What is it like to be the wife of a cabinet minister? Political editor WILLIAM GREEN spoke to Northumberland-born Rose Paterson, who is married to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, and discovers she has her own extraordinary story
AS the wife of a cabinet minister, the niece of another, the daughter of a viscount and the sister of one of the world's most eminent science writers, Rose Paterson could be known better for the lives she is associated with rather than her own.
But her own story - which involves horse racing in Mongolia, a £250,000 painting in the back of a Renault 5, helping farmers during the foot-and-mouth crisis to seeing the results of the peace process in Northern Ireland close up - is remarkable too. Mrs Paterson, wife of the new Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, is the daughter of the late Lord Ridley, who owned the Blagdon Estate and was, for many years, chairman of Northumberland County Council.
Married life to an MP in Shropshire has taken her out of the region, but those North East roots have informed both hers and her husband's life in politics, she says.
Mrs Paterson is glad to have been born in Northumberland, saying: "Growing up outside London, in the North East, it's almost a country. That does give you a good perspective.
"I think growing up involved in farming, as my family was, was helpful when Owen became MP for a rural constituency."
Born in 1956, she lived in a house on the family's Blagdon Estate, near Seaton Burn, before moving into the main house when she was eight or nine. Her great grandfather was the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, her uncle was Nicholas Ridley, a Tory cabinet minister, while her brother Matt Ridley, the current viscount, is a respected writer and journalist.
Mrs Paterson says her husband is fond of the region and understands the issues of the countryside, representing a rural Shropshire constituency.
Mr Paterson also met farmers and rural business people in the North East regularly during his time as a shadow agriculture minister.
"He does know his stuff. He is an incredibly thorough person. He does his research," she says of her husband.
"He knows how difficult it is where mobile phones don't work, broadband is slow, public services in terms of public transport are patchy."
All of that experience must be a good thing for his new role - especially when he has been given a focus to boost rural economies by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Mrs Paterson speaks movingly of her father, and how he and her mother instilled values of service in their children.
She says: "My father worked very hard. He was the chairman of Northumberland County Council for 10 years and that was when I was growing up. We had an incredibly hectic social life.
"His whole life he had a feeling that he had been born into a lot of privilege and you put it back."
Mrs Paterson adds that his experience of fighting in the Second World War as a 19-year-old was a defining experience. "For the first time in his life, he felt in it together with everybody, and he never lost that."
Northumberland was his passion, with politics regularly the talk of the household. But her father was not political in the same way as her uncle, Nicholas Ridley, a Thatcher loyalist who introduced the Poll Tax.
She says: "He was a consensus person. He taught us a lot about listening to other people and seeing the other point of view. In his way, he was a wonderful man."
Mrs Paterson talks about doing work experience at The Journal in 1974 before going to Cambridge University to study history. While at the paper, she was asked to judge the "bonny babies" competition, with thousands of photos landing on her desk.
Despite her family's rich political heritage, she enjoyed a normal student life at university, and met her husband. They married in 1980 and now have three grown-up children, one of whom graduated from Durham University earlier this summer.
Interestingly, several senior Conservative members of the current Government were among their circle of friends at Cambridge. They include Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin, Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell and Universities Minister David Willetts.
"None of us were really involved in politics, but it ended up being quite political that group," she says.
The next stage of her life was joining the auctioneers Sotheby's at its sale room in Chester. On one occasion, she travelled to Anglesey to pick up a painting by famous English painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She had to transport it in the back of her small Renault 5 car. It was later sold for £250,000.
Another time, Mrs Paterson was asked by Macclesfield Town Council to have a look at something. "There was a picture, in the basement, full of holes. They were using it as a ping pong table."
It turned out to a painting that went under the hammer for £100,000.
All through this period, the couple regularly returned to Northumberland to see her parents, who were supportive of Owen as his political career took off.
Mr Paterson became MP for North Shropshire - the county of his birth - in 1997. But, on election night, there was a little concern midway through that he might not win because of the Labour landslide. In the end, his majority was a few thousand, but topped 15,000 at the last election.
Mrs Paterson became the newly-elected MP's office manager, although she now manages his local diary and Press. In that time, there have been highs and lows in what can be a 24-hour job.
The foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, she remembers vividly, as farmers sought help for cattle that were stuck because of movement restrictions.
"It was Easter, we packed the children off to Northumberland, and we were on the phone helping them."
Politics can be tough on children, she says, although she is glad that her husband was not as prominent as now when they were growing up.
"It's a seven-day-a-week job and most meal times are interrupted by something, and they have to get used to that." Partners of politicians must be "sympathetically" involved because of the pressures, she adds.
An example of the intensity of politics came when her husband was appointed Northern Ireland Secretary in May 2010 - and received the Saville Inquiry report into Bloody Sunday three weeks later.
He had 24 hours to read it and advise the Prime Minister on what to say. Another surprise was the level of security after his appointment to his post.
But there are many memories that Mrs Paterson will take away from her husband's time as Northern Ireland Secretary, describing the palpable sense of change thanks to the peace process.
She clearly sees it as a privilege to have been there when the Queen made historic visits to Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Secretary also has an official residence at Hillsborough Castle, which she admits she will miss.
Mrs Paterson exudes a sense of living life to the full. And that is reflected by a great horse race that the couple undertook in the summer last year - the 621-mile Mongol Derby. "It was all my fault. I read about it and I just wanted to do so something away from civilisation and I thought I'd go on my own. And Owen said he was coming, too." They did it in nine days, changing horses three times a day and riding for 14 hours at a time. They raised £110,000 for the Royal Irish Regiment, based in his constituency, and the Midlands centre for spinal injuries, which treated Mr Paterson when he nearly broke his neck after falling from a horse a decade ago.
Summing up what life in politics is like, she says there's no security: "But at least it's exciting."
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