Browsing through a week-old copy of the Telegraph, I came across an obituary of someone called Mark Fitzgeorge-Parker.
It was very prominent – the obituary, not the subject. He came across as an unpleasant piece of work. It was unusual for such a negative obituary to be given half a page of national newspaper space but Fitzgeorge-Parker was Ukip’s first press officer and clearly close to the leader.
The writer described a “louche, rackety character” of “questionable morals”, who “appeared to struggle to distinguish truth from fiction”. He spent time in prison for theft. He later became, according to Farage, “a very central figure” in Ukip – “very well known and very well liked.” He helped to write Farage’s memoirs.
He wrote under the penname of Mark Daniel and his own entry on writingroom.com still claims his interests as offal and crustaceans, high life and low life, amusing orgies, flirtation, and libertarianism. It also says he was born in 1959. He was born in 1954.
Farage described him as a “libertine, as opposed to a libertarian, and had a free-range lifestyle, which not all would approve of”. I never met Fitzgeorge-Parker, but I know someone who did, and wished she hadn’t.
Forty years ago, I was at home late one evening when the phone rang. An official-sounding voice asked me if I knew a certain girl. I won’t name her, but, oh yes, I knew her well.
She was my first proper girlfriend. We’d met at the Theatre Royal, watching The Magic Flute from up in the gods. I was about 15, and she was a year younger. She came from Jarrow, and was funny, pretty and very clever.
Although our relationship never really developed into what you might call a serious romance, for the next couple of years, we were inseparable. We went to concerts and the theatre, we took long walks along the pier at Tynemouth; we were just teenagers enjoying life on Tyneside together.
We drifted apart after we went to university. She had won a scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge, an incredible achievement for a girl from Jarrow. The whole world was ahead of her. Then she met Mark Fitzgeorge-Parker.
She told me all about him. That he was dashingly handsome, wore a long cloak, and was heir to a fortune. A year older than she, he swept the girl from Jarrow into his champagne lifestyle. She adored it.
But Mark wasn’t rich, he was broke. He said that his father had stopped his allowance. But he wasn’t heir to anything, other than his father’s propensity for drinking (Mark described himself as a 4th generation alcoholic).
Intoxicated by her new life, she was keen to help him. So, Fitzgeorge-Parker devised a plan. He persuaded her to steal rare books from Girton College library, and together they removed the university stamps. They drove to independent bookshops on the South Coast and Fitzgeorge Parker, the charming, convincing fraudster, sold them.
That’s how they kept the champagne flowing. Until one day, they overlooked a single stamp in one volume, and a bookseller became suspicious. The phone call I received that day was from a solicitor. The girl had given my name in desperation. Would I stand bail? Of course I would.
I thought perhaps it was all a misunderstanding. I’d known this girl for years and she’d never so much as lifted a jellybean from a sweet shop. But the court saw otherwise. The Bonnie and Clyde pair had sold £2,000-worth of rare books, so they gave the girl from Jarrow with the brilliant brain and incredible potential a 2-year jail sentence.
I saw her next in Askham Grange open prison, where she was with Mary Bell, the Newcastle child killer. In court, Fitzgeorge-Parker disowned her, blaming her for everything. But he was sent to HMP Ashwell, which he used as inspiration for his first novel, called Conviction.
After his death, the chair of his local constituency party described him as “very much a Ukip man.” Quite.