Wilson’s affair gave him ‘sunshine at the sunset’, says former adviser

Revealing Harold Wilson’s affair with his deputy press secretary was important for the “historical record”, his former adviser has said.

The former prime minister’s affair with Janet Hewlett-Davies during his final year in Downing Street was revealed last night by Joe Haines, his former press secretary, in an interview with The Times newspaper.

On Thursday, Lord Wilson’s former adviser Bernard Donoughue told the BBC’s Today programme that both he and Mr Haines had decided to reveal the half-century-old secret following Ms Hewlett-Davies’ death in October last year.

He said: “We kept it secret because we thought it would be used damagingly against him at that time.

“There’s no reason for that now, and we waited until they had both died – Wilson some time ago and Janet just a few months ago, and so I felt as a sometime historian this was important to go in the historical record of Harold Wilson.”

Lord Wilson, who served as prime minister first between 1964 and 1970 and then again between 1974 and 1976, died in 1995 at the age of 79.

Harold Wilson had been rumoured to have had an affair with his political secretary, Marcia Williams (left), something they had always denied (PA)

He told the BBC: “He, in a very Wilsonian way, because he wasn’t a very direct person, he said he was very pleased I was a friend of Janet.

“So I, knowing him, know that he would not have raised that unless he had got some interest or concern, so I knew that he was asking me: did I know about him and Janet?

“And I replied by saying I thought Janet was a lovely and terrific person and I then added, in a Wilsonian way, which I had learned from him, and I’m very pleased your relationship is so close and so good.

“And that way I let him know that I knew, and then he said that she was a lovely person and he had never been happier.”

He added that the affair had provided “a little sunshine at sunset” for the prime minister, who was becoming increasingly paranoid about the security services and dealing with a very narrow majority, economic difficulties and, it has been suggested, the early stages of dementia.

During his time in Downing Street, Lord Wilson was beset by rumours that he was having an affair, but with his political secretary Marcia Williams, whom he ennobled as Baroness Falkender in 1974.

Those rumours were always denied, and the secret of his affair with Ms Hewlett-Davies, some 22 years his junior, had managed not to leak out until now.

Lord Wilson’s wife of 55 years, Mary, died in 2018 aged 102.

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