Keir Starmer breaks down in tears on Piers Morgan's TV show

Keir Starmer’s tears for his father: Labour leader breaks down in tears on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories as he talks for first time about three shattering family tragedies – including how his mother died weeks before he was sworn in as an MP

  • Sir Keir  broke down in tears during a three-hour interview on Friday evening
  • TV host Piers Morgan last night described the interview as ‘spine-tingling’ 
  • He has faced growing dissent in his party after a terrible set of election results 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has given the most ‘searingly honest and intensely emotional’ interview of his life, in which he reveals how a series of devastating family tragedies shaped him into the man he is today.

Sir Keir, often portrayed by critics as being unemotional and even ‘boring’, repeatedly broke down in tears during a three-hour interview on Friday for Piers Morgan’s hit ITV show Life Stories.

The 58-year-old, who has faced growing dissent in his party after a terrible set of election results earlier this month, wept as he told how:

  • His desperately-ill mother died just weeks before he was sworn in as an MP and never got to see him in office;
  • His father became a recluse and gave up on life after his wife’s death: ‘When she died, it broke him. She was his whole life’;
  • A fire ripped through an outhouse killing the family dog, destroying irreplaceable family photographs and precious heirlooms including his mother’s gold wedding band;
  • He was forced to put last year’s Labour leadership race on hold to be with his wife Victoria after her mother fell downstairs and spent 17 days in intensive care but never regained consciousness.

TV host Mr Morgan last night described the interview as ‘spine-tingling’ saying: ‘I’ve done 100 shows and I’ve rarely seen such raw emotion from any of my guests. People often ask, ‘Who is the real Keir Starmer?’ Well, there is a lot more to him than people think.

Sir Keir, often portrayed by critics as being unemotional and even ‘boring’, repeatedly broke down in tears during a three-hour interview on Friday for Piers Morgan’s hit ITV show Life Stories

‘This is the interview that shows the real him and it is one of the most searingly honest and intensely emotional interviews I’ve ever done. You are left with a real sense of a man who comes from humble beginnings who has worked extremely hard and has had to overcome terrible adversity and a string of family tragedies, all of which have shaped him into the person he is today.’

The show, which airs on ITV and ITV Hub on June 1 at 9.30pm, was filmed in front of 40 people, including Sir Keir’s wife Victoria, who could also be seen wiping away tears during parts of the show. Because of the pandemic, it was the first time Sir Keir had sat before a live audience since becoming Labour leader in April last year.

Born to parents Rod, a toolmaker, and Jo, Sir Keir was the second of four children and raised in ‘a ramshackle, 1930s pebble-dashed semi’ in Oxted, East Surrey. He went to Reigate Grammar School before studying law at Leeds University and then Oxford.

Keir Starmer with his parents, Rodney and Josephine, taken on his wedding day to wife Victoria Alexander in 2007

Mum Jo, a nurse, was forced to give up work when her children were young after being diagnosed with Still’s disease, a rare type of inflammatory arthritis which ravaged her body and caused her to be admitted to hospital multiple times.

Sir Keir became emotional as he spoke for the first time about his regret at his mother never getting to see him become an MP, even though, as a life-long Labour supporter, she had named him after the party’s co-founder Keir Hardie. Jo died in 2015, just weeks before her son was elected MP for Holborn and St Pancras.

Sir Keir said: ‘It was really tragic. She would have loved to have seen that. But she was so ill by then.

‘That was the stage in her life when she’d had her leg amputated.

‘She couldn’t move, she couldn’t use her hands, so she had to be fed. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t communicate. I would have loved her to have been there but she was in a terrible way. In a terrible, terrible place.’ He also revealed that his own children never got to know their grandmother.

‘One of my biggest regrets is that our kids never knew her because by the time they were born, she was incapable of moving, speaking or being who she was. She was broken by then.’

Sir Keir’s wife Victoria could also be seen wiping away tears during parts of the show

And he choked back tears when asked what he would have liked to have said to his mother if they had been able to speak, saying simply: ‘I love you.’ While he was ‘extraordinarily close’ to his mother – who had been told she would never have a family and so doted on her ‘miracle’ children – Sir Keir had a more complicated relationship with his father who, he says, was ‘utterly devoted’ to his wife, often at the expense of his relationship with his children.

Rod would work long hours at a toolmaking factory, returning home to see his family for dinner, before heading back to the factory and remaining there long into the night. ‘His vows to look after her, whatever happened, were chiselled on his heart,’ Sir Keir said. ‘He knew everything about her illness. He made it his business to know every symptom.

‘He gave up drink because he never wanted to be in a situation where he couldn’t drive her to the hospital straight away if he needed to. His whole life was devoted to her and her health and what she needed and what she wanted. She was his whole life.

‘That devotion, that sense of duty, is very, very powerful. It was a lifelong duty and when she died it broke him.’

He recalled a harrowing incident during his childhood when his mother was rushed to hospital and his father called him to say he needed to tell his older sister Anna, 60, and younger twin brother and sister, Nicholas and Katherine, 57, that she was dying.

‘I think I was 12 or 13. We’d been in and out of hospital with Mum many times. I remember being at home and he phoned and he said: ‘Your mum’s not going to make it, can you tell the others?’

‘That hit me because we knew Mum was really ill, of course we did. But we never spoke about the fact she might die.

TV host Mr Morgan last night described the interview as ‘spine-tingling’ saying: ‘I’ve done 100 shows and I’ve rarely seen such raw emotion from any of my guests. People often ask, ‘Who is the real Keir Starmer?’ Well, there is a lot more to him than people think’

‘We hadn’t had that conversation and so my dad – straight to the point, not emotional – said: ‘I don’t think your mum’s going to make it. Can you tell the others?’ And I knew he was not going to come back to do it. There was no way he was leaving that hospital. It was difficult.’

While Jo ultimately pulled through, the incident profoundly affected her oldest son, who threw himself into work, gaining a first-class law degree.

He co-founded the prestigious Doughty Street Chambers before he was made Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008.

He was knighted by Prince Charles for his service to law and criminal justice in 2014. His parents attended the ceremony at Buckingham Palace alongside their beloved Great Dane dog – although by that stage his mother was gravely ill and in a wheelchair.

The following year, after quitting law to enter politics and being elected an MP, Sir Keir had to deal with his mother’s death and his father’s rapid mental and physical decline.

‘After she died, he retreated into this outhouse. He slept there. He put all of the family belongings in there. Their wedding photos. He had Mum’s wedding ring on the side next to him by the bed. He didn’t come out of there. We went in there to see him but he didn’t come out much. He had a Great Dane, but losing my Mum broke him.’

His father became increasingly reclusive. ‘He wasn’t to be talked to. That wasn’t my dad. He was matter of fact. He didn’t really talk. He got ill. He got cuts to his legs and that got blood poisoning in and that got worse.

‘He got slightly delirious and we had to take him to hospital. He was in hospital for a number of weeks. And in that time, I saw him give up, which was so unlike him. So unlike him and my mum.

‘He gave up, he stopped trying to fight. And tragically died.

‘This was in the middle of the Brexit heated debates. So I was arguing in Parliament and pretty well straight away getting the train down to hospital to go and see him.’ When his father was in hospital that final time, in late 2018, a devastating blaze destroyed everything the family cherished.

‘There was an electrical fault in the outhouse. It was wooden and burnt down. It was a massive fire which destroyed all of his possessions, all of their wedding photos, all of the photos they had of them together over their lifetime.

‘The jewellery. The dog died. We raked through the ashes days later and found Mum’s wedding ring; burnt, bent.’

Sir Keir was close to tears again as he admitted he never told his father everything he treasured had been destroyed.

‘When he was able to speak he’d say: ‘Is the dog all right?’ And we had to say it was all right. He never knew.’

Equally devastating was the loss of Sir Keir’s mother-in-law Barbara following a freak accident last year as he was campaigning to lead the Labour Party.

‘The accident came out of the blue,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen intensive care many times but I’d never seen anything as awful as this. Vic [his wife Victoria] obviously got a message through to me, I was in the Chambers of Parliament and I went straight to the hospital.

‘We were in the leadership election. It was very difficult for Vic and I took the decision to cancel the leadership campaigning and withdrew completely to be with her.

‘That was the right thing to do, it didn’t take me any time to make up my mind that was what I was going to do. Every day we went to the hospital. Tragically, Vic’s mum didn’t make it.

‘I had to do something I’d never done before which was to comfort someone who was going through grief. My dad had died, my mum had died. I’d been through my version of that grief. But to see your wife go through it… it’s deep.

Piers Morgan’s Life Stories with Sir Keir Starmer airs Tuesday June 1 at 9.30pm on ITV and ITV Hub.

‘We’ve a once-in-a-generation chance to make UK more caring’ he tells Piers

Britain has a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to change, Sir Keir tells Piers Morgan in the interview.

‘We’re a brilliant country, we’ve done fantastic things. Labour governments have done things we’re really, really proud of. But we’ve got this once in a generation opportunity,’ he says.

‘The pandemic has brutally exposed so much of what’s wrong; the inequality, the insecurity, whether it’s work, education, health, you name it. Brutally exposed that.

‘But it’s also done something I haven’t seen in my lifetime, which is to expose the very best of Britain. That knock on the door, looking after one another, the empathy, the community spirit. We need to bring that together, change what needs to be changed.’

Sir Keir has faced criticism after his party’s humiliation at the polls earlier this month. His strategy of highlighting Tory ‘sleaze’ failed to appeal to voters and a near civil war broke out when he tried to demote his deputy Angela Rayner.

He is asked by Mr Morgan to reveal the three words that sum up his vision for Britain. ‘Pride in our country and pride in everything we do. Dignity for children growing up, dignity at work and dignity for people in older age. And change. We can’t talk about things, we have to change things,’ he replies. Asked what issues he would prioritise should he become Prime Minister, he says: ‘A first-class education for every child, where there are real inspiring opportunities for children coming out of school.

‘To make sure our economy deals with insecurity and inequality. That means changing from short-term investment, short productivity, a low-skilled economy into a different economy. Big things, big changes. Put real dignity into older age. And that means fixing our public services and fixing things like social care.

‘These are the big ticket items coming out of the pandemic. They were the big ticket items before but now they are just more brutally exposed. I think the single most important thing is an active Labour government that wants to ensure our economy actually works for millions of people it doesn’t work for now.

‘A partnership between an active Labour government and business that changes our economy, grows our economy, takes advantage of tech and automation…

‘Of course, it’s got to be paid for. But before we get to the tax and spend discussion, the first discussion is how do you grow your economy? If your economy isn’t growing then you’re taxing less and less. So you’ve got to have a plan to grow the economy. Short-term investment, short-term skills is a broken model.’

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