Photographs of the PR guru and millionaire lobbyist kissing the then-health secretary first emerged in June 2021, triggering his resignation and prompting him to leave his wife and children in one of the most salacious government scandals of the pandemic.
The pair kept a low profile for a brief period after the news, but since then: a rebrand — or several attempts at one.
Last week, Hancock announced he had jetted to Australia to take part in the latest series of I’m A Celebrity in a bid to “engage with voters”, losing him the Tory whip and prompting a furious backlash from Tory MPs, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who says he should be “working hard for his constituents” instead of jet-setting into the jungle.
Coladangelo — who left her husband and three children to “set up home” with Hancock after the affair was outed — has reportedly flown out with him, to support from the sidelines. So was she behind Hancock’s latest attempt at a rebrand? Was she allowed to isolate with him at the show’s top-secret quarantine location in Queensland? And will she make an on-screen appearance if he wins?
Former colleagues described Hancock’s former £15,000-a-year adviser as a “charming” and “driven” woman at the time their affair was revealed, adding that Coladangelo possesses “that confidence you see in ex-public schoolboys” and that they were “shocked but not surprised” by news of hers and Hancock’s romance. Indeed, the couple’s steamy clinch might have looked like a fledgling teenage romance, but they have a long history dating back to university days. So had the writing been on the wall for some time – and will their romance go the distance?
From her marriage to Oliver Bonas founder Oliver Tress to her close working relationship with Hancock during the Covid crisis, here’s everything we know about the woman behind the former health secretary.
From privileged beginnings to the heart of Whitehall
Certainly, the story of the woman who wooed Whitehall starts with privileged beginnings. To those who knew her, Coladangelo was hardly the kind of character to end up in a scandal.
“She was very composed and elegant,” says university peer and broadcast journalist Maxie Allen, who attended her “glamorous” 21st birthday party at her parents’ home in Royston, Hertfordshire. “Gina is not the sort of person to get drunk and make a scene.”
Coladangelo’s mother was a florist and her Italian father made his millions as CEO of pharmaceutical consultancy Rephine. Rino Coladangelo’s business was not the only early sign of his daughter’s future position in the health department: he was also a member of the Royal College of Physicians and managing director of an NHS hospital, while her younger brother, Roberto, 42, is an executive director at Partnering Health.
When the pictures of Coladangelo and Hancock emerged last year, Coladangelo’s father spoke out in his daughter’s defence. From his 16th century listed former farmhouse near Royston, Hertfordshire, he told the MailOnline: “My daughter is a wonderful woman,” but refused to comment on the affair rumours any further.
A love story born at Oxford
Their friendship was reportedly born from a love of student radio. But if she was the Mishal Husain of Oxygen FM, Hancock was the minor sports reporter.
“He had a very slight presence, not someone you would mark out as destined for greatness. Whereas Gina was very well-known and high-profile and memorable,” fellow broadcaster Allen told the Sunday Mirror after their affair was revealed.
He said Coladangelo was “suave”, while Hancock cut an “obscure figure” and kept a “low profile” during their years as presenters. Coladangelo would sometimes read the sport with Hancock and colleagues say he eventually left the station when denied the chance to present a politics show.
“Gina was very glamorous, very nice, and very good looking,” Allen added. “All the young men held a candle for her.” Presumably, Hancock was one such man, despite meeting his future wife, Martha Miller, at some point during his three years at Exeter College, Oxford.
Due to studying the same course and their radio run-ins, he and Coladangelo became “closest friends”.
Gina was very glamorous, very nice, and very good-looking – all the young men held a candle for her
broadcaster Maxie Allen
In the past, Coladangelo has confirmed their close relationship at the station. “I read the news and Matt read the sport,” she recalled in a programme on BBC Radio 4 in April last year. “I’ve always joked with him that he did the sport because he wasn’t good enough to do the news, but I think it gave him a bit of an early heads up into aggressive questioning from journalists and hacks.”
The pair was said to have been “inseparable” during their student radio days and remained close, Hancock reportedly celebrating Christmas with Coladangelo and her husband and relying on her for big decisions during lockdown.
Was the writing always on the wall?
Some say the writing for the Hancock-Coladangelo affair had been on the wall for some time. “The longer the wait the sweeter the kiss,” reads one of a series of cryptic relationship-related posts Coladangelo shared on her Pinterest wall in May 2020, despite reportedly denying the affair when asked three years ago.
Others at the centre of Government say they were shocked when the story broke. “I had no idea something was going on, but they’ve always been incredibly close,” a former government staffer told the Standard last year. “We’ve probably all got those friends where you’ve known each other 20 years and have always been very, very closely platonic… something obviously just changed.”
Whether Miller and Coladangelo met at university is not yet known, but they became friends on Facebook sometime in the 23 years since. Was the seed for the future affair planted under the mistletoe or even earlier, in a cramped, breeze-block recording studio beneath an Oxford nightclub called 5th Avenue?
Little is known about the pair’s love lives in the years immediately after they graduated in 1998, though presumably Hancock was still with girlfriend Miller. But Coladangelo married London property lawyer Glynn Gibb in 2004 and Hancock eventually married Miller, who became an osteopath, in 2006. Did he give up chasing Coladangelo when Gibb came on the scene? “I have no comment to make on the matter,” Gibb said from his Chestertons email in the week after the affair was exposed.
Coladangelo’s first marriage was short-lived. She and Gibb divorced when she was on the management buyout team at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon.
“The MBO [management buyout] finished her first marriage because she was just taking so much time doing that,” says a former high-up at the firm, who recalls Coladangelo as being “incredibly driven” with “that confidence you see in ex-public schoolboys”, adding: “I wouldn’t say she had many female friends.”
Another former colleague at Luther told the Standard that “she can be very charming and charismatic and she’s great with clients. Male clients just used to think she was amazing. She is very beautiful, obviously.”
I worked with Gina. She is incredibly driven with that confidence you see in ex-public schoolboys
In 2009, Coladangelo married Oliver Tress, the £12 million founder of fashion and lifestyle empire Oliver Bonas. They started a family together in Clapham Junction before upgrading to a five-bedroom, £4 million home in Wandsworth in 2015.
“I don’t worry about my children being closer to their nanny, because I spend as much time as I can with them,” Coladangelo told the Daily Mail in 2012, under a feature headlined Can a woman be too clever to be a stay-at-home mum?.
She was working as a marketing and communications director for Oliver Bonas at the time and said she would never dream of telling other mothers what to do with their lives. She added: “Every woman has to make her own choice. But I feel very fortunate in my education and believe those years shouldn’t be wasted. I want to work to give something back.”
Outside of London, Tress is also known to own or have owned a second property near West Wittering beach in West Sussex, where his wealthy neighbours include Sweaty Betty founder Simon Hill-Norton. They have also spent a lot of time in Europe.
“My wife is half-Italian. Her family have an apartment in the Alps and my parents have a farmhouse in Umbria, so we spend a lot of time there,” Tress told the Independent in 2012. “I yearn to take my family on an adventure – to live somewhere with a completely different culture.”
Coladangelo has been a fixture at society events, from the opening of Tabitha Webb’s boutique in Belgravia, to the V&A Summer Party in 2019. “This is 3am,” wrote Webb, under an Instagram of her and Coladangelo cosying up in a fur coat with This Morning presenter Jenni Falconer in September 2019, referencing the 3am Girls, the Mirror’s three gossip columnists.
There is an untidy boudoir of legal issues raised by an intimate relationship between a minister and someone in his department
Jolyon Maugham QC
Close friends and the Covid crisis
So how did Coladangelo go from selling sofas to solving the Covid crisis?
“I have over 20 years’ experience in business management and marketing and communications, with a focus on retail, healthcare, the third sector and energy,” Coladangelo wrote on her LinkedIn page, which charts her rise to the centre of Whitehall from director at Luther Pendragon, which claims to offer clients a “deep understanding of the mechanics of government”.
Alongside her day job for Oliver Bonas, the PR guru was taken on in an unpaid role alongside Hancock at the Department of Health and Social Care in March 2020, though questions have since been asked about exactly when she was hired. At a general election party in 2019, Coladangelo told the Standard she had started working for the then-health secretary in a comms role, helping out on his leadership campaign.
In September 2020, Hancock appointed her to the public payroll as a non-executive director, promoting her to the board that scrutinises the department and giving her unregulated access to the Palace of Westminster since April 2021.
When a Sunday paper asked in 2020 why Hancock’s “lobbyist pal” got a taxpayer-funded job, a department spokesman said her “advice and expertise” were required as part of an “unprecedented response to this global pandemic”.
There are no rules about who a government minister can hire, but “there is an untidy boudoir of legal issues raised by an intimate relationship between a minister and someone in his department,” said Jolyon Maugham QC of The Good Law Project, who has investigated government contracts in the pandemic. “The more serious issues resolve to a question of sequencing — where the relationship influenced the hiring choice, it is very likely to be unlawful.”
Inside Whitehall, “there was never really much scepticism because she was very good at what she did,” a former government staffer said after the affair was exposed. “She’d been with Matt’s team informally since his leadership election, so she wasn’t this brand new person who came from nowhere.” The former colleague says the move was helped by the fact Coladangelo was a delight to work with.
“She was always totally lovely, very friendly, bright, intelligent. She had those inclusive qualities — she was the sort of person who would always make everyone in the room feel like they were important. She always brought a nice level of positivity and enthusiasm to things, which is very welcome when you’re working on a pandemic.”
She was the sort of person who would always make everyone in the room feel like they were important
Tory sources say Coladangelo’s status in Whitehall was always “slightly mysterious” but she was in “every meeting” with Hancock. A source told a newspaper in 2020: “Before Matt does anything big, he’ll speak to Gina. She knows everything.”
Former colleagues say they were “surprised but not shocked” by news their relationship had turned romantic. “Something obviously just changed,” a former staffer told the Evening Standard. “I had no idea something was going on, but they’ve always been incredibly close.”
Reports claim the romantic relationship only began six weeks before the footage of their kiss was revealed, but sources told the Mail on Sunday in the weeks that followed that the MP was already “in love” with his former aide.
Did Coladangelo feel the same way? Further inspection of her Pinterest quotes collection suggests she could have been: “I would rather die of passion than boredom,” reads a favourite Van Gogh quote. “Life is too short to wait,” reads another, while a third spells: “Be afraid and do it anyway”. She certainly did that.
A brief spell in the shadows, then a rebrand (or several)
Running the London Marathon, speaking on the Steven Bartlett podcast, announcing he’s writing a new book: these are just some of the many attempts Hancock has had at a rebrand since his and Coladangelo’s affair was exposed 18 months ago. Is the I’m A Celeb bombshell his final run at winning back (over?) the public?
Last week, the former health secretary admitted part of the reason for the jungle stunt was that he didn’t believe he would ever work in Goverment again, but others are skeptical. Some say he’s obsessed with public attention — last week, it also emerged he had skipped the Tory conference to film Channel Four’s SAS Who Dares Wins alongside Pop Idol star Gareth Gates — while others believe it’s actually a money-making exercise after reports he’ll earn £400,000 for his appearance on the ITV reality show (he’ll probably be a lot poorer after the divorce settlement with Miller).
“He’s got a skin as thick as a rhinoceros, quite frankly,” says Ian Houlder, a Conservative councillor on West Suffolk Council, adding that Hancock seems to have “no shame”.
So does Coldangelo support his decision to potentially have to eat kangaroo penis live on TV — or was she behind it? Her history as his adviser, and the fact she’s been pictured by his side during many of his latest appearances, suggests she might be.
The pair kept a relatively low profile after the affair was first exposed, instead focusing on building their relationship behind closed doors. They were spotted on a romantic break in the Swiss Alps two months after being outed, with pictures showing him leaving the hotel in a baseball cap as they headed out to dinner with friends.
Since then, they’ve been seen holding hands at the Chelsea Flower Show in May, and were spotted shopping for rubbish bins at DIY store Homebase in Finchley, north London, two months ago, sparking rumours they might now be living together.
Coladangelo left her job at the Department of Health and Social Care immediately after the affair was revealed, and reportedly separated from her husband. Her LinkedIn currently lists her as “marketing and comms director” and a governor for two independent schools in London, Park House School and Tram House School, for children and young adults with autism.
“Over twenty years’ experience in business management and brand marketing & communications, with a particular focus on fast pace businesses and organisations,” she writes in her current LinkedIn bio. “Strong business leadership, focused on long term, sustainable growth. Excellent inter-personal skills, managing and inspiring large teams, coupled with extensive cross-discipline communications expertise. Significant experience in reputation and brand management, driven by clear commercial or public policy goals.”
Little else is known about Coladangelo’s current employment status but knowing that “before Matt does anything big, he’ll speak to Gina” — is she the brains behind his most recent attempts to win over the public?
Recent months have seen the pair attempt further rebrands, including the announcement of a charity climb to the top of Mont Blanc in the French Alps in support of Cambridge Children’s Hospital.
And, when speaking on the Diary of a CEO podcast with Dragons’ Den investor Steven Bartlett, Hancock seemed keen to clean up their image.
“Gina and I love each other deeply,” the politician told Bartlett on the podcast earlier this year, refusing to refer to the affair as “casual sex” and instead explaining that it was “something that was completely outside of my control”, though he does “regret the pain that that’s caused and the very, very, very public nature”.
Coladangelo accompanied him to the studio for the podcast recording and was pictured speaking to Bartlett in a picture he shared afterwards on Twitter. Now, she’s believed to be flying to Brisbane to support his stint on I’m A Celebrity — seen as a sign the relationship is going strong. Has she been helping to pull the strings from Down Under, too?
Insiders say there are rumours that Hancock could be about to propose to Coladangelo — will he spill details to his fellow contestants in the jungle? Either way, Coladangelo is certainly set to be watching (advising?) closely from the sidelines.