So far, I’ve avoided having an affair. Intellectually, I can’t see any reason why it would make any difference if I did. But then I imagine lying in bed with the woman I’ve loved for over a decade, something having changed. If you measure the closeness of your relationships by honesty, what would it be like to have to hold something back for ever? And then there’s the effort involved: the excuses, the cost of the hotel rooms, having to remember two sets of birthdays. I’ll give it a miss. Probably.
If you have any sort of public profile at all, you’re expected to be honest and open, not only with those you know, but with those who think that they know you. You must hold nothing back, and accept that you’ll be the subject of constant, intrusive speculation, both false and true. Which, at least in some cases, is fair enough. If you have made your name and your fortune on the back of tales of your fabulously debauched parties at which – so rumour has it – dwarves circulate among the guests serving cocaine from little bowls anchored to their heads, you shouldn’t be surprised if the News of the World exposes you one day as a pipe and slippers man. If you’ve made your political reputation backing traditional family values, you shouldn’t complain when a redacted version of your gaydar profile (“Fuckpig69“) is reprinted on the front cover of the Mirror.
Recently, I was introduced by a political journalist friend to an ex-minister who – I had heard – was never happier than when tied up by rent boys and covered in his own faeces. As he extended his hand for me to shake, I found myself checking the cleaness of his fingernails. I felt ashamed because, even though I believe the rumour to be untrue, I couldn’t exclude it from my mind. But that’s alright, because anybody in public office knows that they’ve given up their privacy altogether. And so politics is populated by the sort of people who really don’t mind that everything that they’ve ever done – and everything that their families have done – and ever will do may one day be known by everybody.
That takes a very special kind of person.