Personality n

“They weren’t too keen on having me,” he laughs, “Now I know why!”

Laying another log on the fire, he adds: “She (Sandra) doesn’t want me to retire. She thinks that I would sit and watch the football on TV all the time, which is probably true!”

Quick as a flash, she adds carefully: “He is a natural slob, and I don’t think he’d mind me saying that. And I don’t think he wants to get into a state of slobbery, do you darling? He needs to be active more than he realises.”

It is hard to imagine that a man who was regarded as such a hard-working government minister and charged-up party leader would have to prised away from the TV. But football, and a passion for Liverpool FC stemming back to a no-hope Tory general election candidature on Merseyside as a young man, is a constant.

His constituents will tell you that he was a regular at Folkestone Invicta’s home matches when he was an MP, often sitting in the stands on his own, huddled in an ancient Barbour jacket and hurling well-meant advice at the referee.

He is trim and fresh-faced at 76 and exudes a warmth and sincerity his one- time detractors would not, or could not, recognise.

Michael is not terribly domesticated either, although he can manage to wheel a trolley around a supermarket, either at Tesco in Ashford or the large Sainsbury at Hythe.

“As long as Sandra gives me a list, I’m quite good at the weekly shop,” he says with a smirk and twinkle.

The Howards are a very natural couple,

yet not at all smug. Michael clearly thinks the world of her and it is reciprocated.

Their daughter Larissa has given the couple three grandchildren who are clearly adored judging by the array of family photos which adorn one particular table.

He says: “It’s wonderful being a grandfather and the best bit is watching them grow up. The truth is I have more time to watch the grandchildren grow up than I ever had with my own children because the jobs I had in government were just so demanding and so all-consuming.

“I do sense that when I am playing with the grandchildren that Larissa is thinking – although she has never said anything – ‘Well, he never did that with me’.”

Michael is much in demand in his old constituency – which covers Folkestone, Hythe and the Romney Marsh – but he turns most invitations down, out of respect for the present incumbent Damian Collins.

He adds: “I don’t think it would be helpful to Damian if I kept popping up here and there. So I turn down almost everything.”

The weekend retreat is a time for rest and the recharging of batteries and the couple do not entertain guests much, despite the many friends they still have in the area.

“It can be quite difficult if we’re just down for the weekend. We have lots of friends down here on the coast and we do see people from time to time,” he says.

With that, it is obvious Michael is becoming slightly distracted.

“Do you mind if I switch the TV on? It’s the early kick off, Arsenal and Spurs…”

Sandra Howard’s first novel Glass Houses was first published in 2006 and was described by one wag as “a lot sexier than her husband’s last manifesto…” but drew on British politics for its inspiration. It was swiftly followed by four

more, Ursula’s Story, A Matter of Loyalty, Ex-Wives and her latest The Consequence of Love (which went paperback at the end of 2017). One her website she says: “I can’t begin to say how much I enjoy writing. A book becomes part of your very being in the process. “ Elsewhere, she has described the writing process as like “an urge, like scratching. It’s always been my ambition”. Michael says she will scratch down

notes wherever they are, “even in the car, using pen and paper until she can get in front of a screen”. Once composed at the kitchen

table, Sandra writes in her daughter’s old bedroom where she spreads reference books out to stop her being tempted to take a nap. “My fifth book, Tell the Girl, is

fiction, but draws heavily on my personal experiences in the 60s, personalities and people I knew and met, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Jack and Jackie Kennedy, among others, and my modelling career. The principal character, Susanna, relives my experiences as her own.”

Lord Howard (right) in an exchange with BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman

Mid Kent Living 9

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