Edwina was born and brought up in Liverpool, and attended the same school (Liverpool Institute) as Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Despite hours in The Cavern listening to great music, she won a scholarship to Oxford University to read chemistry. She switched subjects and graduated in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) with an MA. A stint with accountants Arthur Andersen and a Master’s at the London School of Economics followed. Then for nine years she was a teacher and lecturer.
After marriage and two daughters, Edwina embarked on career no 1: politics. She served 11 years on Birmingham Council, all good grounding for election in 1983 as Member of Parliament for South Derbyshire. This was the heyday of Margaret Thatcher.
Edwina became well-known as Minister of Health. She was on the first UK team to tackle AIDS/HIV; pioneered nation-wide screening for breast and cervical cancer; helped bring in the MMR vaccine; and tried to persuade the Brits to live more healthily. But in Dec 1988, with over 500 victims a week of serious food poisoning through salmonella in eggs (and over 60 deaths that year), she warned the public of the danger. Soon after she resigned, and turned down the offer of a further post in 1992. When Tony Blair swept to power in 1997, Edwina lost her parliamentary seat, thus bringing to an end 22 years in elected office.
Career no 2 is as an author. So far, 11 books have appeared including top-selling novels A Parliamentary Affair and A Woman’s Place. Her Diaries 1987-1992 caused a stir on publication in 2002, when curious goings-on at Westminster were revealed. Ten years on, Diaries 1992 -1997, covering the last Tory government and the rise of Tony Blair, also attracted lively comment. One reviewer wrote that the two volumes are “the best account I know of the experience of being a woman in British politics: it’s the personal dimension as much as the political that makes them such a valuable record. In fifty years’ time, students will be reading them and (one hopes) shaking their heads in bewilderment at such a strange world.”
Edwina’s third career is in the media. She is a well-known commentator, appearing weekly on BBC Radio, on the Nolan show (BBC Radio 5), Jeremy Vine (Radio 2), Woman’s Hour (Radio 4), Sky News, BBC Breakfast News etc. She presented her own radio programme, Late Night Currie for five years on Radio 5, and the series Currie Night for HTV. She has featured in many prime-time TV shows including Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay, Come Dine with Me (twice), Wife Swap (with husband John Jones), The Chase, Pointless, Family Fortunes, Cash in the Attic and many others. She was the 2004 winner of Celebrity Mastermind, with her special subject The Life of Marie Curie, but was voted off first from Strictly Come Dancing 2011*. Most recently, she won many fans with her forthrightness and sturdy courage in the Australian jungle, in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! And in December 2015, she was in panto for the first time as the Wicked Queen in Snow White in the Northwich Memorial Theatre near Chester.
Edwina married John Jones in 2001. They met on air when he, a former senior detective in the Metropolitan Police, was a guest on her radio programme. They live in the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire with two dogs, and try to keep up with 6 adult children, 9 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.
Fellow MP Julian Critchley once said: “Edwina has a brass neck, a silver tongue and a golden pen.” while former colleague Matthew Parris wrote, “Edwina is the best communicator the Tories have.”
*The USA equivalent is Dancing with the Stars
Matthew Parris, The Times, 11.28.97