventilators” and was “totally f****** hopeless”.
Mr Hancock told the podcast: “Yeah but remember at that time it subsequently transpired Dominic Cummings was trying to get me fired and if you look at those text exchanges, they’re like a diatribe against what I was up to and it didn’t actually reflect what was going on.
“Boris has apologised for the way that came over and for sending those messages but actually if you look at it in context, the context is this guy was trying to get me fired, he sent a load of aggressive messages to the prime minster, the prime minister responded as he did in a private setting never expecting that to become public.”