Charles Kennedy’s partner Carole MacDonald talks to the Sunday Times

It’s just over three months since Charles Kennedy died suddenly. Yesterday his partner Carole MacDonald spoke for the first time to the Sunday Times (£). In a very moving interview, she said that what upset her in the days following his death was the idea that he was a tortured, sad soul.

They made out that Charlie was this tortured individual and that angered me,” she says. “I didn’t think they knew him particularly well. Yes, there were issues but he wasn’t tormented. There weren’t two sides to him. He was very considerate, gentle and non-confrontational. What you saw in public was the way he was in private.”

She also wanted to make it very clear that although the election campaign had been pretty bruising, Charles’ defeat had nothing to do with his death.

A number of SNP supporters conducted a cybercampaign against him, making cruel and insinuating remarks about his drinking, forcing Kennedy’s old friend, the Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell, to call on the SNP to stop its bullying. The death of Kennedy’s father, Ian, at the start of the campaign was an added stress.

“It was nasty,” says Macdonald of this year’s election.

“At the public meetings there was just an unpleasant undercurrent all the time which he said he had never experienced before. It was the same people who turned up to every meeting. A couple of things annoyed him because he felt they were unfair, but he let most of it go.”

A career that had spanned more than three decades ended in defeat but Macdonald had no immediate concerns. “I thought he would be all right. He drove from the count and he was absolutely fine and completely sober. His death had absolutely nothing to do with his defeat.”

Carole had known Charles for 37 years, first meeting Charles through her husband Murdo who died in 2007. She talked about when he was first elected as MP in 1983:

It was to the Macdonalds that Kennedy turned when he was approached to stand as the Social Democratic party’s candidate for Ross, Cromarty and Skye in the 1983 general election. At the time he was studying for a PhD on a Fulbright scholarship in Indiana and enjoying academic life in America. “Murdo and I said: just go for it. It’s not as if you’re ever going to get elected,” says Macdonald. In the event, the 23-year-old Kennedy became the youngest member of the Commons.

He relished his role as the baby of the House and quickly made a name for himself as “Chat Show Charlie”, appearing on shows such as Have I Got News for You.

“He liked to be liked but he was quite modest,” says Macdonald. “His feet were on the ground. His mother, Mary, and Murdo ensured they stayed there.”

She talked a bit about the culture at the Commons which she thinks contributed to Charles’ alcoholism:

You are in an environment, often late at night, where drink is available, cheap, sociable and you don’t have to drive.

All the constraints that might stop you aren’t there. It is there and it is being normalised within your life. I don’t think it caused it but I’m sure it contributed to it. I suppose it must have contributed quite a lot.

After his defeat in May, Charles hadn’t yet decided what to do, but there were no great concerns about his health:

A career in business or media had been mooted but they hadn’t discussed what he planned to do next. Kennedy didn’t want to go to the House of Lords but his priority was to keep a base in London to stay close to his son: “He didn’t want to be a father who only saw his son at weekends.”

Macdonald had no idea how ill Kennedy was in the weeks before he died. There were no indications on any of the health checks that he was as ill as he obviously was. “There was absolutely nothing wrong with him until that last week,” she says.

“I’d dropped him at the airport the previous Saturday. I spoke to him on the Sunday night before he died. I knew he wasn’t well. I knew he needed help and he needed to get things stabilised but I had no idea it could have that devastating effect.”


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Richard Underhill 7th Sep '15 - 2:20pm

    There may be improved procedures for the House of Commons leading to fewer late night sittings and therefore less hanging around in bars waiting for votes.
    Making the Commons a bit more female friendly may also have an effect on men.
    A minimum price for alcohol could be considered.

  • Or just close the bars? I understand a place of work having canteens, but I never understood the need for Westminster to have bars, especially now.

  • Very interesting article.

  • Katerina Porter 8th Sep '15 - 8:49am

    How good to have this article. Charles Kennedy was our most successful leader, his judgement was outstanding. He would have been invaluable for the EU referendum and advice on our efforts to rebuild.

  • Yes, thanks for posting this Caron

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 10:11am

    Katerina Porter 8th Sep ’15 – 8:49am Agree.

  • Denis Loretto 8th Sep '15 - 10:39am

    In looking back at Charles’ superb leadership in the period leading up to the Iraq war it is often not fully appreciated what political courage that took. Both major parties were in the main gung-ho for action as “intelligence” that turned out to be false was confidently alleged – even some of Charles’ colleagues in the Lib Dem leadership advised him not to attend the massive anti-war rally in case he was associated with pacifists who were simply anti all military activity. Today there are echoes of that time as our new leader Tim Farron questions the policy that is clearly now being implemented without parliamentary approval to “take out” individuals in a foreign country alleged to have been or about to be involved in terrorist acts in the UK, based again on secret intelligence. We must give full backing to Tim on this.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 1:37pm

    Denis Loretto 8th Sep ’15 – 10:39am This pre-emptive counter-attack is very worrying. Was this the reason why parliament was not recalled during the recess, rather than the more obvious need for urgent repairs to the building?

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