Nadine Dorries: From I’m a Celebrity to Johnson’s Loudest Cheerleader


“We would be silly not to have Boris. He would get the group back to the highlands quite easily. He’s won two major elections, and nobody else in the party matches that at the moment,” Nadine Dorries told me over tenderloin in June 2013, during a lunch interview for Total policy magazine.

“He will be a leader of the Conservative Party, there is no doubt about that.”

Considered at the time to be an eccentric backbencher who was more comfortable eating ostrich anus and baked spiders in the i am a celebrity jungle than playing the Westminster game, his political instincts – it turned out – were quite right.

His longstanding loyalty to Boris Johnson, who was then a year into his second term as mayor of London, was rewarded. The same month that her favorite candidate finally made her way into the John Lewis-afflicted interior of No 10 in 2019, she was appointed health minister. In the September 2021 reshuffle, she arrived at the cabinet table as Culture Secretary, where she remains, calling the BBC time and mistaking Channel 4 for a taxpayer-funded broadcaster.

It’s been quite a journey since she told me over lunch that she would “absolutely hate” a higher office.

“Imagine being a trombone minister and only being able to talk about trombones, I would hate that,” she said at the time. “I couldn’t really think of anything worse. Look at the ministers. They get a minister’s job and you never hear from them again.

That’s not quite how it went for Minister Dorries, though.

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As partygate ravaged Downing Street and the Conservative Parliamentary Party, she was one of the Prime Minister’s most visible supporters on our screens. (This despite asserting, during a November 2021 select committee hearing, that “I don’t make any news unless I absolutely have to.”)

Defending Johnson’s actions in interviews as bizarre as they are spoofed on social media, Dorries had an extraordinarily awkward exchange with Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News about Johnson’s lie that Keir Starmer did not personally prosecute Jimmy Savile. She recently made headlines again with her Sky News interview in which she claimed it was ‘utterly bizarre’ that a small group of MPs could overturn the decision made by the general public in 2019.

[See also: How big a threat does Nadine Dorries pose to the BBC?]

These media outlets – which are now circulating on Gen Z entertainment app of choice, TikTok – introduced Dorries’ combative and almost contemptuous style to a new generation who may have missed her appearance on I’m a celebrity… Get me out of here! in 2012 and the drama that followed.

At the time, she temporarily suspended the whip and was slammed by many in the party for ditching her constituents in Mid Bedfordshire for the switch to reality TV in Australia. ‘Unfortunately, Ms Dorries’ actions have tarnished Parliament’s reputation at a time when public confidence in politicians is still recovering from the spending crisis,’ Rob Oxley, then of the Taxpayers Alliance, wrote for Politics. “[By] pursuing a Z-list career on a popular, but ultimately trivial, television program thousands of miles away from this country.

He is now one of Dorries’ special advisors.

The first to be kicked out of the show by viewers, she donated her MP salary for the duration of her appearance to charity and had the whip restored after a few months. She used a ‘Return of the Prodigal Daughter’ party to celebrate, reportedly hosted by Andrew Mitchell (who had recently been through the ‘plebgate’ scandal himself) and David Davis. Both MPs are now urging Johnson to resign.

Dorries, now 64, was elected in 2005. She rose to prominence during the coalition years for calling David Cameron and George Osborne ‘two posh, arrogant boys who don’t know the price of milk “.

A social conservative of Catholic descent who tried to introduce stricter deadlines for abortion, she did not quash rumors that she would defect to Ukip at the time. In 2013, she told me that the Conservatives should present joint candidacies with Ukip in the 2015 general election (“I would have exactly the same values ​​as the Ukip candidates who stand against me”).

Cameroon’s top flight insist they weren’t rattled by their pot-shots; they didn’t take it seriously then and don’t now, according to insiders present at the time. They did, however, note the irony of his support for Old Etonian Johnson, who not only said in 2013 that he did not know the price of a pint of milk, but boasted: “I can tell you the price of a bottle of Champagne.”

Images via BBC Breakfast

Like her leader, she provokes indignation.

In 2013, she threatened to nail the sunday mirror the “balls on the ground” of journalist Ben Glaze, accused the newspaper’s journalists of being “bottom scum” and in 2017 she called LBC presenter James O’Brien a “f*** wit public school classy boy” (two of his daughters attended the same school as him). She also retweeted (but later deleted) a tweet calling O’Brien a “UK hater and an apologist for Islamist atrocities”.

Last year, she annoyed the BBC when she called one of her political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s sources “ridiculous”. In February this year, she also risked angering the new generation of Tory MPs by decrying Class of 2019 Anthony Mangnall as an “ego” and “selfish” for writing a letter of censure to Johnson.

“I had never heard of Nadine Dorries before she got this [Culture Sectetary] concert because I don’t look at the jungle and I didn’t know about kangaroo testicles, ”says MP John Nicolson, SNP culture spokesman, who recently grilled Dorries on his tweets to the selection committee of the culture.

“I did a bit of due diligence and my team and I discovered this appalling catalog of tweets. It struck me as deeply ironic as she is responsible for online misinformation and legislation that sets out a duty to behave properly online,” he tells me.

Coupled with political blunders, such as falsely claiming Channel 4 was state-funded, this generic approach has many Westminster residents questioning whether she is a useful defender of the Prime Minister. “She’s not known as ‘Mad Nad’ among her colleagues for nothing,” says a veteran Tory MP, who has worked closely with her in the past.

“She developed a technique where she uses monosyllables in the Commons and answers questions with ‘no’ or ‘yes’ and slams her notes,” Nicolson explains. “I think the members aren’t entirely sold on this performance and it’s suspected that she’s not doing it out of a desire for brevity but because she doesn’t know the answer.”

Yet there is a whiff of sexism and snobbery towards Dorries, a former nurse who grew up on a housing estate in Liverpool, which she feels keenly – feeling particularly betrayed by the female journalists who disparage her character.

His i am a celebrity was an attempt to make politicians easier to understand, a mission she also pursued by speaking publicly about the pain of female hair loss and appearing on Channel 4 Tower of the Commons documentary (when she cheated to live on Jobseeker’s Allowance by hiding a £50 note in her bra).

She is a best-selling author: her four streets and Nice route series of novels, based on growing up in Liverpool, were bestsellers, although they were devastated by critics. In publishing, this hostile response is believed to come more from critics engaging with Dorries the politician than Dorries the novelist.

“She is one of our best-selling authors and highly regarded by those of us who have worked closely with her; she’s absolute nature as a writer and storyteller,” Rosie de Courcy, her editor at the Head of Zeus publishing house, tells me. “He’s just someone who, as a woman, would always have your back. Extremely kind when someone is in trouble. Clever, warm, down to earth and shocking, with a very good sense of humor.

Once a “prodigal daughter” of the Conservatives, Nadine Dorries continues her surreal journey from outspoken rebel to staunch loyalist.

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