The Nun’s Non-Story

The Daily Mail sniffs out a story about Laura Adshead, a former girlfriend of David Cameron who has reportedly become a nun based at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut:

Laura dated him from the spring of 1990 until summer 1991, and while he worked at Conservative Central Office, she went on to become the then Prime Minister John Major’s correspondence secretary.

Then their lives took different turns. Mr Cameron was selected for political stardom, while Laura left politics to study at the Wharton business school in Philadelphia.

…She became an executive in Manhattan for Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency that inspired the television drama Mad Men – but the stresses of success, and, perhaps, of personal rejection, finally proved too much for her.

…She says: ‘I feel like I tried most things in life that are supposed to make you happy. That journey took me down into alcoholism and drug addiction.’

It has been suggested that her downward spiral may have started soon after her break-up from the future Prime Minister.

In a 2007 biography of Cameron, a former colleague of the pair at Conservative headquarters recalled Laura being granted a ‘period of compassionate leave’ to recover from the heartbreak.

The key fudge in the above is this: “it has been suggested”. Suggested by whom? Not by Francis Elliott and James Hanning, the authors of Cameron: the Rise of the New Conservative, which is the biography cited above. An unnamed manager indeed (indiscreetly) mentions a “period of compassionate leave” following the break-up (p. 79), but there is no indication this was just before (or, by implication, caused) a “downward spiral”; in fact, the Mail’s own narrative (again taken from Elliott and Hanning) acknowledges that her time with Cameron preceded a successful career (she became correspondence secretary to John Major), and that she subsequently dated Andrew Roberts. The word “perhaps” before “personal rejection” is an indication that the supposed link (between two events more than 10 years apart) has has been plucked out of thin air.

Elliott and Hanning themselves wrote a piece for the Mail in 2007, adapted from their biography:

One colleague who took a shine to him was Laura Adshead, whom Cameron had known slightly at Oxford. The romance began in the spring of 1990 and lasted until summer 1991, although it does not seem to have ended tidily.

…Later she moved to New York, where she had a spell in a Catholic retreat, tending goats and immersing herself in religion. She then carved out a successful career in advertising.

In the biography this becomes “a spell as a nun”, which is not quite the same thing as “a spell in a Catholic retreat”, and is followed by a return to London as a “management consultant”; presumably this was all before she made a firmer decision to commit herself to the religious life. Either way, though, they avoid the patronizing suggestion Adshead must have become a nun as a result of romantic unhappiness.

The hook for the Mail‘s article is a new HBO documentary, in which Adshead features in a supporting role. The programme, God is Bigger than Elvis, focuses on Dolores Hart, Mother Prioress at the abbey. Hart has an interesting back-story, having been Hollywood actress in the 1950s and 1960s and having starred with Elvis Presley.