Most important decision a woman can make? Who to have children with

From Nick Clegg’s wife, lawyer Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, a very surprising piece of advice: The most important career decision a woman can make? Who to have children with

  • Miriam Gonzalez Durantez is wife of former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg
  • The 51-year-old reflected while visiting London for the Inspiring Girls summit
  • Lawyer told how being married to a political bigwig helped her with the charity
  • Inspiring Girls aims to expand the ambitions of girls aged ten to 15  
  • Miriam explained how who you have children with can impact your career 

The past few years have been tough for Miriam González Durántez, otherwise known as Lady Clegg, though she hates to be called that.

First, her husband, Sir Nick, lost his job as deputy prime minister when his Lib Dems were virtually wiped out in the 2015 election. The following year, both were horrified by the Brexit referendum result; then, in 2017, Nick lost his seat of Sheffield Hallam.

But all that fell into insignificance because, by then, the couple’s eldest son Antonio, now 17 (he has two brothers, Alberto, 15, and Miguel, ten), had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells that needed to be fought with endless, gruelling rounds of chemotherapy.

‘He’s well now,’ beams Miriam, 51, with her fruity Spanish accent. ‘But yes, it was a tough time.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, 51, who is the wife of former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg (pictured together) reflected on balancing a career with family life

‘But, to me, the biggest surprise is how you can go through these times, not only through your child’s illness, but also the deaths of people you love, these big things, and in the moment you think: “I know now what is and isn’t important, I will never worry about those little things again.”

‘But then life goes on, and routine and the same old dynamics take over and you find yourself getting upset about the traffic or something silly. I think we do it just to survive. It’s a human being’s coping mechanism; it’s healthy.’

Antonio is now in the clear, but Miriam always refused to be haunted by the prospect of his cancer returning. ‘You should not live with an illness you no longer have, just because you might have it,’ she says firmly.

Certainly, the Clegg family now seem to have bounced back from their anni horribili. At the beginning of the year, they moved to California to start afresh, with Nick taking on the hugely lucrative job of vice president of Global Affairs at Facebook.

Now, the family is living in a £7 million house with a pool and hot tub in Atherton, the most expensive postcode in the U.S. ‘The boys are enjoying it,’ Miriam says. ‘For them, it’s an adventure. For me, as well.’

The impression I have is that Miriam is thriving, thousands of miles away from the memories of so much personal and professional upheaval.

Despite the change in circumstances, she’s working as hard as ever for an international law firm, and says she wants to scream when — now her husband is finally the breadwinner (when he was in government she earned approximately five times more than him) — people constantly ask why.

After years of upheaval, Miriam (pictured) and Nick Clegg are now living in a £7m house with pool and hot tub in the U.S

‘When that was the case, nobody ever asked him that question,’ she says. Nor does it mean that she hasn’t been tracking our Brexit rollercoaster intently. ‘I follow it very closely — I cannot help it, it really matters to me. I always think it must be wonderful to live without being engaged in the world, but it’s not the way I am.’

She rolls her eyes at the mention of Boris Johnson, whom she’s known since he was a young reporter in Brussels, where she and Nick were working for the European Commission.

Were they ever friends? ‘No,’ she says bluntly. ‘I’ve given up on understanding Boris. God knows what he is planning to do.’

She’s even more dismissive of her husband’s former colleague David Cameron. Has she read his new autobiography? ‘No.’ Does she want to? ‘It seems very big and we have too much on,’ she says with one of her trademark dazzling smiles.

Well, that’s true. We meet during Miriam’s whistlestop visit to London, for the global summit of Inspiring Girls, her charity which aims to expand the ambitions of girls aged ten to 15 in 14 countries ranging from Brazil to the UK, with a new video hub containing interviews with women from a wide cross-section of careers.

Miriam has known Boris Johnson (pictured with Nick) since he was a young reporter in Brussels, she claims to have given up on understanding him

‘We started with women going into schools to talk to classes of girls, but now if they can’t physically come in, they can still talk to them either live or pre-recorded using technology. So you could be talking to girls in Kenya who want to know about journalism. Why should we look at geographical boundaries?’ she says.

Miriam certainly managed to garner a dazzling array of women to the launch of this new initiative, including Radio 4’s Mishal Husain, historian Mary Beard and, via video link, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

But the inescapable fact is the charity would never have got off the ground had Miriam not been married to a political bigwig. She admits she levered the situation to her advantage and that the original idea was inspired by the surprised way people reacted to her as the full-time working wife of a party leader.

On Boris 

Were they ever friends? ‘No. I’ve given up on understanding Boris.’

‘People had categorised me as the “professional wife”,’ she says with a flash of scorn in her dark eyes. ‘And they kept asking me, “Do you think that there are enough female role models?” and I’d say what a weird question, because I knew thousands of amazing women.’

But then she saw research from the Girl Guides saying that 55 per cent of girls felt they lacked role models. ‘I had a bit of public exposure so I thought, “Well, this is something we can harness.”’

You certainly couldn’t ask for a more impressive role model than the tall and glamorous Miriam, the daughter of two school teachers from the small Spanish town of Olmedo who became a high-powered trade lawyer.

In a blue dress and pink stilettos (‘they’re not for walking in, I have other shoes in my bag for that’), it’s obvious why Nick recalled being ‘bewitched the first time I saw her’ in Belgium, where both were students. ‘I didn’t speak English and Nick didn’t speak Spanish, so we started our relationship in French,’ chuckles Miriam, who comes across as much less soppy than her husband. ‘We still don’t know what we told each other!’

Miriam (pictured with Nick) says she refused to move the family from their home in Putney when Nick was government, because she wanted to maintain as normal life as possible

As Nick climbed the greasy political pole, she caused shockwaves with her insistence that (though they had a nanny) he still shared the school run, saying that men who did childcare had ‘more cojones’ than ‘dinosaurs’ who refused.

‘It was always very clear to us that ours was a very equal relationship,’ she says. ‘For me, the most important career decision you make is who you have children with, so make sure it’s someone who thinks you’re not second rate.’

How do you choose such a paragon? ‘I don’t think it’s a conscious decision: I think you know if respect is there from the very beginning.’

A new book, Couples Who Work, advises those in relationships where both have jobs actually to draw up contracts on how to make their lives function smoothly.

On Cameron 

Has she read his book? ‘No. It seems very big and we have too much on’

‘It’s never occurred to me to do that, but probably because I’m a lawyer, I’d have all the advantages with a contract,’ she jokes.The Cleggs take a more ad hoc approach to sharing the domestic burden. ‘We don’t wake up every morning and go through the list of “This is how you can be a good feminist.” It’s more about the values you have as a family.’

When Nick was in government, Miriam further ruffled feathers by refusing to move the family from their home in Putney, South West London to official accommodation in Westminster.

‘That was about trying to maintain as normal a life as possible and it was one of the best decisions we ever took,’ she says. ‘Politics isolates you a lot at that level, and I think staying in a place surrounded by your friends, your neighbours, grounds you. It was good for the children; it’s healthy for politicians, too.’

Miriam believes having had female prime ministers has helped to change the culture surrounding the role of politicians’ partners 

Miriam also refused to sit on the stage gazing dewy-eyed at Nick during party conferences, calling such behaviour a ‘tiny humiliation.’

‘Every culture comes with baggage and it’s hard to dismantle that. In Spain, the partners of politicians don’t play a role at all,’ she explains. ‘But I do think that culture here is changing now anyway, partly because we’ve had a female prime minister and the male partners don’t do those things like coming onto the podium and kissing them, so there’s less of that and I think it’s a thoroughly good thing.’

She consistently set herself apart from Samantha Cameron, sharply responding when asked why, unlike her Tory counterpart, she wasn’t quitting work to join Nick on the election campaign trail: ‘I don’t have the luxury of a job I can abandon for five weeks.’

She refused to socialise with the Conservatives and expressed disdain for Samantha’s menu at a get-to-know-you dinner of deli roast chicken with a jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

When the Camerons came to dinner at the Cleggs, Miriam reciprocated by serving a sea bass, filled with fiddly bones. Was she trying to choke them? ‘No, it wasn’t intentional. It was a funny thing. I was very proud of that sea bass,’ she sighs.

Food is hugely important to Miriam, to the point where alongside the mega job and family duties, she also writes a cookery blog, (She’s said Nick is ‘an appalling cook’.)

Miriam (pictured) admits she struggled when she began speaking to big audiences because she’s not a native English speaker

The blog started as a project with the boys. Do they still cook with her? ‘Less now,’ she admits. ‘But everybody needs to learn to do basic stuff like cooking, to take care of themselves.’

People are often surprised that a mother of boys is dedicating so much time to girls’ empowerment. ‘But I want my children to be in a place where girls are not thinking they are a little bit less than boys and can’t do certain professions,’ she exclaims.

On equality 

Nick and I don’t wake up every day and go through how you can be a good feminist

Her feminism has its roots in her Spanish childhood during the dying days of Franco’s regime.

‘Then, women didn’t have a current account in my country, they couldn’t have a business, they couldn’t travel without the permission of the husband. When my mother became a teacher, people suggested she was diminishing my father by working.’

You can definitely see the formidable Miriam inspiring girls, but it’s hard to imagine her ever suffering from the impostor syndrome, which she says hinders so many young women.

‘Oh yeah, I definitely have those moments of lacking confidence,’ she says. ‘For example I’m not a native English speaker and that was hard for me when I started speaking to big audiences.’

If any more demons haunt Miriam, she’s not saying. After all, she always advises girls to ‘fake self-confidence, until you’ve done something twice.

‘Because, after the second time, you realise, OK you can do this.

‘The third time you realise that not only can you do it, but if you make a mistake it’s not the end of the world. There is always a way to come back from failure.’

Great advice for girls of any age — and even better for Sir Nick, formerly of Westminster, now of Facebook.

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