Gavin Williamson’s time as Education Secretary has been a baptism of fire, says Susannah Butter in the Evening Standard. Since lockdown, people have raged that he took children out of school too early. Others were angry because it was too late. His exams algorithm was “deemed an unmitigated disaster”. But Williamson, 45, isn’t worried. Friends tell me I have “the hide of a rhino”, he says. “Politicians complaining about criticism is like fishermen complaining about the sea.”
He’s Alan Partridge-esque, says Butter – constantly blundering. Despite being in charge of children’s education, he can’t remember his A-level results. “I am yet to send my mother into the attic to drag out these grades. I must get her up there at some point.” When he’s not making his mum do odd jobs, he’s accidentally insulting the Queen, whose portrait sits above his desk. “I do think we could get a more flattering one,” he says, before realising how it sounds and backtracking. “Obviously every picture of the Queen is absolutely stunning, but I’ve seen better than that.”
His other prized office possession is Cronus, a pet tarantula that sometimes sits on his desk. It was named after the Greek god of harvest, but recently “we discovered that Cronus was wrongly gendered”, Williamson says gleefully. “They are transitioning. Male spiders tend to live up to five years, but women live to 26 and Cronus is advancing well past their sixth birthday, so we have come to the conclusion that Cronus is a goddess.”
⚽️ 🏉 Williamson’s biggest gaffe involves Marcus Rashford, the footballer who campaigned for free school meals. “We met over Zoom and he seemed incredibly engaged, compassionate and charming but then he had to shoot off,” he tells Butter. “I didn’t want to be the one that was holding him back from his training.” After the interview, Williamson’s team stated he actually met rugby player Maro Itoje. Beyond being black athletes, Rashford and Itoje have little in common – one is from Manchester, the other from London. Well, tweeted Rashford, “accent could have been a giveaway”.