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‘I’ve been gay all my life’ – Former Prime Minister’s aide Barbara Hosking on coming out aged 91

Katharine Swindells December 10, 2017

Barbara Hosking (Image from her book, art by Hero Johnson)

In her new book ‘Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant,’ Barbara Hosking, former aide to two Prime Ministers, has opened up about her sexuality, at the age of 91.

In an interview with the Guardian about the book, she said she felt she had to be honest.

“I couldn’t write about myself without mentioning the fact that I’ve been gay all my life.”

From @Anoosh_C on Twitter

Born in 1926 in Cornwall, Hosking knew she was gay at age six, when she fell in love with her schoolfriend.

Hosking said she didn’t feel her sexuality was a secret, but having no one to share her experience with, she didn’t know how to articulate it.

“I got on with it. I didn’t feel it was something I had to be furtive about. Early on, there was nobody I could talk to about it.”

“I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t know what it was about,” she told the New Statesman. “It took me a long time.”

It was when she moved to London in 1946 to pursue a career in journalism that she discovered a community of queer women.

“My landladies took me off to this gay club in Chelsea called Gateways. As I got into their car, one turned to me and said: “You are queer, aren’t you?” I said yes, but I was thinking to myself, what does this mean?”

Gateways was one of the only clubs for queer women to meet in the mid-20th century (Wikicommons)

Hosking says that although she has had some people be surprised about her coming out, reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

““Well, I didn’t actually realise what I was doing, until it was published. Then one of the committees at the August Reform Club, of which I’m a member, said ‘We’d love you to come and give a talk; would you like to do it in Gay Week?’”

“Suddenly I thought, what have I done? My joke is – I’ve come out at the age of 91 and if I don’t like it I’m going back in again.”

Hosking worked in various positions in the Labour Party between 1952 and 1965, then in the Civil Service, acting as an aide to Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.

She said although many were scared of Edward Heath, she had a friendship with him.

“Once, when he was going to conduct an LSO rehearsal at the Festival Hall, I said: ‘Are you going to wear that usual cardigan you wear? It does you no favours. What about a lovely tailored one with shoulder pads?’ He harrumphed, but he did buy a new cardigan.”

Ruth Hunt, Chirf Executive of Stonewall called Hosking her “latest gay icon.”


The title of Hosking’s book comes from her overarching life philosophy of disobedience.

“A civil servant once said to me: ‘When will you learn that rules are to be obeyed?’ I looked at her in amazement and I said: ‘I was brought up to understand that rules are to be interpreted.’ That’s my philosophy of life: rules are to be interpreted.”

More: barbara hosking, History, Labour party, lesbian, Politics

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