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The hunt for Mrs Starmer

For good reason – and much to the frustration of the tabloids – the Labour leader’s wife has done a great job of avoiding the spotlight

Victoria Starmer has proved frustratingly elusive for Britain’s press in the run-up to the election. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty/TNE

She won’t be receiving flowers on the No 10 doorstep, dishevelled and in her nightie, this weekend. She won’t be appearing on Bake Off or wearing a red wig for Comic Relief. She won’t be putting out the bins. She won’t be announcing a pregnancy to hordes of Instagram followers. She won’t be making a “surprise appearance” to introduce her “best friend” and husband to the party conference. 

Much to the frustration of the press, which is desperate for more than a mere glimpse of Victoria Starmer.

Doesn’t she get that it’s her duty to be Sir Keir’s “secret weapon”? We want to laud her for her role as the new prime minister’s rock; the steadying influence as he navigates the choppy seas of power. To admire the way she understands the politics, but never goes further than lending a sympathetic ear, nodding and being supportive. We don’t care for the two-for-one “Billary” vibe. 

We want to celebrate that she is “her own woman”, with her own career far away from the Westminster bubble. And show our approval when she chooses always to “put family first” and seeks to protect her children from prying eyes (the fact that the eyes doing the prying are ours is beside the point). 

What has she got to be worried about? We’re always eager to welcome a new smart, attractive woman to the public stage – look at how enthusiastic we all were when Harry took up with that American actress. Gosh! What a breath of fresh air. Just as “Fergie” had been a quarter of a century earlier.

And yes, Lady Starmer can be pretty sure that, whatever the papers think and say about her husband, she would get a warm welcome. If only she would bend a little. But, apart from clearly not being interested in being a public figure – “there will be no interviews” and friends aren’t talking – she is also probably savvy enough to know that fresh air can go stale when bottled. And when you’re a Labour wife, any honeymoon period is going to be extremely brief. She doesn’t need it.

So Victoria Starmer is not playing ball. Most of the above is surmise. It’s all the press has to go on, built from tiny insights into home life that her husband has let slip, combined with some old photos from her university days and her testimony at Westminster magistrates’ court after a Gaza protest outside the family home.

While Amanda Platell complains in the Mail “Why is Lady Starmer so seldom seen standing by her man?” and her new colleague Bryony Gordon asks “Will Victoria be the first invisible First Lady?”, half a dozen feature writers have tried to add flesh to those bones – with very little success. 

The Times and the Mail on Sunday both went delving into her days as, first, welfare officer and then president of the Cardiff students’ union, while Guy Kelly had two pages in the Telegraph counselling that “Keir could do with his wife telling people about the real him”. What he meant was, “we could do with his wife showing us the real her”. 

The giveaway was the front-page puff demanding “Where is Lady Starmer?” This came with a picture of Sir Keir with his arms around a black silhouette and the tagline “Why Labour leader’s wife is out of the picture”. Er, because she doesn’t want to be in it? And to ram the message home, there as the main photograph was Akshata Murty in “cheerful” canary yellow “looking on the bright side” on the way to her husband’s Tory manifesto launch at Silverstone.

Over at the Independent, Eleanor Mills seemed to have more to offer with “My neighbour Lady Vic, the silent partner in Keir’s life”. But it was a chimaera. They both live in Kentish Town and she can see the Starmers’ house from her own home. She had been surprised, she says, when she saw her photograph on the Labour leaflet that dropped through her letterbox. Because it was different from her usual look? 

“Around these parts, with her jeans and silk shirts, leather jackets and chic ‘working mum’ vibe, Vic blends in,” Mills writes. So they’re great mates then? Or maybe not. She tells readers that the Kentish Town mum mafia reckon she’s “cool, “a laugh”, “down to earth” and “one of us”. But this sounds more like reportage than first-hand insight. After that, every detail reads like a cuts job – with Tom Baldwin’s Starmer biography an important additional source.

And so it is with almost everyone who has been commissioned to write such a profile: the first encounter with Keir over the phone and the “Who the **** does he think he is?” putdown, the first date at the Lord Stanley (Mills’s local knowledge allows her to add that this is an excellent gastropub – though she is writing two decades after the event), the fried eggs and toast breakfasts for the son studying for GCSEs. 

My absolute favourite nugget from these tell-you-almost-nothing pen portraits came courtesy of Alice Thomson in the Times: “They have almost no celebrity acquaintances except George and Amal Clooney”. Some might think that if you were allowed only one celebrity friendship, that might just pass muster. 

Other staples are her non-speaking appearances at the Sarah Everard vigil, the Euros final at Wembley in 2020, Wimbledon in 2022, and Wembley again for Taylor Swift last month. Plus the fact that the Starmer family sometimes goes to the synagogue for Friday prayers. 

We know she works for the NHS as an occupational therapist and that the couple’s children are teenagers – a boy and a girl – but not their names (though that beggars belief, which suggests that the press is, on occasion, capable of restraint, however much it is straining at the leash).

Will she be able to keep this lid on her private life? She can do her best, but she won’t be able to stop the speculation. There will be “compliments” on her smart/chic/sassy outfits, the corollary being that researchers will have been tasked with tracking down where they were bought and pricing every item – dress, shoes, handbag, the works. Her every change of hairstyle, her favoured brand of sunglasses, her choice of food at any restaurant she enters will be noted. 

She may be “Vic” only to her friends at the moment, but she’ll soon be Vic to everyone. Until she steps across some invisible line. In which case she’ll suddenly become “Lady Starmer” in a sneering headline questioning her judgment, appearance, behaviour.

Will she suffer like Cherie Blair, with always the most unflattering picture chosen to accompany a personal attack over her latest “sin” – or will she be feted like SamCam, who was credited with taking the Boden look into the stratosphere? Will she become “Queen Victoria”, the “aloof” successor to the “meddling” Carrie Antoinette? 

One thing’s for sure: she won’t be left alone as Hugh O’Leary was in his brief period as prime ministerial consort. Who he? Try Google.

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See inside the OK.. now get on with it edition

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