Matt Hancock called himself the “minister of hugs” over easing Covid restrictions – shortly after his passionate embrace with an aide that later forced him to resign as heath secretary, it has been reported.
He reportedly made the ironic quip as he prepared for a TV interview on May 17 to announce new measures which allowed for “cautious cuddles”.
A source at the TV studio told The Mail on Sunday : “I was working on a show on which Matt Hancock was one of the guests. He was the only one of the eight people there who wasn’t wearing a mask at any time.
“There had just been some relaxation in the rules and, at one point, he jokingly told everyone to call him the minister of hugs. That really makes me cringe now.”
Unknown to him at the time, his clinch with aide Gina Coladangelo on May 6 had been caught on CCTV and led to him standing down at the end of last month.
It immediately led to questions over Coladangelo’s taxpayer-funded job and how she came to be employed by Hancock.
An old Oxford University friend of Hancock, Coldangelo was initially brought in as an unpaid aide before landing a £15,000 a year role as a non-executive director.
While it has been claimed by Hancock’s friends that his relationship with Coldangelo had only recently started, the Mail on Sunday has said that she was at an intimate drinks party at work that he held on July 22, 2019.
They were together on the terrace of the Department of Health office a month after Hancock dropped out of the Tory leadership race.
A health department insider who attended meeting told the Mail: “She was always around Matt and in his meetings. Every time I saw her, she was well dressed. I thought, ‘This is a woman who looks after herself’.”
It has been claimed that Hancock’s nerdy image meant that people didn’t read too much into him hanging around with an attractive aide.
Hancock and Coldangelo have both kept a low profile since their affair emerged.
Coladangelo has left her husband Oliver Tress, the founder of the Oliver Bonas retail chain, and Hancock is believed to have separated from his wife Martha.
Hancock’s political future remains in the balance as he may have lost some grass root Tory backing but he appears to retain support from Boris Johnson, who has commented on his “considerable contribution” to public life.