Former UUP leader James Molyneaux's ‘close companion' tells of 30-year relationship

The "close companion" of former UUP leader Lord Molyneaux has spoken publicly for the first time about how their relationship blossomed from the political to the personal at his London flat. He spoke to Bimpe Archer.

Bimpe Archer
11 March, 2016 01:00


THE last time Christopher Luke saw his beloved "Jimmy" it was heartbreaking.

"I said to Jimmy, `Jimmy, darling, it's Chrissie from London'. It didn't register.

He tried to shove me off hugging and kissing him - again perhaps he thought the time wasn't right.

"How bad was his memory (that) I held him close and he didn't recognise me at all."

Later during the same visit to the nursing home where the 94-year-old former Ulster Unionist leader had been confined, Mr Luke's identity "came back to him" and the pair were able to share a final moment of understanding.

Lord Molyneaux, the self-proclaimed "dull old dog of Ulster politics" died a few months later, on March 8, 2015, and a year on Mr Luke's grief remains acute.

He placed a tender memoriam notice in a Belfast newspaper on Wednesday, describing himself as the former UUP leader's "close companion" and paraphrasing the Book of Samuel to say: "I grieve for you.. you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women."

Mr Luke, who lives in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, went on to write: "I love you more today than I did yesterday, but less than I will tomorrow, my dear Jim, your eternal protége Chrissie."

Close confidants for 30 years, the Ulster Unionist peer was the defining force in his life.

Chrissie, as he is known to those close to him, is now "48, going on 49".

He was just 17 when he met the politician - then 64 years old - at a London meeting of the Conservative Party's pro-Enoch Powell 'Monday Club' in 1984

Despite the age gap, the pair bonded over their passionate belief in Northern Ireland's immutable position within the UK, mutual hatred of Tory Europhile Edward Heath and admiration for controversial firebrand Enoch Powell.

Both wanted to see the abolition of the Foreign Office, which, like Powell, they felt was "a nest of vipers looking after the interests of foreigners rather than its own subjects".

He said that the connection between them was "instant".

Mr Luke is openly gay, but, when asked about how intimate the two men became, said: "I don't wish to talk about that", but acknowledged "I had a very, very close relationship with Jimmy", describing it as a biblical "David and Jonathan relationship".

The Englishman's passion for Northern Ireland's place in the union pre-dated his meeting with Lord Molyneaux.

His paternal grandfather was from Macosquin, a village on the outskirts of Coleraine in Co Derry, but the family never visited because of the Troubles - a circumstance that led a young Chrissie to feel his father "was contributing to the Troubles as much as the Provisionals... by not taking me back."

In the UUP leader, he found a mirror of his deeply-held beliefs, but also a mature and considered framework for his more instinctive political impulses.

In late 1985, following Margaret Thatcher's signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement, Mr Luke said he "immediately resigned membership of the Conservative Party" and flew to Belfast in a rage.

Alighting at Aldergrove he set off on foot for the city centre, only to be stopped at an RUC checkpoint and asked what he was doing.

"It's my bloody country and I'm here to defend it against the machinations of the government," he said.

The officer gently informed him it was "a 20-mile hike" and suggested that he go back to the airport and get a taxi, but "be careful where you're going".

He took a bus to Glengall Street, beside the then UUP headquarters and the first people he saw were Lord Molyneaux and his colleague Harold McCusker.

"Jimmy was totally surprised to see me and said `Chrissie, what brings you here?'"

Mr Luke said he was taken inside and Mr McCusker contacted South Belfast MP Martin Smyth who organised a place for him to stay with "party members of the Windsor branch".

Lord Molyneaux was in London on Westminster business first in the Commons and later the Lords up to five days a week and had a flat in South Kensington where, according to Mr Luke, the pair would meet regularly.

"The London flat was where we developed our own personal relationship beyond politics," he said.

Mr Luke said when he joked in recent years that after considering switching his political allegiance to Jim Allister and the TUV as both were now more reflective of his political beliefs than the UUP , he had decided to stick with "the other Jim", Lord Molyneaux chuckled and "said he was pleased we're not getting a divorce just yet".

11 March, 2016 01:00 News