Vince Cable talks about his mother’s mental illness, his father’s racism and overcoming prejudice in a moving and candid interview

You probably don’t know that Vince Cable was on Radio 5 Live as the birthday guest on Sunday night because it’s not really been reported anywhere. It’s worth catching up on it though because it’s one of the most open, personal  and moving interviews I’ve heard him give. He’s mentioned the racism he and his first wife Olympia faced as a mixed race couple before but in this

Vince was 75 last week but he said that he was both physically and mentally fit – he was introduced as a dancer and black run skier. His age isn’t an issue, he says. He says he’s well received amongst audiences of young people and derided by older people.

He said there was a period in politics when it was important to be youthful, citing Kennedy, Blair and Cameron but talks about a blend of youthful innovation and experience is necessary.

Growing up in York to ambitious working class parents, he learned about aspiration and ambition. He says he was a bit lonely when his brother arrived at 11. HIs mother suffered post natal depression and spent some time in hospital as a result. He has talked before of the role of adult education in helping her recover from that. His brother was fostered for a while and his father had to look after him.  He said people were quite cruel about it and taunted him about is mother going to the “loony bin.” He says we’ve made some progress with that sort of attitude.

The idea of women working when he was growing up was frowned upon. He sees this as adding to his mother’s loneliness. His father was a very traditional person who had campaigned to stop women teaching and who believed in a hierarchy of races.

He talked of forming a “little liberal cell” in his house with his mum, who defied the instructions to vote Conservative she received from her husband.

It was playing Macbeth in the school play which helped him overcome his awkwardness as a teenager and he spoke of how his involvement in a drama group led to his first relationship – with Lady Macbeth.

But it was while doing his last vocational job as a student – nursing in a mental hospital – that he met his future wife, Olympia. It was love at first sight and by chance he had a job in Nairobi. They decided to get married and found that both sets of parents were opposed to this. They had nothing to do with either set of parents at first but they all eventually became reconciled. Eventually his rather racist father and Olympia ended up getting on very well and finding a lot of common ground.

He and his second wife met at university – but just for half an hour. When they met again 40 years later, they got together and “haven’t had an argument since.”

He talked about politics and stuff (comparing the political theatre to professional wrestling), but it’s the personal stuff that really hits home in this interview. Someone with his experience of overcoming racism, of coming through his mother’s mental illness with a desire to help others in the same situation.  If you listen to nothing else this week, listen here from about 2 hours and 7 minutes in.

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