‘I was sexually abused at nine by our vicar… He made me feel like a child harlot’: Stunning revelation from MP Nadine Dorries that the evil priest in her new novel is real
- Mid-Bedfordshire MP has always denied sexual abuse in series is real
- Now admits it is based on own experience at the hands of the local vicar
- She has even used his real name in the best-selling Four Roads books
- Reveals to Mail on Sunday how she ‘agonised’ over whether to report him
Survivor: Nadine Dorries says writing about the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of the local vicar was a form of healing
It takes a lot to stop the force of nature that is Nadine Dorries. Take her suspension from the Conservative whip following her eyebrow-raising, bikini-clad jaunt on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here. Or some of the vicious criticism meted out when she ventured into print with a series of novels: comments on her first ranged from ‘bad, riddled with Shamrockese’ to ‘the worst novel I’ve read in ten years’.
The brickbats seemed to matter not one jot to the indomitable MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, who was returned last month with a huge majority of more than 23,000, and whose novels – despite the snooty comments – have sold a staggering 750,000 copies in print and digital.
Yet her reputation as a survivor is founded on something much more personal and a great deal more troubling than Westminster controversy. And the clue is in those books. As Nadine admits for the first time today, the dark episodes of sexual abuse that punctuate the trilogy published so far are based not in the imagination, but in reality – she herself was the victim of what her own novels so graphically describe.
Now aged 58, Nadine says the attacks she suffered at the hands of her local Anglican vicar when she was a nine-year-old girl have had a profound effect on every aspect of her life, from her relationships with men to those with her three daughters. ‘It has taken me 49 years to talk about it,’ she says. ‘It has been slowly coming out and each time I say the words it gets a bit easier.
‘My childhood was stolen from me. I was not an innocent girl enjoying things in the way other children were. From a young age I was made to be different and ashamed. Even now, I fear that people will say it was me and that I must have done something wrong; that there was bad in me that made other men do that; that I was a child harlot.
‘It happened more than once so what was it about me?’
Her series of books – known collectively as The Four Streets – describe life in an Irish-Catholic community in 1950s and 1960s Liverpool, matching Nadine’s own upbringing. The third, The Ballymara Road, came out last week and a fourth will be published in December.
So detailed and so plausible are some of the scenes she describes, that readers have asked Nadine if the books are based on fact or fiction.
She has always claimed the latter – until today.
Unable to bring herself to report the abuse to police, Nadine says she instead found healing in writing a thinly veiled account of it in her novels.
‘It was fired by hatred and revenge, and I’m the first to admit I’m not proud of that, but it worked for me. I read somewhere that good authors plumb their backgrounds and childhoods. ‘I thought, “God, I’ve got a lot to plumb.” I’ve had an eventful life.
Friend of the family: The Reverend James Cameron, pictured in 1991, would often pop in to see Ms Dorries’ parents, and was such a powerful figure in the community she felt she was unable to speak out
‘I’m known as a maverick and a fighter, but I think that’s what abuse turns you into,’ she says, as she sips her tea from a china mug at her constituency home near Flitwick.
‘If I’m hurt I fight furiously, a million times harder than anyone else would. When [BBC political pundit] Andrew Neil made a derogatory comment about me some years ago, I hit back and called him an “orange, overweight, toupee-wearing has-been”.
‘I feel really bad about that now. Perhaps abuse removes your filter. But at the other end of the spectrum, people will tell you that I go out of my way to help people who are unhappy or upset.’
SHE remains unapologetic about the justice she felt was done by including in her books the sordid details of what the late vicar did to her. She is unrepentant even about using his real name in full – the Reverend James Cameron – in The Ballymara Road.
Nadine says: ‘It’s important to remember that my books are mostly fiction. But I did leave a trail of real events throughout them that I wanted the vicar to read.
‘There was a delicious moment of triumph in writing his full name, just once, in the last book as I thought of him spending the rest of his life in fear. I wanted him to suffer. That was my private justice.
‘That’s not a good or positive emotion and certainly not a Christian one. I’m not suggesting everybody does what I did, but, mentally, there was no other avenue for me.’
After burying her disgust for years, Nadine remembers the moment it all came flooding back to her.
‘My daughter was a baby and I’d left her in a bath by the fire in the care of a male relative and popped into the kitchen to fetch something.
‘When I returned, all I could see was him kneeling over her and his hand in the water. It sent me cold with fear as I moved from the door to the bath, but he was splashing her with water, she was giggling and it was all totally innocent, happy, bath-time fun, a normal event. The memories came right back to me at that moment and they haven’t left since.’
Innocent: Nadine in 1967, when she was being abused by the vicar. She now says abuse was ‘absolutely rife’ when she was younger, particularly in poorer communities like the one in Liverpool where she grew up
Nadine grew up in a working-class family in Liverpool. Her late father was an Irish-Catholic and mother a Protestant, meaning Nadine attended two churches and a church-run youth club. The abuse started shortly after the Reverend William Cameron – better known to parishioners by his middle name, James – was made priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Halewood in 1966, when Nadine was nine.
‘At the time he was dark-haired, had a beard and a moustache,’ Nadine recalls. ‘He smelt of whisky and wore the long, black cassock and dog collar. I was summoned to the vicarage on more than one occasion on the pretence of him showing me his stamp collection. I can still see the little grease-proof paper corners the stamps were held in with. But he moved from stamps to showing me a Playboy magazine, and then black-and- white pictures of him and his wife having sex.
‘I didn’t know what sex was – I was only nine. But I remember thinking it was bad and wrong and I felt filled with shame. He told me he’d set up a camera in their bedroom. He asked me, “How does that make you feel in your tummy?” He said people would think badly of me if I told them about the pictures and that no one would want to talk to me.
‘It didn’t occur to me that people would think badly of him.
‘He then started coming round to the house.’
Nadine’s mother helped out at the church and Mr Cameron would often pay social calls, mostly when Nadine was tucked up in bed.
‘I remember two specific occasions of abuse, but there were more,’ she says.
‘Once I woke up in the night to find him performing a sex act near me. Another time when he was kneeling at the side of my bed he exposed himself.
‘I felt fear and guilt and the knowledge that something was terribly wrong and that maybe it was my fault. He spoke to me but what he said was too disgusting for me to even write.’
Historic cases: Ms Dorries, who has held her seat since 2005, believes the 1,400 people who have come forward to report historic sex abuse in the last year represent just a ‘drop in the ocean’
Scared about what would happen to her, Nadine didn’t breathe a word. ‘He was friends with my parents and Mum helped out in the church. The things he did to me were contrary to everything else that happened in our lives.
‘Who would have believed me if I had said something? He was a big person in the community; he was God. My parents would have been horrified if they had known. I didn’t tell them – I didn’t want to let them down.’
Nadine’s description of the sex act in her first book, The Four Streets, is certainly difficult to read.
‘What happened to me is written as one scene in the first book,’ she says quietly. ‘It took me only an hour to write. When I’d finished, I remember sitting back and thinking, “Wow!” It had taken me years to acknowledge it properly but it just poured out.
‘These books are far from misery memoirs. There’s romance, murder mystery – and a ghost too – but once I’d begun weaving a secret thread into the story, I knew I was going to get my revenge on the vicar. I remember thinking, “I want you to know that I’m writing about you; it’s unmistakable and that through these three books I am going to make you suffer.”
‘The whole graphic description of what happens to the priest, it’s really what I wanted to happen to him. But I found out recently that he died in 2011. All that hatred and revenge was for nothing.’
Sensitive: Ms Dorries says the abuse she suffered as a child meant she has become a fighter
Nadine doesn’t know for sure if the vicar had other victims but suspects this might be the case.
She found herself confronting the past only when she had her own children. ‘I am very demonstrative and overly protective of my girls as a result of my abuse,’ she says.
‘All through their childhoods I was hyper-manic about them being on their own. It was a constant stress and anxiety about where they were, who they were with and who they were exposed to.’ Could this be an explanation for her political drive and need to do well?
‘I never do anything to fail at it,’ she says. ‘I set up my own business knowing it was going to make me millions. There was no doubt in my mind that I would become an MP despite the fact there are only 650 in the country and I hadn’t worked in politics.
‘When I sat down to write the books, I didn’t think for one second that they would fail.’
There is a danger, of course, that the public – and the media – has had all it can take of sex abuse stories, high profile or otherwise. It’s a suggestion that clearly irritates Nadine.
‘There are people who think it’s wrong for men and women to come forward with stories of historic sex abuse. They think it’s the person disclosing who has the problem.
‘But abuse was absolutely rife, particularly among vulnerable kids from poorer communities like mine. Poor kids saw any attention as something positive. Children were seen and not heard.
‘We now know that 1,400 people have come forward to report abuse for the historic child abuse inquiry.
‘I think that’s a drop in the ocean, but the fact the issue is out in the public domain has made it easier for people to come forward.
‘If it didn’t happen to you then think yourself lucky. You wouldn’t want it to happen to your child or your grandchild.
‘Speaking about it is a way to make sure it doesn’t happen to them, especially if they can write it down on paper and submit it to the inquiry. I will be entering my experiences.
‘Of course, I wish I had the courage to report him. I wish I could have been brave enough to shake off the feelings of fear and shame and stepped up and done so, but like many victims, I was too terrified. The longer you carry a secret, the harder it is to disclose.
‘It is these negative and shameful feelings that prevent people from reporting or disclosing abuse. It’s certainly prevented me from reporting mine. I was simply too ashamed to report him and really, I still am.
‘I’ve agonised for years over whether I should report him or not. I’m not cured of my feelings of hurt, although knowing he is dead has helped. I want disclosure of historic sexual abuse to be seen not just as a normal thing to do but as an expectation of those who have experienced it. We need it to be open and acceptable and for people – including me – to understand that there is no stigma.
‘Those of my generation who were subjected to abuse now have a responsibility to ensure that child abuse is never rife again, that children are safe and protected.’
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