As his daughter was about to make the 250-mile journey from Lancashire to her home in Essex, Sir Lindsay Hoyle called her to warn her to drive carefully. It’s a ‘dad thing’, he says. She may have been 28, but like all loving fathers he still worried.
It was shortly before
‘She was full of life, full of energy. They’d been to a Christmas farm and played with reindeers. I told her to watch out as it was starting to snow. I was worried about her driving in the snow and ice. Her mum and I had bought her a new car just ten days earlier. Like any dad, I was worried.’
Sir Lindsay Hoyle with his daughter Natalie Lewis-Hoyle who was found dead in her bedroom in December 2017
It was to be the last time he heard his daughter’s voice. The following Friday, he got a call from Natalie’s mother Miriam to say their daughter was dead.
Not a victim of treacherous weather, but something beyond anyone’s control. She’d been found by her mother dead in her bedroom at the home they shared in Heybridge, Essex. It is believed that she took her own life. That terrible phone call still haunts him.
Sir Lindsay, who on Monday was elected the new Speaker of the House of Commons, says: ‘I was rocked to the core. To this day, I still can’t believe she’s gone.’
It is believed Natalie took her own life. The night she died, there had been a telephone call with the boyfriend after she’d returned from a night out drinking
Natalie had been in what her mother Miriam Lewis, Sir Lindsay’s former partner of eight years and a Tory councillor, described to the inquest into her death as a ‘toxic’ on-and-off relationship for more than two years.
The night she died, there had been a telephone call with the boyfriend after she’d returned from a night out drinking.
‘We don’t know what was said. All we do know is that she is no longer with us. But she’s still here,’ he says holding up his phone. ‘I’ve got her number. I’ve got her voice messages.’
A coroner later recorded an open verdict, ruling there was not enough evidence that Natalie intended to die. Essex Police concluded there were no suspicious circumstances or third party involved in her death, and this was accepted by the court.
Sir Lindsay, who on Monday was elected the new Speaker of the House of Commons, says: ‘I was rocked to the core. To this day, I still can’t believe she’s gone’
Not an emotional man by nature, the bluff Lancastrian MP for Chorley describes himself as a typical ‘tough Northerner’. But the very mention of Natalie’s name threatens tears.
In his acceptance speech to the House of Commons on Monday, Sir Lindsay made a heartfelt tribute to his daughter: ‘There’s one difficult part I want to get over. There is one person who is not here. My daughter, Natalie. I wish she could have been here.’
Sir Lindsay first took up his hallowed green seat in the House of Commons 22 years ago
One cannot imagine what it must have been like for him to watch his bright, feisty, capable daughter (Natalie was following in her parents’ footsteps and had joined the local parish council) being destroyed by a relationship.
He admits he did try to intervene — but it didn’t work. Miriam told the inquest there had been an ‘attack’ — the details of which were not given — a few weeks before she died, at a time when her daughter’s relationship ‘was really, really deteriorating’.
‘I’d met him and told Natalie to get rid of him. But she couldn’t do it,’ says Sir Lindsay.
Following her death, her mother set up a charity, called Chat With Nat, offering advice and support to those who feel they have nowhere to turn.
An instantly likeable and affable character, who is universally popular in Parliament, unlike predecessor John Bercow for whom he deputised for nine years, it doesn’t feel like there could be much this 62-year-old, inveterate Labour man hasn’t talked his way around.
That glorious, rich, Chorley accent remains as untouched by Westminster as it was 22 years ago when he first took up his hallowed green seat in the House of Commons.
And there are other women he’s determined to keep safe: his fellow MPs. The abuse and threats directed at them, both online and in person, he says, are totally unacceptable.
Natalie Lewis-Hoyle with her grandfather, Sir Lindsay’s father, Doug Hoyle. In his acceptance speech to the House of Commons on Monday, Sir Lindsay made a heartfelt tribute to his daughter
He refers to Labour MP Jo Cox, murdered by fanatic Thomas Mair in June 2016, and again to fellow West Lancs Labour MP Rosie Cooper, the intended victim of a foiled murder plot by neo-Nazi Jack Renshaw, who was jailed last year.
And also to the vile stream of vitriol directed at MPs — female ones in particular — on social media.
MPs are leaving the House, he says. Many more talented women, he fears, could be put off entering politics in the first place.
Most recently, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan announced she was resigning as an MP after almost ten years, citing the horrifying increase in personal abuse online and in the street as one of the factors.
In his acceptance speech Sir Lindsay said: ‘There is one person who is not here. My daughter, Natalie. I wish she could have been here’
‘Nicky Morgan is a nice person, a genuinely good MP, and she has suffered abuse. We have a real problem here,’ says Sir Lindsay.
‘The abuse that Diane Abbott gets is not acceptable. Diane is a very strong person to be able to deal with it, but then you look at the threats against those who are not high profile. Poor Jo was just starting out. Rosie went through everything. It made no sense.
‘We have social media monitors now which is really important, to watch what is going on, but it is an area that needs strengthening.’
As Deputy Speaker, Sir Lindsay was heavily involved in upgrading security for MPs, who now all have the opportunity to carry personal alarms which connect them to a security call centre.
He hates bullies. Hates bullying. Won’t be standing for it.
When Sir Lindsay Harvey Hoyle was elected the 158th Speaker on Monday, he won by more than 100 votes. The applause from the Tory benches was arguably louder than from Labour’s. He still can’t believe he’s done it. ‘When I became MP for Chorley it was an achievement.
‘To actually sit on a green leather bench in the Commons. The pride of representing your home town and the constituency that has just elected you. It really was electrifying. Of course I never thought I would end up Speaker.’
I’m talking to Sir Lindsay in Speaker’s House, the magnificent grace-and-favour mansion which is on the Parliamentary estate. It has a dining room, conference rooms, reception areas and private apartment with a terrace overlooking the Thames.
However, home is, and has always been, Chorley. Growing up, the Hoyle household was a political one.
His mother Pauline served on the local council, while father Doug was elected MP for Nelson and Colne in 1974. One of Sir Lindsay’s earliest memories is trudging around the farms of the Ribble Valley delivering campaign leaflets for his father.
He became a local councillor himself aged 22 — then the youngest to have done so in the local authority. Doug retired the same year that his son entered the Commons and is still an active peer at the age of 89.
He was in the gallery, along with Sir Lindsay’s wife Cath and daughter Emma, watching his son’s acceptance speech this week.
He’s only just forgiven his father for his name — a cross he’s had to bear all his life. He was named after an Australian batsman Lindsay Hassett, who was in the 1948 ‘Invincibles’ team which toured England.
‘Most people who meet me expect a woman — you can see the shock on their faces,’ he says.
He married first wife Lynda when he was just 18 and Emma was ‘on the way’. Childhood sweethearts, they’d known each other for ever, he says.
They lived in a village where everyone knew everyone, so they got married as you do — or did — back then. ‘These things happen and I’ve no regrets,’ he says. They grew up — and apart — before divorcing in 1982.
‘Lynda went her way and I went mine. There has never been any anger or hatred. It has always been friendship. One of the first messages I got was from her, wishing me well and congratulating me.’
He met Miriam, who until recently was a Conservative district councillor in Maldon, Essex, through their mutual interest in politics, as a single man years later. They were together for eight years — Natalie was born in 1989 — though never married.
He wed second wife Catherine Swindley, who works for him in his Chorley constituency, in 1993. Keeping politics firmly in the family, she succeeded him as the Labour councillor for nearby Adlington in May 1998. The couple celebrated their silver wedding anniversary last year.
Known for his friendly, sunny disposition, Sir Lindsay says he ‘gets on with everyone’, adding: ‘MPs have to have trust in the Speaker. It is important for me to be able to reach out to all sides of the House.
‘This job is about style and hopefully I bring a different style in a way that I will make my mark. Every Speaker always has and always will have a different style. It will be my style, not John Bercow’s style.’
Sir Lindsay left school at 16, never went to university and ran his own successful printing business.
He was just 30 when he became an MP. Down to earth and avuncular, he oozes self-confidence and has no difficulty putting some of the public school-educated MPs in their place.
‘I’m not intimidated by the Oxford Bullingdon boys. I’ve run a business and they haven’t.’ While he will do things his own way, his role model is Baroness (Betty) Boothroyd, the first and only woman Speaker who was in the public gallery watching his election victory. ‘The closest style I’d like is Betty’s — my great hero. She’s northern, and that’s a great start with me,’ he laughs.
‘She slammed those doors open. I have never heard a bad word said about Betty.’ They meet regularly and he regards her as a friend.
And Bercow? Is he a friend? ‘No, we are not friends,’ says Sir Lindsay with a wry smile. But they rubbed along well as colleagues. ‘I was always allowed to put my point of view forward.’
Now he finds himself in the peculiar position of moving into his former boss’s living quarters. His predecessor made headlines when he lavished £45,000 of public money on an extravagant redecoration programme within weeks of taking over in 2009, despite being warned by Parliamentary officials that the costs may be seen as excessive.
What does he make of his predecessor’s taste in interior design? Has he got the catalogue open already? Is a sumptuous refit planned? Sir Lindsay laughs. ‘I haven’t even seen the curtains! I haven’t spent a night there!’
Sir Lindsay left school at 16, never went to university and ran his own successful printing business. Pictured, Sir Lindsay speaking after becoming the new Speaker of the House of Commons
Any decisions on an update will be taken by Cath, who is still getting used to the idea of upping sticks and moving to Westminster.
Other members of his family will be coming, too. The Hoyles have a menagerie named after past and present politicians. There’s Maggie the 15-year-old African tortoise (she’s not for turning), Boris the parrot, who can already squawk ‘Order Order’. Gordon (Brown) is his 9st rottweiler with a similar ‘clunking paw’ to his namesake, and Patrick is his fearsome Maine Coon cat. Patrick isn’t named after anyone. Patrick is ‘the boss’ says Sir Lindsay, with an appetite for bloodshed, grey squirrels and rats. Someone had better warn Larry the No 10 moggie…and Dilyn, Boris Johnson’s terrier puppy.
Another thing to get used to is the full Speaker’s ‘garb’ — the uniform of horsehair wig, breeches, ruff, and buckled shoes which were all jettisoned by Bercow. Luckily, they’ll be custom-made for him — he won’t be inheriting them second, third or 158th hand. ‘Otherwise they’d have to let the hems down a bit,’ he laughs, referring to his predecessor’s short stature.
‘On big occasions, the Speaker should wear the right attire. I won’t shy away from that. If you put yourself up for the job you’ve got to embrace it. The rules come with that job. We have to modernise in certain areas but we also have tradition. We are the home of democracy and that must come first but we must not lose our tradition.’
Then, of course, there’s his own personal security. A number of MPs such as Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove have panic buttons in their homes and steel reinforced windows and doors.
The Speaker says he doesn’t need a panic button. ‘Have you met Gordon?’ he asks. ‘When Special Branch came round, they said he was better than any panic alarm.’
As he ushers me out of his soon-to-be official residence, he makes a few quips about any souvenirs I might like to take with me.
‘You can take that with you if you like,’ he laughs, gesturing at the huge, imposing oil portrait of Bercow on the wall in the hallway.
It’s only then that I notice Sir Lindsay’s striking pink and purple striped socks. He was wearing a similar multi-coloured version during Monday’s debate and vote, I remember, and was utterly lambasted on Twitter when he posted a picture of himself wearing another garish pair while watching last Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final. An explanation is required, surely?
‘Natalie bought those stripey socks — that was her joke with me, she’d always buy me colourful socks. She liked to call me early on a Sunday morning, too. I’d wake up to her saying: “Hi Pops”. ’
He wells up again. ‘It’s not the usual triggers that set you off, it’s the non-triggers, just driving down the motorway, when you’ve time on your hands, when suddenly things can get too much. It’s why I try to keep busy. But Natalie is always with me and always will be.’
In his phone, in his socks. In his heart.