What will new UK PM Liz Truss and her family make of Downing Street?

Ms Truss and her husband have been married for 22 years and have two daughters

Liz Truss is congratulated by her husband Hugh O'Leary after being declared the winner of the Tory leadership race. AFP
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Liz Truss's elevation to Britain’s new prime minister means Downing Street is set to become home to a new family, with two teenagers replacing a baby and a toddler.

The Conservative Party hardliner was invited by Queen Elizabeth II to form a government on Tuesday, gaining the keys to one of Britain's most famous addresses in the process.

Along with the great affairs of state, her new living quarters will also need resolving. Alongside her husband Hugh O’Leary and their daughters Florence, 16, and Liberty, 13, they will have to work out how to make it their new home.

Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie and their children Wilfred, 2, and 9-month-old Romy, moved out of the No 11 flat to make way for the Truss-O’Learys.

So what will Britain’s new first family make of Downing Street life?

Life above the shop

In the past, prime ministers and their families have approached living in Downing Street in different ways, particularly because the location is not ideal for raising children. Samantha, the wife of former prime minister David Cameron, previously described the experience as like “living in a fortress” and said she was grateful to have moved out before her three children reached adolescence.

While setting up shop in No. 10, appointing a cabinet and settling into the demanding new role can be mammoth tasks for any new prime minister, sorting out living arrangements can be equally tumultuous. With a job change for the matriarch, there will be a certain amount of juggling home comforts, school life, family living and work.

Tony Blair and his wife Cherie adapted the flat to make it suitable for a newborn when they welcomed their fourth child in 2000 — the first baby born to a serving prime minister for more than 150 years.

After becoming prime minister in 2007, Gordon Brown moved into the flat above No. 11 with his wife Sarah and their two young sons. But soon he moved back to the smaller No. 10 home which he had lived in as chancellor.

Pizza parties in No 11

While No. 10 is the official residence of the UK leader, since 1997 every prime minister and their family have resided in the larger flat above No. 11. The four-bedroom property is set over two floors and has a spacious open-plan kitchen fitted with a range cooker.

It is unknown whether the family will make No. 11 their main home or opt to keep their Victorian home in Greenwich, south-east London, as their main base. But the family-of-four are expected to live in the flat at least part-time. The couple also own a home in Thetford in Ms Truss’s constituency of South-West Norfolk.

Florence and Liberty are said to be undaunted by the prospect of living in the high-security location in central London amid the public's glare. The schoolgirls are reportedly planning to invite their friends over for sleepovers, which will require them to obtain security clearances in advance.

“My younger daughter keeps asking would she be able to have sleepovers if I get into No. 10,” Ms Truss joked before she won the leadership race.

In July Ms Truss revealed her daughters were managing her social media campaign as she vied to become leader of the Tories. Florence used the skills acquired from studying computing at GCSEs to help out on the digital team and Liberty offered “general political advice”, she said.

In a televised interview, Ms Truss was asked by Sky News to name the naughtiest thing she had ever done. “I’m certainly not going to say that on TV. My daughters are watching so I don’t want them getting any ideas,” she joked.

While the girls keep a low profile online, their mother occasionally shares snaps of them out and about.

In 2019 she posted a photo on Instagram showing her girls in a park, one walking and the other riding a scooter. “The 90s are back,” she captioned the picture, adding the hashtag #likemotherlikedaughters.

Liz Truss shared a photo of her daughters Florence and Liberty out in the fresh air. Photo: @elizabeth.truss.mp / Instagram

The girls will also welcome the added bonus of having Chequers as a weekend retreat. The Buckinghamshire manor, the country house of the UK prime minister, has a heated indoor swimming pool, tennis court and is set in 1,500 acres of lush grounds.

Mr O’Leary was thrust into the spotlight after his wife was on Monday declared the winner of the Conservative Party leadership race and Britain’s next prime minister.

The accountant has remained largely silent through the six-week race for the Tory crown, in keeping with a pattern he has continued since his spouse was elected an MP in 2010.

Despite both parents leading different lifestyles and holding down demanding jobs, they are understood to have designated Thursdays as pizza night in the household. The tradition is likely to be continued by the couple, who may be keen to retain a sense of normality for their daughters.

Mr O’Leary, 48, was brought up in Allerton, Liverpool, before his family moved to Heswall, Wirral.

He is the eldest of three children born to John O’Leary, a college lecturer, and his wife Susan, a nurse.

He holds a degree in econometrics and mathematical economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science and works as an accountant.

Mr O’Leary met his future wife at the Conservative Party conference in 1997.

Ms Truss previously described how their first date did not go according to plan, saying: “I invited him ice skating and he sprained his ankle.”

The couple were married in 2000. Little is known about their daughters, who are kept carefully out of the spotlight.

From 2004 to mid-2005, Ms Truss had an affair with Tory MP Mark Field, whom the party had appointed to be her political mentor. While her marriage to Mr O’Leary survived the infidelity, Mr Field’s union with his spouse at the time ended in divorce.

In an interview with You magazine in 2019, Ms Truss said: “I am really happily married.”

And on Valentine’s Day that year, she shared a picture of them both with the caption: “Love of my life.”

Greenwich Park in south-east London, close to where Liz Truss lives with her husband and children. PA

Working from home dilemma

Mr O’Leary tried to follow his wife into the world of politics in 2002, standing unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate in the Greenwich local elections. With 447 votes, he fell far short of the support required to beat his Labour rivals, records show.

He has continued to be an active member of the local Conservatives and, as recently as this year, canvassed for the party his wife now leads.

A source close to Mr O’Leary told The Guardian that he may be in Downing Street only “notionally”.

“He’s not going to be Denis [Thatcher],” the insider said, referring to the late husband of Ms Truss’s political idol Margaret Thatcher.

The friend suggested Mr O’Leary works mainly from home and would therefore be unlikely to want to do that from Downing Street. Given that he has favoured keeping a low profile, Mr O’Leary may choose to reside at the couple’s home in Greenwich while his wife is at her official residence.

Mr O'Leary was by his wife's side at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London on Monday afternoon to congratulate his wife on her victory in the leadership race.

Updated: September 06, 2022, 2:56 PM
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