The foreign secretary's public acknowledgement of his longstanding affair with Gaynor Regan, 41, an English literature graduate and former nurse, had been led by a newspaper. Last summer, the foreign secretary was interrupted en route to a holiday with wife Margaret Cook—at 52, two years his senior—when Alistair Campbell, press secretary to the prime minister, called him on his mobile phone to say that the tabloid News of the World had 'got' the story about Cook and Regan. Cook, it was suggested, should take a decision. The holiday ended, before it began, at Heathrow airport. Cook promptly took his wife to the VIP lounge at Terminal 4 and told her the marriage was over. "Holiday is cancelled and by the way, so is our marriage", read a newspaper headline the next morning. Cook had been led into a decision he had been unable to take in the several years of the affair.
Last fortnight came the next newspaper act. In the magazine section of The Times on January 10, Margaret Cook let slip in an interview, quietly but with potentially devastating effect for Cook, that he had had "several affairs" through their 28 years of marriage—the wife of a Tory minister and a Labour party official among them. Cook the present-day lover was one thing; Cook the serial adulterer, another. The flak followed in all the Sunday newspapers.