I sat at home watching Theresa May's statement in Downing Street willing her to get through it without breaking down. Forget what you think of her record as Prime Minister, this was a deeply human moment.
Journalism is the first draft of history, and it may well be the case that Theresa May is judged more kindly that various eminent commentators will be judging her over the next few days. I'll leave that to them. What I want to do here is tell you about the Theresa May I know.
The first thing to say, is that I am not going to make out I know her well at all. Very few people do, and that is partly why her departure has been almost inevitable ever since David Davis and Boris Johnson resigned last July. She's never had a core group of supporters she could rely on - either on the backbenches or in Cabinet. Yes, she had a group of four or five Cabinet ministers who owed their positions due to her preferment, but none of them carried huge weight in the wider scheme of things.
My first contact with Theresa May came when I joined the Conservative Party candidates list in the summer of 2003. She was party chairman and was making good progress in encouraging the selection of female and minority candidates. I was one of those minority candidates. When I was selected for North Norfolk, Theresa May rang me up only five minutes after I had left the selection meeting. She knew of the issues I had encountered during the selection over my sexuality and she could not have been more thrilled for me. I really appreciated the call, as it was one she did not have to make.
In the run-up to the 2005 election she came on a day long visit to North Norfolk. I had arranged a pretty grueling set of engagements for her, and drove her to each one. We visited a school, a local business, did an interview with the EDP, another one with North Norfolk Radio (aha!), before she joined me at a tea for party workers. She made a speech at which the press were present where she committed a pretty serious gaffe from my point of view. In the car between appointments I had told her about one of my main election pledges, which I hadn't announced yet. The local cottage hospital in Wells next-the-sea was being closed, and I had secured a promise from the then Tory Health Spokesman Andrew Lansley that I could announce that under a Tory government, it would remain open. A pretty big thing for a candidate. Unfortunately, during her speech at the tea she blurted out that I had secured this promise, so of course the press reported it - but four weeks before I had planned to announce it. I'm afraid afterwards I cornered her and asked why she had done it, when I had specifically told her it was something I didn't want to announce yet. She just looked at me blankly and shrugged her shoulders. She didn't seem to comprehend what she had done.
Later that evening I hosted a dinner for the local rich and famous in a local stately home. Around 30 people were there, and the purpose of the event was to raise a lot of money for my election campaign. She was brilliant and worked the room superbly, and her speech led to some major donations.
I didn't really come across again her until the 2008 Spectator summer party. That day I had written an article in the Telegraph speculating that David Cameron was about to move her in a shadow cabinet reshuffle. As she walked into the Spectator garden, she spotted me and made a beeline for me. "Why did you say that? You and I have a similar outlook. We should be on the same side." I was a bit taken aback, but explained that all I was doing was to retell the information I had been given from several sources. We agreed to have lunch. We never did.
My other encounters with her since then have all been in the context of my broadcasting on LBC and elsewhere. She never liked to do many interviews and I only ever interviewed her at the party conference while she was Home Secretary. I never found it an easy experience and found it difficult to get much out of her in a ten minute interview at a noisy party conference. However, in 2015, she surpassed herself. The previous day I had interviewed the new Tory MP Heidi Allen, who gave an impromptu analysis of three future leadership candidates - George Osborne ("too smooth"), Boris Johnson ("I imagine him mudwrestly semi naked with Vladimir Putin") and Theresa May, who she likened to Edna Mode from The Incredibles, who apparently calls everyone 'Darling'. The next day I interviewed Theresa May and explained what Heidi Allen had said. She had clearly never heard of Edna Mode, and to be fair, nor had I. I said to her that she'd never called me 'Darling'. She laughed, the interview carried on and at the end I thanked her for coming on. Without missing a beat, she replied: "That's OK, darling!".
That same evening I took my team to an unprepossessing restaurant in Manchster for dinner. Most cabinet ministers would have been out dining with various newspaper editors and journalists. Not Theresa May. She was in the same restaurant, dining alone with her husband Philip. I went over and said hello, although I can't remember what was said.
At the 2016 party conference I was on the same Andrew Marr programme as her. I was reviewing the papers, she was giving her big conference interview. We sat next to each other at the beginning of the show for the opener and she was very funny, as this picture shows. I wish I could remember what either of us had said to provoke such a picture!
In July 2017 I bagged an interview with her in Downing Street. It was ostensibly to enable her to talk about equal marriage. I was given 8 minutes, which I stretched to twelve. It was an interview I thought I hadn't got anything out of, but it turned out it had four good newslines.
I took along with me my two LBC Drivetime producers Jagruti Dave and Victoria Gardiner, along with 17 year old Steven Edginton, who was on work experience with us. I introduced him to the Prime Minister but she barely exchanged a word with him. David Cameron would have been all over him like a rash, and Steven would have told all his friends about it. Two years later Steven has just spent the last few weeks managing the Brexit Party's digital and social media marketing.
A few months later Theresa May experienced her biggest humiliation. She lost her voice during her party conference speech. It was buttock-clenchingly awkward. And not only that, a comedian managed to interrupt her and hand her a fake P45, and a letter fell off the conference backdrop.
At that point I had been trying for a long time to persuade Number Ten to do a phone-in in the LBC studio. Much to my astonishment, they agreed to do it the week following the conference. She was the first prime minister since Tony Blair to do a radio phone-in outside an election period. These things always carry a slight risk for a politician because they can never be sure they will be won’t be tripped up by a member of the public. Interviewers can be tame beasts compared to Jill in Sidcup. Ask Nick Clegg. The main reason for the timing was the publication of the government’s Racial Disparity Audit. It’s clearly something Theresa May felt very strongly about. If you recall she talked about this issue on the steps of Downing Street when she became prime minister and she also mentioned it in her valedictory speech earlier today.
We took several calls on this and spent a third of the time on the subject. The audit is just that – an audit, and at times it makes for some dark reading, but if the problem isn’t properly diagnosed how one earth can anyone come up with some long-term solutions? I thought she dealt with most of the other questions from callers very well, including a Conservative who told her the only way of defeating Jeremy Corbyn was for her to stand down. Not an easy one for any politician to navigate.
But it was on Brexit where the headlines emerged from. An EU national phoned in and then I asked her the same question I’d asked Jeremy Hunt a week earlier: If there was a new referendum now, how would she vote? Some people think I shouldn’t have asked her such a question – I must have known I wouldn’t get a straight answer. Others seem to think it was the most brilliant question an interviewer has ever asked. It wasn’t. I honestly thought she would follow Jeremy Hunt’s lead and say that knowing what she knows now, she would vote for Brexit. Well, I suppose one positive has emerged from it – now one could ever again accuse me of being a Tory patsy interviewer ever again.
She and her team were less than pleased. I never interviewed her again.
I am very sorry it has ended in this way. I have been very direct in my criticism of her performance as Prime Minister, especially over the handling of the Brexit negotiations, where she constantly sided with the advice given to her by her civil servants over that of her political colleagues. She lacked good political advice. She lacked close, trusted confidantes once Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy had departed. She lacked the ability to explain. She often appeared to lack basic human empathy, even when she clearly had it.
Whatever her failings, Theresa May is a deeply honourable woman. She achieved one of the three offices of state, and I think will go down in history as a good Home Secretary. She's certainly the longest serving Home Secretary and has many achievements to her name, even if sticking to her target of reducing immigration below 100,000 was never achievable and should never have been made.
As Prime Minister, well, she will be the 33rd longest serving PM, just below James Callaghan and just above Neville Chamberlain. But I am afraid in terms of achievement she will come well down the list of the 54 people who have held the office since 1721. In terms of modern day PMs many people will argue that she might just squeeze in above Sir Anthony Eden. And that's a burden she will have to carry for the rest of her life.
The next few weeks and months will be painful ones for Theresa May. Departures from office like this always are. I hope that she can find an inner peace, and is able to refashion her life in a constructive and rewarding way.