Around the time Matt Hancock launched his ill-fated Tory leadership campaign in 2019, Gina Coladangelo was gently challenged by one of the Health Secretary’s allies about the nature of their relationship.
Their easy intimacy had not escaped some in Mr Hancock’s Westminster circle. Who exactly was the glamorous half-Italian aide suddenly drafted in to invigorate his campaign? And, more pertinently, was there anything between them that might, should it become public, frustrate his tilt at the top job?
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Ms Coladangelo answered the enquiry by resolutely insisting there was not – and she was taken at her word.
At the time, it was immaterial because, with the kind of flaccid support that he is again experiencing this weekend, Mr Hancock would quickly bow out to Boris Johnson. It was before anyone became familiar with the word coronavirus and the concept of social distancing.
Much has passed in the two years since and, now, thanks to leaked footage of their lockdown-busting clinch in his office, Ms Coladangelo’s role in Mr Hancock’s life has become strikingly apparent.
‘They are in love,’ a close friend of Mr Hancock said last night, adding: ‘It is serious.’ But the friend’s insistence that the affair ‘all began in May’ might not be so readily believed.
The Government is fond of maxims to drive home its Covid message. A snappy summary of Mr Hancock’s fall from grace might run thus: Fumbled, Rumbled, Tumbled.
Images and video showed Mr Hancock kissing the millionaire lobbyist last month, and the Health Secretary was facing increasing pressure to quit over the breaking of social-distancing rules
Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo (pictured) both worked at student radio station Oxygen FM
The MoS can reveal that the roots of that encounter, which yesterday cost Mr Hancock his job, lie more than two decades earlier in a cramped, breeze-block-walled studio beneath an Oxford nightclub called 5th Avenue. It was there, at student radio station Oxygen FM, that Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo both worked: he a minority sports reporter, she co-presenting the breakfast show.
Colleagues could not recall yesterday whether the two undergraduates, who both studied politics, philosophy and economics, were more than just close friends at this time or whether, for instance, Mr Hancock’s honeyed radio voice set Ms Coladangelo’s pulse racing. But it is fair to say that Oxygen FM did breathe life into their burgeoning relationship – by all accounts the pair quickly grew inseparable.
Of the two, recalled colleagues, it was Gina who stood out. Maxie Allen, Oxygen’s programme co-ordinator who knew them both, said: ‘I imagine he always had a crush on her. There were about 20 people who ran it day in and day out, and there were loads of other people who would come in to do bits and pieces – and Matt was one of those.
‘He was very peripheral – quiet, shy and meek. He wasn’t someone you noticed and came across as diffident and anonymous.
‘Gina was very prominent. She used to co-present my breakfast show and she would do some sport things. She was nice, striking-looking and confident, certainly very popular with young men.
‘I went to Gina’s 21st birthday which was like a wedding. There was a sit-down meal, speeches and a DJ in the grounds of her parents’ house. Hancock may well have been there but you wouldn’t have remembered as he didn’t stand out in any way.’
One colleague recalled that Mr Hancock eventually left Oxygen in a fit of pique when he was denied the chance to present a politics show.
Where exactly the current Mrs Hancock – born Martha Hoyer Millar – first fits into this story is uncertain. She met Mr Hancock at Oxford but it is not known if it was then or later that they fell in love. What can be said with certainty is that Matt and Martha married in 2006.
However, at no point after leaving Oxford did Mr Hancock lose touch with Ms Coladangelo and they remained the ‘closest of friends’.
She is married to dashing millionaire entrepreneur Oliver Tress, 54, who went to Kate Middleton’s school, Marlborough College, and founded the High Street fashion and lifestyle chain Oliver Bonas. They live in a £4 million, six-bedroom Edwardian home.
A friend of Mr Tress said: ‘I imagine he is just falling apart over this. He had no idea that this was happening. He trusted them both.’
She is married to dashing millionaire entrepreneur Oliver Tress, 54, who went to Kate Middleton’s school, Marlborough College, and founded the High Street fashion and lifestyle chain Oliver Bonas
Gina Coladangelo pictured with Matt Hancock at the BBC Broadcasting House in central London in June this year. The ex-Health Secretary and his aide are said to be a ‘love match’
The marriage is not Ms Coladangelo’s first. She was previously married to London property lawyer Glynn Gibb.
Friends yesterday added another biographical detail – they claimed that Ms Coladangelo is a niece of Arsenal goalkeeping legend and veteran broadcaster Bob Wilson.
His son, Robert Wilson, said: ‘I can’t confirm anything. I’m not confirming or denying any detail. It doesn’t sound like an intriguing detail, it just sounds like a detail.’ After university, Ms Coladangelo worked in public relations in London. She later joined the lobbyists Luther Pendragon, a company which offers clients a ‘deep understanding of the mechanics of government’, and was involved in a management buyout of the business in 2005.
Invariably by Mr Hancock’s side as he endured hostile interviews over his performance as Health Secretary, she is said to have given advice on how to present himself better. ‘It’s not normal but I think he needed the support during the pandemic,’ a source said.
In March last year – as the UK was plunged into its first lockdown – Mr Hancock secretly appointed Ms Coladangelo as an unpaid adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on a six-month contract. She has since accompanied him to confidential meetings with civil servants and has visited No 10. In September 2020, she was made a non-executive director at the DHSC and she can claim up to £15,000 of taxpayers’ money in the role which involves advising Ministers and the department on strategic issues.
Her role only became public in November when it was reported by a newspaper and a profile was added to the government website highlighting her background in the healthcare sector.
One source said at the time: ‘Before Matt does anything big, he’ll speak to Gina. She knows everything.’ Another added: ‘She has access to lots of confidential information.’
The clinch with Mr Hancock that led to his resignation happened on May 6. In a video released by The Sun, the pair kiss for almost a minute, occasionally pulling back to smile and giggle.
Martha Hancock pictured arriving home today in London. She reportedly had no clue about the affair between Mr Hancock and his aide until she was told their marriage was over
Matt and Martha seen attending the VO5 NME Awards 2018 at London’s O2 Brixton Academy
A few days later, Mr Hancock warned the public to be ‘careful’ about the new freedom to hug – and suggested they should only do so outside with others who are fully vaccinated.
The Sun also published a picture of Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo enjoying an intimate dinner on May 23 while separate images of the pair – said to have been taken at Ours restaurant in Chelsea on May 18 – also emerged yesterday.
Meanwhile, a source told The Sun the couple were ‘at it again’ as recently as last week, adding: ‘This pandemic is far from over and he was back in there with her and their hands were all over each other – it’s so brazen.’
Ms Coladangelo was pictured loading bags into her car with the help of her husband shortly before the revelations about the clinch became public on Thursday night.
She left the family home in South-West London and apparently did not return. As the scandal deepened, it seemed only Ms Coladangelo’s physician father, Rino Coladangelo, 70, was prepared to defend her.
Speaking at his 14th Century home near Royston, Hertfordshire, he described his daughter as ‘a wonderful person’.
Asked if he thought Mr Hancock had acted hypocritically, he added: ‘I have no comment on that.’
Matt Hancock quits his job – and marriage: Ex-Health Secretary ditches his ‘crestfallen’ wife and tells friends he’s in love with aide as he is replaced by Sajid Javid
Health Secretary Matt Hancock quit the Cabinet last night after he was warned that he risked inflicting lasting damage on the Conservative Party by clinging to office.
Boris Johnson said he had ‘reluctantly’ accepted Mr Hancock’s resignation over his affair with an aide – after Tory MPs had lined up to call for him to go.
The Mail on Sunday has also learned that Mr Hancock ended his marriage on Thursday night, telling his devastated wife Martha just hours before incendiary pictures of him kissing adviser Gina Coladangelo were splashed all over the front pages.
Last night, a friend of Mr Hancock told this newspaper that he and Ms Coladangelo were ‘in love’. The friend said: ‘It all started in May, but it is serious’.
Mr Hancock wrote in his resignation letter today: ‘The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis’
Matt Hancock wrote a letter of resignation (pictured above) to Boris Johnson where he said the Government ‘owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down
In a dramatic political comeback, Mr Hancock was replaced by former Chancellor Sajid Javid – who was ousted
from the Treasury in February 2020 after losing a power struggle with former No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings.
Last night, Mr Cummings claimed Mr Javid had only won the job because of his friendship with Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie – and gloated about having him removed from the Treasury.
Mr Cummings wrote: ‘So Carrie appoints Saj.’ He went on to claim that if he hadn’t ‘tricked’ the Prime Minister into firing Javid the country would have had a Treasury filled with ‘useless’ staff leading to ‘chaos’ rather than the ‘big success’ which followed.
He added: ‘Saj = bog standard = chasing headlines + failing = awful for NHS. Need #RegimeChange.’
In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Hancock said that he didn’t want his ‘private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis’. He said that members of the Government ‘owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down’, and he wanted to ‘apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this’.
He added: ‘I also need [to] be with my children at this time.’
In response, Mr Johnson said he was sorry to receive the resignation and paid tribute to Mr Hancock’s performance as Health Secretary. He said: ‘It has been your task to deal with a challenge greater than that faced by any of your predecessors, and in fighting Covid you have risen to that challenge – with the abundant energy, intelligence and determination that are your hallmark.’
The Prime Minister concluded by offering Mr Hancock the prospect of a political comeback, saying: ‘I am grateful for your support and believe that your contribution to public service is far from over.’
A Downing Street source said: ‘Boris accepted the resignation reluctantly. This was very much Matt’s decision.’
Mr Hancock later released a video in which he contritely apologised for breaking the social distancing rules he was so adamant in championing.
He said: ‘I understand the enormous sacrifices that everybody in this country has made, you have made. And those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them and that’s why I’ve got to resign’.
Mr Hancock will be replaced by former chancellor and home secretary Sajid Javid, it has been announced. A statement from 10 Downing Street said: ‘The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’
Ms Coladangelo, who has three children with her multi-millionaire fashion tycoon husband Oliver Tress, the founder of high street chain Oliver Bonas, has also left her role as a non-executive director at the Department of Health.
Downing Street had tried to draw a line under the row on Friday, by saying that Mr Johnson had accepted Mr Hancock’s apology for ‘breaching social distancing rules’ and considered the matter closed.
But the lack of support from Mr Hancock’s colleagues became increasingly conspicuous yesterday, with senior Tories warning that the issue of Mr Hancock’s ‘hypocrisy’ was being raised on the doorsteps in Batley and Spen, which is holding a by-election on Thursday.
On May 16, ten days after his filmed clinch, Mr Hancock had said that people should be ‘careful’ about the new freedom to hug – and suggested they should do so only outside with people who had been fully vaccinated.
Before Mr Hancock’s resignation, former Tory Cabinet Minister Esther McVey said she would have stood down had she been in his position and hoped he was ‘thinking the same thing’. She added it would be ‘viewed more admirably’ if he jumped, and did not have to have it ‘pushed upon him’.
Friends of the 42-year-old had also told him that he should quit yesterday.
One said: ‘Matt should have gone straight away on Friday, and worked to rebuild his political career and private life from the backbenches. Instead, he just faced death by a thousand cuts.’
Responding to the news, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘Matt Hancock is right to resign. But Boris Johnson should have sacked him.’
After another tumultuous day at Westminster:
lThe Mail on Sunday can reveal how Mr Hancock fell victim to a sting by a whistleblower in his department, who contacted opponents of the Health Secretary’s stance on lockdown to help expose the affair;
lIt emerged that suspicions about Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo were first raised in 2019 when she joined his campaign for the Tory leadership, with friends of the Minister understood to have quizzed her about the nature of the friendship – and been assured that it was above board;
lThis newspaper obtained bombshell emails which contradicted Mr Hancock’s insistence that he did not help a friend, the former pub landlord Alex Bourne, win a £30 million Covid contract at the height of the pandemic.
Mr Hancock’s political and personal worlds started to implode on Thursday evening when he was contacted by The Sun and told the newspaper was planning to publish the pictures in the following day’s edition.
He immediately informed his wife, with whom he has three children, and told her that the marriage was over.
A friend of the family said: ‘Everyone is totally crestfallen.’ Mr Hancock had put the 43-year-old Ms Coladangelo, a friend from university, on the public payroll last year when he made her a non-executive director of the Department of Health on a £15,000 contract.
Before his resignation was announced, Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope had said that his local party association felt that Mr Hancock ‘was in breach of the Ministerial Code [and] in breach of the lockdown regulations’.
He added that Mr Hancock had been ‘passing the laws, signing off the regulations, requiring people to comply with restrictions upon their freedom’ and that local party members are ‘absolutely seething now, that having made sacrifices themselves, including not seeing loved-ones and all the rest of it, they find that the person who was in charge of all this feels free to not comply with his own regulations’.
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker added: ‘In my view, people in high public office and great positions of responsibility should act with the appropriate morals and ethics that come with that role.
‘Matt Hancock, on a number of measures, has fallen short of that.
‘I will not in any shape condone this behaviour, and I have in the strongest possible terms told the Government what I think.’
Despite No 10’s public protestations of confidence in Mr Hancock, Tory strategists were increasingly concerned about the long-term reputational damage to the party from the saga – and the short-term implications in Batley and Spen, which was held by Labour at the last Election with a majority of 3,525.
Quizzed yesterday, before his resignation was announced, voters in the West Yorkshire constituency talked about how Mr Hancock had ‘betrayed’ the nation by breaking his own rules.
Simon Edgerton, 51, said: ‘We’ve done what’s been asked of us for more than a year, and he betrayed all of us. He has broken his own rules and our trust. He simply could not be trusted any more.’
And Stephen Beverley, 62, said that Mr Hancock’s actions had made him reconsider voting Conservative. The HGV driver said: ‘I haven’t decided who I will vote for yet but I think something like this has to have an effect on the Tories.
‘He was caught with his pants down and he’s an embarrassment. I think he only apologised because he was caught, but what about an apology to all the people who haven’t seen their loved-ones?
‘How do they expect us to obey the rules if they don’t? I’m struggling at the moment with who to vote for, but I think I might just avoid the two big parties altogether as both of them don’t have my confidence at all.’