Evans, who grew up in the “dreary sixties” in “one of the rougher sides of Swansea”, became interested in politics at a young age. His family owned a newsagent and the young Nigel would race through all the newspapers each day, before placing them back on the newsstands.
In a fit of precocity, the ten-year-old shocked his primary school teacher by telling her that Ted Heath would win the 1970 general election. She was “absolutely dumbfounded”, he says, not least because he appeared to be a budding Tory.
His father, he says, began working in the shop after the war – “the biggest mistake of his life”. Evans, seeing his father’s resentment, decided he would not follow the same path after finishing university. “I was very conscious in deciding I could not get sucked in to spending the rest of my life in a shop.”
A fascination with the “aura” of the US Kennedy dynasty and an admiration for his “icon” Margaret Thatcher’s move to sell council houses to tenants – a boost for many in his area – prompted him to get into politics and stand as a local councillor. He later won the seat of Ribble Valley in 1992, where he has been the MP since.
He was elected as one of three deputy speakers in June last year, having come first in the ballot of MPs. He says he is hugely enjoying the job, although still struggles to tell a small handful of MPs apart.
He jokes that as a young man, he felt like the only Tory in the whole of Wales. Of course, he felt he was the only gay person too.
“I didn’t know anyone who was openly gay in Swansea at that stage,” he says. “Nobody. Not a single person. I just carried on, thinking it could not be possible to be openly gay and involved in politics, especially in Wales.
“And the seismic difference between then and now… the progression has been massive, from Lord Chris Smith [the former Labour peer who came out in 1984] who was clearly dynamic in what he did and pioneering, quite frankly, for not just me, but people like David Cameron then to say, well, hold on now, we believe in equality. And actually, David has been absolutely amazing in what he’s done.
“It’s never easy to come out… the older you are, it’s more difficult. Whereas now, I think it’s a lot easier for people to come out as gay as soon as they know they’re gay.”
He recalls the old question asked by constituency selection committees: “Do you have any skeletons in your cupboard?”
“We all knew what the question meant,” he says. “It didn’t mean have you murdered your brother or do you believe in the extermination of races of people, it was, are you gay? That was the code. I took it in the literal sense and said I had no skeletons in my cupboard. Now that question is banned … in recognition of what that question was all about.”
He adds: “[Being gay] is not going to be the deciding factor any more. Well, for some people it may be, but that’s their problem, not the candidates’ problem.”
Continue reading this exclusive interview
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