Matt Hancock has insisted that he broke only Covid guidelines rather than rules in kissing his aide and friend in his ministerial office, events that forced his resignation as UK health secretary after CCTV images of the clinch emerged.
Hancock also said his decision to step down more than 24 hours after the pictures were published was made after people he knew and respected got in touch to remind him they had been unable to see dying relatives because of Covid regulations.
He resigned in June last year after CCTV footage was leaked to the Sun showing him kissing his closest aide, Gina Coladangelo, in his personal office.
In a lengthy interview for the podcast Diary of a CEO, Hancock made the distinction that he did not believe he had broken any legally set rules, although he accepted it was inevitable he had to step down.
“I resigned because I broke the social distance in guidelines then,” he said. “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.”
He added: “It actually happened after … the rules were lifted, but the guidance was still in place. So I’m not trying to claim that I hold no bitterness about this because I broke the rules, I fess up, I broke the guidance, and there were only two people responsible for this.”
It happened, he said, “because I fell in love with somebody,” describing Coladangelo, a close personal and family friend before they began a relationship, as someone he had known “for more than half of my life”.
Hancock has left his wife, with whom he has three children, to live with Coladangelo. The PR and lobbying manager, who at the time was a non-executive director at the health department, is also married with three children.
“I brought her into the department to help with public communications,” Hancock told the podcast. “And so 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. And that’s something that was completely outside of my control. And of course, I regret the pain that that’s caused and the very, very, very public nature. Anybody who’s been through this knows how difficult it is, how painful it is doing that in public is incredibly painful, but I fell in love with someone.”
Hancock told the podcast that his decision to resign was not necessarily a result of the intense media pressure: “It was that some people I really respect got in contact and told me about things that they had been not able to do.”
Asked to explain, he said: “Like seeing dying relatives. And … I realised that it was unsustainable.”
The release of the CCTV images “caused a huge amount of pain”, Hancock said: “Anybody knows how difficult it is ending a relationship, and we have six children. It’s tough. But Gina and I love each other very deeply.”
Hancock said he still did not know how CCTV images from his personal office were leaked and that he knew nothing about the progress of an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
He said: “The thing that we’ve learned, and I think all my other colleagues in cabinet learned immediately, is why did you have a CCTV in the secretary of state’s office? Obviously, I didn’t know about it because even who’s in the office is an important fact and a sensitive piece of information.”