Nigel Evans gives good interview. In contrast to some MPs, who seem to be regurgitating press releases, he’s candid, humorous and happy to chat away.
The Tory MP, who is the hugely popular deputy speaker of the House of Commons, came out as gay last December, saying he was tired of living a lie.
I remember seeing him at the Stonewall awards in 2009, more than a year before he came out. Although clearly not too worried about being spotted at a gay event, he was quiet and reserved. Now, he seems taller, more confident and far more jolly. In Westminster, he’s generally respected and much loved.
He announced he was gay in the Mail on Sunday shortly after another Tory MP, Crispin Blunt, came out. Although Evans’ secret was well-known in Westminster, the news came as a surprise to his family and many in his constituency. Blunt’s admission came as a shock to all, as he was married with children.
However, Evans says there are still “quite a number” of MPs who remain in the closet. “Dozens”, he estimates. Some live with partners and are deeply private, he says, others are classic cases of the last to know.
While he says he hopes those who want to will come out, he acknowledges that his is a cautionary tale, rather than an inspiration: “I’m the last one to lecture them, to say, you’ve got to come out.”
He did not come out until the age of 54. “I’ve thrown away 35 years of my life,” he says.
Although this statement is unemotional, it’s deeply moving. It’s not that unusual for gay men of his generation to come out late in life, but rumination on the relationships, years of togetherness that could have been, are inevitable.
Thinking of his career, and rise to one of the most powerful positions in the Commons, I ask whether he really feels this way.
“Yes, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Frowning, he says: “I see a lot of my young gay friends now, who are leading as fulfilled a life as their non-gay friends. And shouldn’t that be as it is? Why should it be any different? Why should people who were born gay have to lead second-class lives anyway?”
He then runs through an encounter with young Polish students, who professed a love for Margaret Thatcher and a burning desire for equality for all – except gays.
The mood breaks for a second when I ask if he is still single. “I am clearly available!”, he says, laughing.
“And that’s what I mean by throwing away 35 years of my life. If I was a teenager now, I think the chances of me having found somebody and then staying with them for a long period, I think would have happened. So it has repercussions, the later you leave it.”