Among the many, many words that have been spoken and written by now about Matt Hancock’s relationship with his colleague and university friend, Gina Coladangelo, I don’t think anyone has said this: isn’t this a bit like an 80s movie? I get why people keep saying it smacks of a return to 90s Tory sleaze, but I think they are focusing on the details as opposed to the bigger picture. The 80s movie picture.
First, the background. As well as cheating on and now leaving Martha, his wife of 15 years – whom he was also at university with – he allegedly managed to give her long Covid, which she still has. You know, not enough men think about the details, the final twist that makes the real difference. So you gotta hand it to Hancock: when it came to doing over his wife, he really put the cherry on that cake.
Further revealing details have emerged from the interviews in tabloids with Hancock’s university contemporaries about their memories of him and Coladangelo back in the mesozoic age of the late 1990s. “Gina Coladangelo ‘was way out of Matt Hancock’s league at uni’ says fellow student” was one typical headline, although that is the kind of revelation even those of us who had never even heard Coladangelo’s name until two weeks ago could have come up with. But the story got better: “Gina was very suave, composed and elegant. Most men would have given their right arm to go out with her,” said Maxie Allen. I’ve never encountered a suave, elegant or even composed 18-year-old, but Coladangelo does have that air about her. Incidentally, isn’t there something so pleasing about the fact that she’s married to the man behind Oliver Bonas, the most zeitgeisty high street store there is? It’s as if a member of John Major’s cabinet was caught shagging Mrs Kookai.
So while Coladangelo was the hot catch, Hancock, according to Allen, “was not the sort of person where he’d come into a room and everyone went: ‘Oh Matt Hancock’s here’”.
Are you seeing now where I’m going with my 80s movie reference? On the one hand, we have Hancock, the dweeby nobody (played, surely, by Anthony Michael Hall), and on the other, we have Coladangelo, the college princess (Molly Ringwald is the obvious choice, although I’d prefer Ally Sheedy in this role). Boy, did Hancock play the long game here! Lord knows I’ve done some crazy things to try to get a crush to notice me – thrown parties, bought expensive clothes, pretended I could cook – but at least I never gave any of them slightly dodgy jobs and a salary, forcing them to hang out with me. Who knows, perhaps Hancock’s entire career was just a ploy to attract the attention of his university crush. If so, (a) that explains a lot; and (b) while I cannot condone Hancock’s deception of his wife, I do salute his tenacity.
The fantasy of the Hot Girl (or Boy) is a powerful one. That ultimate prize, the person who is blatantly out of your league, but who, if they notice you, will validate your entire being: it’s one of the oldest cliches in movies, from the blond woman in Wayne’s World who makes Garth want to hurl, to the self-explanatory 2010 comedy, She’s Out of My League. Eighties movies perfected this, especially in the school setting, from Ringwald finally snogging Andrew McCarthy in Pretty In Pink to John Cusack running away to England with Ione Skye in Say Anything. It is a very teenage idea of validation that few adults ever fully leave behind. Why do any of us go to school reunions 20 years on, but to show our long-ago unrequited crush how much more confident and fabulous we are now? And if you’re now a government minister as opposed to the anonymous nobody you once were, you’d better believe you’re going to let them know about it, even if you have to bloody well hire them. “This wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t the health secretary and she wasn’t lobbying. That is blatantly obvious to anyone who knew them,” their university friend claimed.
As I write this, “friends of Hancock” are insisting he and Coladangelo are “a love match”. But if Hancock had watched more 80s movies, he would know that getting together with your longstanding crush doesn’t always lead to the expected happily ever after. In Teen Wolf, Michael J Fox realises that social-climbing Pamela only likes him now because he’s a werewolf (possibly a metaphor for health secretary), and he’s better off with his loyal childhood pal, the oddly named Boof. In Peggy Sue Got Married, Kathleen Turner learns that sexy poet Michael is actually a prat and she’s better off sticking with goofy Nicolas Cage. Can reality ever measure up to a fantasy of 20 years? Is anything worth becoming a national laughingstock? Hancock had better hope so. Because only in 80s movies can you go back in time and fix your massive mistakes.