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Tuesday, Oct 19, 2021

Sex, lies and videotape: The woman behind the scandal

Sex, lies and videotape: The woman behind the scandal

So just who is the bright, charismatic aide who made her way to the heart of government? Katie Strick asks those who know her best

This time last week, most of us hadn’t heard of Gina Coladangelo. But in the past six days the PR guru and millionaire lobbyist has beamed herself into the centre of one of the most salacious government scandals of the pandemic.

Pictures of the 43-year-old kissing Matt Hancock emerged on Friday, leading him to resign as health secretary and leave his wife and children. Coladangelo has reportedly left her husband and three children to “set up home” with her lover — she is believed to be in West Sussex — and former colleagues have since told the Standard they were “shocked but not surprised” about the affair, painting a colourful picture of a “charming” and “driven” woman who had “that confidence you see in ex-public schoolboys”.

Insiders are now scurrying to determine how long Hancock and his £15,000-a-year adviser have been having an affair. Did Boris Johnson’s health secretary really use public money to hire his mistress amid the worst health crisis of a generation?

The couple’s steamy clinch might have looked like a fledgling teenage romance, but they have a long history. The pair met at Oxford and both studied PPE, with friends saying Coladangelo was “way out of Matt Hancock’s league” at university. But they were also said to have been “inseparable” during their student radio days and remained close, Hancock reportedly celebrating Christmas with Coladangelo and her husband and relying on her for big decisions during lockdown. Some say the writing had been on the wall for some time.

“The longer the wait the sweeter the kiss,” reads one of a series of cryptic relationship-related posts Coladangelo shared on her Pinterest wall in May 2020, despite reportedly denying the affair when asked two years ago. Others at the centre of government say they were shocked when the story broke. “I had no idea something was going on, but they’ve always been incredibly close,” a former government staffer told the Standard yesterday. “We’ve probably all got those friends where you’ve known each other 20 years and have always been very, very closely platonic... something obviously just changed.”

So were there clues? And how did a minister’s old university pal get to the heart of government? Certainly, the story of the woman who wooed Whitehall starts with privileged beginnings. To those who knew her, Coladangelo was hardly the kind of character to end up in a scandal. “She was very composed and elegant,” says university peer and broadcast journalist Maxie Allen, who attended her “glamorous” 21st birthday party at her parents’ home in Royston, Hertfordshire. “Gina is not the sort of person to get drunk and make a scene.”

Coladangelo’s mother was a florist and her Italian father made his millions as CEO of pharmaceutical consultancy Rephine. Rino Coladangelo’s business was not the only early sign of his daughter’s future position in the health department: he was also a member of the Royal College of Physicians and managing director of an NHS hospital, while her younger brother, Roberto, 42, is an executive director at Partnering Health, which is understood to have been awarded contracts with the NHS since his sister’s appointment as Hancock’s adviser.

"Gina was very glamorous, very nice and very good-looking - all the young men held a candle for her"

Since the pictures of the 43-year-old and Hancock emerged on Friday, Coladangelo’s father has spoken out in his daughter’s defence. From his 16th Century listed former farmhouse near Royston, Hertfordshire, he told the MailOnline: “My daughter is a wonderful woman” but refused to comment on the affair rumours any further.

Coladangelo met Hancock at university, where they bonded over a love of student radio. But if she was the Mishal Husain of Oxygen FM, Hancock was the minor sports reporter. “He had a very slight presence, not someone you would mark out as destined for greatness. Whereas Gina was very well-known and high-profile and memorable,” fellow broadcaster Allen told the Sunday Mirror this week. He said Coladangelo was “suave”, while Hancock cut an “obscure figure” and kept a “low profile” during their years as presenters. Coladangelo would sometimes read the sport with Hancock and colleagues say he eventually left the station when denied the chance to present a politics show.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock with adviser Gina Coladangelo

“Gina was very glamorous, very nice and very good looking,” Allen added. “All the young men held a candle for her.” Presumably, Hancock was one such man, despite meeting his future wife Martha Miller at some point during his three years at Exeter College, Oxford. Alongside their radio run-ins, he and Coladangelo were also on the same course, Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and became “closest friends”.

In the past, Coladangelo has confirmed their close relationship at the station. “I read the news and Matt read the sport,” she recalled in a programme on BBC Radio 4 in April last year. “I’ve always joked with him that he did the sport because he wasn’t good enough to do the news, but I think it gave him a bit of an early heads up into aggressive questioning from journalists and hacks.”

"The management buyout finished her first marriage because she was just taking so much time doing that"

Whether Miller and Coladangelo met at university is not yet known, but they became friends on Facebook sometime in the 23 years since and have reportedly celebrated Christmas at parties together with their respective spouses. Was the seed for the future affair planted under the mistletoe or even earlier, in a cramped, breeze-block recording studio beneath an Oxford nightclub called 5th Avenue?

Little is known about the pair’s love lives in the years immediately after they graduated in 1998. But Coladangelo married London property lawyer Glynn Gibb in 2004 and Hancock married Miller, who became an osteopath, in 2006. Did he give up chasing Coladangelo when Gibb came on the scene? “I have no comment to make on the matter,” Gibb said from his Chestertons email on Tuesday night.

Dave Benett

Coladangelo’s first marriage was short-lived. She and Gibb divorced when she was on the management buyout team at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon. “The MBO [management buyout] finished her first marriage because she was just taking so much time doing that,” says a former high-up at the firm who recalls Coladangelo as being “incredibly driven” with “that confidence you see in ex-public schoolboys”, adding: “I wouldn’t say she had many female friends.”

Another former colleague at Luther says she left the firm partly because she couldn’t stand working for Coladangelo. “She was truly awful to younger women there, regularly demanding we stayed working way into the night at the office, then criticising the work we’d done the next day,” she said. “I have to say, though, she can be very charming and charismatic and she’s great with clients. Male clients just used to think she was amazing. She is very beautiful, obviously.”

"I worked with Gina. She is incredibly driven with that confidence you see in ex-public schoolboys"

In 2009 Coladangelo married Oliver Tress, the £12 million founder of fashion and lifestyle empire Oliver Bonas. They started a family together in Clapham Junction before upgrading to a five-bedroom, £4 million home in Wandsworth in 2015. “I don’t worry about my children being closer to their nanny, because I spend as much time as I can with them,” Coladangelo told the Daily Mail in 2012 under a feature headlined “Can a woman be too clever to be a stay-at-home mum?”

She was working as a marketing and communications director for Oliver Bonas at the time and said she would never dream of telling other mothers what to do with their lives. She added: “Every woman has to make her own choice. But I feel very fortunate in my education and believe those years shouldn’t be wasted. I want to work to give something back.”

Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock (L), looks at the phone of his aide Gina Coladangelo

Outside of London, Tress is also known to own or have owned a second property near West Wittering beach in West Sussex, where his wealthy neighbours include Sweaty Betty founder Simon Hill-Norton. They have also spent a lot of time in Europe. “My wife is half Italian. Her family have an apartment in the Alps and my parents have a farmhouse in Umbria, so we spend a lot of time there,” Tress told The Independent in 2012. “I yearn to take my family on an adventure - to live somewhere with a completely different culture.”

Coladangelo has been a fixture at society events, from the opening of Tabitha Webb’s boutique in Belgravia, with Tress, to the V&A Summer Party in 2019. “This is 3am” wrote Webb under an Instagram of her and Coladangelo cosying up in a fur coat with This Morning presenter Jenni Falconer in September 2019.

"There is an untidy boudoir of legal issues raised by an intimate relationship between a minister and someone in his department"

So how did Coladangelo go from selling sofas to solving the Covid crisis? “I have over 20 years’ experience in business management and marketing and communications, with a focus on retail, healthcare, the third sector and energy,” she writes on her LinkedIn page, which charts her rise to the centre of Whitehall from director at Luther Pendragon, which claims to offer clients a “deep understanding of the mechanics of government”.

Alongside her day job for Oliver Bonas, the PR guru was taken on in an unpaid role alongside Hancock at the DHSC in March 2020, though questions are now being asked about exactly when she was hired. At a general election party in 2019, Coladangelo told the Standard she had started working for the then-health secretary in a comms role, helping out on his leadership campaign. In September 2020, Hancock appointed her to the public payroll as a non-executive director, promoting her to the board that scrutinises the department and giving her unregulated access to the Palace of Westminster since April.

Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo

When a Sunday paper asked last year why Hancock’s “lobbyist pal” got a taxpayer-funded job, a department spokesman said her “advice and expertise” were required as part of an “unprecedented response to this global pandemic”. There are no rules about who a government minister can hire, but “there is an untidy boudoir of legal issues raised by an intimate relationship between a minister and someone in his department,” says Jolyon Maugham QC of The Good Law Project, who has investigated government contracts in the pandemic. “The more serious issues resolve to a question of sequencing — where the relationship influenced the hiring choice it is very likely to be unlawful.”

Inside Whitehall, “there was never really much scepticism because she was very good at what she did,” says a former government staffer. “She’d been with Matt’s team informally since his leadership election, so she wasn’t this brand new person who came from nowhere.” The former colleague says the move was helped by the fact Coladangelo was a delight to work with.

"She was the sort of person who would always make everyone in the room feel like they were important"

“She was always totally lovely, very friendly, bright, intelligent. She had those inclusive qualities — she was the sort of person who would always make everyone in the room feel like they were important. She always brought a nice level of positivity and enthusiasm to things, which is very welcome when you’re working on a pandemic.”

Tory sources say Coladangelo’s status in Whitehall was always “slightly mysterious” but she was in “every meeting” with Hancock. A source told a newspaper last year: “Before Matt does anything big, he’ll speak to Gina. She knows everything.”

Former colleagues say they were “surprised but not shocked” by news their relationship had turned romantic. “Something obviously just changed,” a former staffer told the Evening Standard. “I had no idea something was going on, but they’ve always been incredibly close.”

Reports claim the romantic relationship only began six weeks ago when the footage of their kiss was captured, but sources told the Mail on Sunday this week that the MP is already “in love” with his former aide. Does Coladangelo feel the same way? Further inspection of her Pinterest quotes collection suggests she could be: “I would rather die of passion than boredom” reads a favourite Van Gogh quote. “Life is too short to wait,” reads another, while a third spells: “Be afraid and do it anyway”. This week, she did just that.


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