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The fall and rise of a `media butterfly'.

Byline: By Hannah Stephenson

Love them or loathe them, the Hamiltons make great entertainment. Hannah Stephenson talked to Christine Hamilton about her autobiography.

Christine and Neil Hamilton are a couple on whom most people have an opinion. Mention the Hamiltons, and you'll generally get a groan or a guffaw, never a shrug of indifference.

"Some people can't stand us, but that has to be their problem," says the formidable Christine. "We are in the `love them or loathe them' category."

Some believe that since they faced financial ruin over `cash for questions,' they have become panto dames, accepting every media offer no matter how demeaning or humiliating. Christine, 55, prefers to describe herself as a `media butterfly.'

She is popping up in gossip columns again, as in For Better For Worse, she reveals she had a one-night stand with former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil and enjoyed several affairs with married men in her earlier years.

"I've always been attracted to older men and still am," she laughs. "It's not something I'm proud of. It was just the headiness of youth."

She first met Neil when she was 18 at a Conservative student conference at Swinton Park, near Ripon, and her bright, forthright approach gelled with his more reticent, slightly eccentric personality.

She says: "I'm certainly not the dominant figure in our relationship. We are a completely equal partnership. I just happen to be a bit louder.

"I'm much more extrovert. He's quite reserved, whereas I leap into the room like an over-enthusiastic Labrador and bound up to people and slobber all over them, Neil will hold back a bit more.

"I'm more volatile and emotional. He's very `lawyerly' and analytical about things. If it hadn't been for the difference, we'd have never got through all our nightmares because I couldn't have coped. I would have collapsed emotionally. He just kept his eye focused on the target."

It is no secret that Christine likes a drink and she admits that during the worst times she drank more than was good for her.

"I've never been anywhere near being an alcoholic but there have been times when I was drinking far too much. Talk about wasting time. I've wasted days and weeks of my life through alcohol.

"At one stage I was drinking three bottles of wine a day. Neil used to try and stop me. I just had to get a grip."

However, unlike other media butterflies she has never sought therapy for her woes. "What would I do with therapy?" she quizzes, genuinely bemused.

Christine agrees that the many court battles over the years have stopped her living life as she would have hoped. "But you can't worry about that. As John Lennon said, life is what happens when you're making other plans. If I look back at the amount of time utterly wasted, fighting libel actions, fighting the police, we have missed out.

"But the other side is we've had opportunities to do things that we would never in a million years have done. I've almost got to the stage when I say, `Thank you Fayed, thank you Clifford'. At 50, we were able to completely start again and we really do have an enormous amount of fun."

Neil was declared bankrupt in 2001 after becoming pounds 3m in debt following a series of failed libel actions against Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed, who accused him of taking cash for questions in the Commons during the 90s. Since the bankruptcy order ended last year, the Hamiltons have sold their Cheshire home for pounds 1.15m and Neil has started an employment consultancy in London. They bought Bradfield Manor, a grand 15th Century house near Malmesbury in Wiltshire for pounds 1m, and in February won undisclosed damages from publicist Max Clifford over "highly offensive" comments concerning false allegations of sexual assault made against the couple.

Much of the money they have clawed back has come from Christine's hard graft on the celebrity circuit. She was not declared bankrupt, so her earnings could not be touched. Critics have described them as greedy, but no one has ever accused Christine Hamilton of laziness.

"We turn down quite a lot of television things, like Wife Swap and On The Farm. In the early years we thought, `What are we going to do?' and we did things then that I would not in a million years do now but we needed the money," she says frankly.

* For Better For Worse, by Christine Hamilton (Robson pounds 16.99).
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 29, 2005
Words:754
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