Matt Hancock's toe-curling joke weeks before his affair was exposed

Call me the Minister for Hugs: Matt Hancock’s toe-curling joke weeks before his affair was exposed – as it is revealed his lover joined him at an office party two years ago

  • Matt Hancock is facing fresh questions over his lover’s taxpayer-funded job
  • It has been revealed Gina Coladangelo was at his side in 2019 at a drinks party
  • Party more than a year before she was handed role as non-executive director

Matt Hancock is facing more questions over his lover’s taxpayer-funded job amid fresh revelations about their relationship.

The Mail on Sunday can disclose that Gina Coladangelo was at the politician’s side when he threw an intimate drinks party in his Department of Health office as long ago as July 2019.

That reception was more than a year before Mr Hancock controversially handed his old university friend a £15,000-a-year role as a non-executive director, responsible for scrutinising his department’s work, and almost two years before their office clinch that cost him his Cabinet job.

Matt Hancock is facing more questions over his lover’s taxpayer-funded job amid fresh revelations about their relationship

Meanwhile, the former Minister faces more embarrassment as it emerged that he asked people to ‘call me the Minister for Hugs’ a few days after the fateful embrace, but weeks before it was exposed.

He cracked the cringeworthy joke on May 17, as he prepared for a TV interview about the loosening of coronavirus restrictions, which permitted ‘cautious cuddles’ in England.

The line, which raised a few smiles, has taken far greater resonance after Mr Hancock was forced to resign last weekend following the leak of CCTV footage of the clinch in his Whitehall office on May 6.

As the scandal exploded, Mr Hancock’s friends insisted his relationship with Ms Coladangelo only began days before the footage was filmed – in the hope of deflecting awkward questions about Ms Coladangelo being given her public job last September.

But even at the time the appointment was contentious, raising questions about the ‘chumocracy’ at the top of Government, as their friendship was well known. Indeed, in March last year Mr Hancock had appointed Ms Coladangelo, a major shareholder at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon, as an unpaid adviser at the Department of Health.

The Mail on Sunday can disclose that Gina Coladangelo was at the politician’s side when he threw an intimate drinks party in his Department of Health office as long ago as July 2019 – almost two years before their office clinch that cost him his Cabinet job

But insiders now say the pair held court together at the drinks reception almost a year before that – on July 22, 2019 – sharing an evident familiarity that is likely to renew speculation about when their affair began.. The event on the office terrace took place a month after Mr Hancock dropped out of the Tory leadership race which Ms Coladangelo advised him on.

The Department of Health last night declined to answer questions about why Ms Coladangelo was at the event and in what capacity, and whether she was a personal guest of Mr Hancock or if she had a Department of Health pass.

One insider who attended meetings at the time with Mr Hancock at which Ms Coladangelo was also present, said: ‘She was always around Matt and in his meetings. Every time I saw her, she was well dressed. I thought, “This is a woman who looks after herself.” ’

While the persistent presence of an attractive woman around a Minister often sparks rumours in Westminster’s febrile atmosphere, Mr Hancock’s ‘geeky’ reputation meant it passed with little comment. That nerdy image also meant his incongruous line about being the ‘Minister for Hugs’ got a laugh in the TV studio. A source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I was working on a show on which Matt Hancock was one of the guests. He was the only one of the eight people there who wasn’t wearing a mask at any time.

Meanwhile, the former Minister faces more embarrassment as it emerged that he asked people to ‘call me the Minister for Hugs’ a few days after the fateful embrace, but weeks before it was exposed

‘There had just been some relaxation in the rules and, at one point, he jokingly told everyone to call him the Minister of Hugs. That really makes me cringe now.’

This weekend, as he surveys the wreckage of both his political career and his 15-year marriage to Martha, his osteopath wife, Mr Hancock is thought to be spending time in his West Suffolk constituency. Ms Coladangelo is believed to be trying to avoid media attention at a rented property.

Friends insist the relationship is ‘more than just a fling’ and that the couple intend to set up a home together. Mrs Coladangelo, 43, has left her husband, Oliver Tress, 54, the millionaire founder of the Oliver Bonas retail chain. Mr Hancock told Martha, 44, that he was leaving her just hours before the story of his clinch with Ms Coladangelo broke last month.

‘You won’t see much of him for weeks and months,’ said an ally. ‘He just wants to keep his head down and focus on his constituency.’

However, another supporter suggested that 42-year-old Mr Hancock is already planning a political comeback, taking heart from the warm words Boris Johnson had to say about his ‘considerable contribution’ to public life.

He cracked the cringeworthy joke on May 17, as he prepared for a TV interview about the loosening of coronavirus restrictions, which permitted ‘cautious cuddles’ in England (file image)

‘Matt really does think this will blow over, that people nowadays are not judgemental about politicians’ private lives,’ the ally said. ‘He thinks he will be back within a few months or so.’

A bid to trigger a deselection process in Mr Hancock’s constituency failed last week, but he may face a further threat from the Boundary Commission, which is expected to redraw the constituency map in 2023. He would then rely on members of several Conservative associations in the area to reselect him as a candidate. ‘In normal circumstances it is a formality, but he should be worried,’ said one source.

Meanwhile, friends of Mr Tress and Ms Coladangelo, who have three children together, said they were struggling to cope with the media glare. ‘Neither of them is taking any calls,’ said one. ‘They’ve battened down the hatches as you would. The whole thing is insane. Poor Oli, he’s in such a state.’

While Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo insist their relationship is serious, many Whitehall insiders are doubtful. ‘I’ve a feeling it will peter out after a few months,’ said one. ‘Will she even want to be with him now he’s not Secretary of State?’

Will he be quids in with millionaire Gina?

By Max Aitchison and Helen Cahill for the Mail on Sunday

The former Health Secretary could find himself a lot better off following the scandal that forced him out of office, one of Britain’s top divorce lawyers has said.

After his affair was exposed, Matt Hancock has started a new relationship with aide Gina Coladangelo – a millionaire who is also expected to be entitled to a huge share of her husband’s fortune.

That is likely to leave him in a better financial position than had he stayed with his osteopath wife Martha, with whom he has three children, according to divorce expert Ayesha Vardag. ‘Matt Hancock’s career has been largely spent in politics and so he will not have earned a huge amount in the great scheme of things,’ she said.

‘If he’s going into a partnership that has more money sloshing around, then he’s likely to be better off. But then that will, of course, potentially alter his liability to pay maintenance for his children.’

The former Health Secretary could find himself a lot better off following the scandal that forced him out of office, one of Britain’s top divorce lawyers has said

Mr Hancock receives an MP’s salary of £81,932 but following his resignation has lost the additional £71,673 he received as a Secretary of State. He is thought likely to decline a tax-free £17,673 pay-off.

The 42-year-old and his wife Martha bought their home in North-West London for £1.6 million in 2014 and he has a 15 per cent stake in his sister’s storage firm, Topwood, estimated to be worth up to £500,000.

Ms Coladangelo is believed to be a multi-millionaire. As well as being communications director for Oliver Bonas, the retail firm set up by her husband Oliver Tress, she has shares in the lobbying firm Luther Pendragon. The couple also own a £3.6 million house in South-West London. In the year before the pandemic, Oliver Bonas paid dividends of £1.4 million – almost half of it to Mr Tress, its biggest shareholder.

Ms Vardag said Ms Coladangelo, his wife of 12 years, would probably be entitled to half of her husband’s business empire, adding it is ‘a matter of law’ that adultery doesn’t affect financial settlements.

Martha Hancock, 44, is descended from aristocracy, although it is unclear how much her family are worth.

And just look at the six-bed manor his Covid contract row friend snapped up!

By Chris Hastings and Abul Taher for the Mail on Sunday

A former pub landlord who won a multi-million-pound Covid contract after lobbying his friend Matt Hancock bought a £1.3 million country manor house just months after securing the lucrative deal.

Alex Bourne, who is now at the centre of a cronyism row involving the shamed former Health Secretary, purchased Hundon Hall, a 17th Century property boasting original oak timbers, six bedrooms and three stables last December, according to Land Registry documents. It came just nine months after he first emailed Mr Hancock as part of his bid to secure a Covid-19 contract.

Formerly the home of Henry Walton Smith, the founder of newsagent chain W H Smith, the imposing property stands at the end of a gravel drive in rolling Suffolk countryside and features a meadow, a lake and a Mediterranean-style outside dining area.

Former pub landlord Alex Bourne (pictured right) who won a multi-million-pound Covid contract after lobbying his friend Matt Hancock (left) bought a £1.3 million country manor house just months after securing the lucrative deal

Mr Bourne, a former Army captain, met Mr Hancock when he took over the freehold of the Cock Inn in Thurlow, West Suffolk, close to the MP’s constituency home in 2016. As well as praising the Cock Inn in public, Mr Hancock hung a photograph of the pub on the wall of his office at his home, only removing it in the light of ongoing concerns about the contract.

Documents published by The Mail on Sunday last weekend showed Mr Hancock forwarded an email from Mr Bourne on March 30 last year about manufacturing surgical masks to a senior civil servant at the Department of Health.

At the time, the Government was desperate to secure supplies of PPE. Mr Bourne, whose company Hinpack Limited manufactured cartons and cups for the catering industry and had no experience of supplying medical equipment, later secured a reported £30 million deal to provide test tubes for Covid tests.

Mr Hancock, who resigned last weekend after his affair with aide Gina Coladangelo was exposed, previously told Sky News that Mr Bourne ‘went through the normal channels’, adding: ‘I don’t have anything to do with the signing of individual contracts.’

Alex Bourne, who is now at the centre of a cronyism row involving the shamed former Health Secretary, purchased Hundon Hall, a 17th Century property boasting original oak timbers, six bedrooms and three stables last December, according to Land Registry documents

Mr Bourne denies any impropriety, disputes the reported value of the Hinpack contract, and says the deal was signed with an approved NHS distributor rather than directly with the Government.

He said last night that Hundon Hall had been bought with proceeds from the sale of the family’s terrace home in Battersea, South-West London. The London house, which was purchased for £915,000 in 2014, was sold last November for £1.225 million.

‘I did not buy Hundon Hall because of Covid,’ said Mr Bourne. ‘I have yet to make any personal cash from this contract.’

The emails, obtained by the MoS under Freedom of Information rules, also revealed that Mr Bourne secured a place on a virtual Zoom session with Mr Hancock and Boris Johnson to discuss ‘manufacturing support for increased testing’.

It emerged last week that Mr Hancock also used a private Gmail account for work purposes. Asked if any messages exchanged between the former Health Secretary and Mr Bourne through using that account has been disclosed, the Department of Health said: ‘All Ministers are aware of the rules around personal email usage.’

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