Vicky Pryce on prison, pushing on and the healing power of football
June 25, 2020. Series 1. Episode 4
Vicky Pryce is a whirlwind of positivity, productivity and energy – economist, academic, author and mother of five. But in 2013 her high-powered life took an unexpected and damaging twist when she was found guilty of accepting her ex-husband’s driving licence penalty points and was jailed for Perverting the Course of Justice. Vicky gives us a startlingly human account of her high-profile crisis. She talks of the lessons learned in prison and details the strategy she undertook to steer her life towards a successful recovery.
Vicky’s Crisis Cures:
1. Football: “I support Chelsea, I’m a season ticket holder, I go with my kids and that’s a great release from tension – although of course you substitute one type of tension with another.”
2. Books: Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party by Graham Greene. “It’s a book about greed and it shows that the richer you are the greedier you are and the more risks you’ll be prepared to take to make more money. It’s an incredible book that I’ve read and re-read.”
3. The sea: “When I want to relax, I think of swimming and looking at the horizon on a beach in Greece.”
Pro Bono Economics: https://www.probonoeconomics.com
Women in Prison: https://www.womeninprison.org.uk
Working Chance: https://workingchance.org
Women vs Capitalism – Why We Can’t Have It All in a Free Market Economy: https://amzn.to/3S1ysZt
Economists pride themselves as planners and forecasters. But Vicky Pryce is a woman who found herself in the midst of an extraordinary life experience that no-one could have predicted. Or as she puts it: “What I learnt about life is that things can just happen, just like that and you can’t control it”. How does someone whose successful career has been anchored in logic and data, cope when a chain of events lead to a prison cell in Holloway?
Vicky leant heavily on her analytical skills – deciding to research and write her book whilst in prison. As she says: “I just decided in my mind to consider this as going off for a while to do a particular job… The way I survived was by almost becoming an observer, I found it fascinating, something I could learn from, you’ve got to avoid thinking of yourself as a victim right in the middle of it all.”
But the fierce independence that led Vicky to leave Greece at 17 and pursue a career in London also played a key part in her recovery. For me, the most revealing moment of our conversation came when I asked Vicky if she still saw herself as that 12-year-old, riding a motorbike through the streets of Athens. “Yes,” she replied instantly, “You don’t change and I’m very much the same person .. I know more and through the process one has made loads of mistakes .. but one remains like that.” So, remember who you are, drive forward, don’t look back – the Vicky Pryce method of crisis recovery.
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning – https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Host – Andy Coulson
00:00:00.00 Intro music
00:00:19.15 Andy Coulson:
Hello and welcome to Crisis What Crisis? a new podcast series designed to be a useful field guide as we all try to navigate and continue to come to terms with a dramatically changed world. Whether personal, professional or both, crisis is without doubt, the new shared experience. I’m Andy Coulson, a former newspaper editor, Downing Street Director of Communications and inmate of HMP Belmarsh. For the last four years I’ve been trying to put all of my experience, the good and the bad, to use as a strategic advisor to business leaders and I can tell you that the bad has been just as useful as the good. And that got me thinking that there are plenty of great podcasts out there where you can hear stories of success, there are far fewer where you can benefit from the experience of those whose lives have properly unravelled.
00:01:03.06 Andy Coulson:
So, in Crisis What Crisis? I’ll be talking to the embattled, shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, resilient, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. Some names will be familiar, some less so, but our guests will talk about their experiences honestly, often with humour, but always in the hope that what they have to share might be useful to anyone facing down their own demons and challenges. Put simply, these are crisis stories worth sharing. Given where we are right now, this podcast was, of course, recorded remotely. And I’m afraid the sound quality is, in place, less than perfect. Apologies but thanks for sticking with it and I hope you’ll still enjoy it.
00:01:43.01 Andy Coulson:
Our guest today is the economist, academic and author Vicky Pryce. After a long and successful career in the corporate world Vicky joined the Department of Trade and Industry as Chief Economic Advisor in August 2002, the first woman to be appointed to the post. She later became the joint Head of the UK Government Economic Service. In 2012 her first book, Greekonomics was published. But as her analysis of the Eurozone crisis was being prepared for publication Vicky was facing her own personal crisis. A criminal allegations of perverting the course of justice that centred on her taking driving points for her now ex-husband was underway.
00:02:20.24 Andy Coulson:
In February 2012 she was formally charged. She pleaded not guilty, raising a defence of marital coercion, a trail the following year which ended when the jury failed to reach a verdict. A retrial not long after ended in a guilty verdict and she was sentenced with her ex-husband to eight months in prison. Soon after her release Vicky published another book, Prisonomics, which detailed her time as an inmate of Holloway and East Sutton Prison and studied the economic implications of the justice system.
00:02:48.12 Andy Coulson:
Vicky’s life since release has been a whirlwind of energy and positivity. Putting her life experiences to best possible use with a multitude of roles as an economic commentator but also as a patron of prison charity, Working Chance. Vicky, thank you for joining us on the podcast today, I used the word positive a moment ago but prolific also applies. It’s very clear that when you say you don’t look back, you mean it. Is your work ethic part of your armoury do you think?
00:03:21.15 Vicky Pryce:
Possibly, although of course, when one says you don’t look back it doesn’t mean that what you’ve experienced goes away, you take it with you and you try and do something with it as well. So there’s no way I’m going to forget that period and I have tried to carry it with me in everything I do in the future. It has actually impacted quite considerably on what I’ve been doing since. So it’s increased my interest in how women fare in society and inequalities that exist. So I’ve written books as well on women’s position in the workplace and all the obstacles that are [unclear] in their development, all across the world of course, not just in the UK. So my recent book is called Women Versus Capitalism and just looks very much at the way in which the economic potential of women is affected by all the obstacles that are out there.
00:04:15.15 Vicky Pryce:
And when you think about women who are in prison what tends to happen, of course, it is the most vulnerable women who end up having to spend time, the ones that end up committing crimes. Quite often not necessarily because that’s what they wanted to do but because they’ve been forced to do so by circumstances or by other people. And they’re the ones that tend to be also abused, whether you’re looking at emotional abuse or physical abuse, and of course they also have other psychological and drink problems. Certainly the period of that great upheaval in my life made me re-think what one’s priorities really should be in terms of having a voice and talking about these issues.
00:05:03.07 Andy Coulson:
You were born in Greece, the middle of three children. You describe it as a pretty tough environment for a girl to achieve but you were an independent youngster, riding your motorbike, I understand, through the streets of Athens aged twelve. And you leave home in 1969, aged seventeen, to come to London to improve your English and pursue an education.
00:05:22.18 Vicky Pryce:
My father thought that was it, English had to be the next language. So I did start learning it and I was sent to England, one summer I remember, when I was already in the German school. The idea had been that I would go and study in Germany, perhaps, at some stage. And my father made the huge mistake of sending me to this place in Reading, it was a girl’s school where you learnt English alongside lots and lots of little French girls. And of course we didn’t do any English at all. I would just follow them on the train to Paddington and then down the King’s Road and took one look at London and I thought, this is it, this is where I want to come.
00:06:01.04 Vicky Pryce:
So I practically ignored everything I was doing in school and started doing a lot more English and a lot more research on how I can get to England. So in parallel to what I was doing in school I started doing GCSEs and then began to think about A Levels and alongside some other friends. And that’s how I decided to come. And my parents were rather shocked that I decided to leave…
00:06:25.05 Andy Coulson:
You were very young. I mean, that’s what I’m interested in really, is that when you look back at yourself then, do you recognise, and given where the sort of twists and turns that life takes, can you recognise the seeds of the resilience, that you clearly have, in yourself at that age?
00:06:45.21 Vicky Pryce:
Yes, I was very independent I have to say. Even though the environment was stacked against women at the time, my parents were very open-minded so that was good. So they sort of encouraged that independence, or rather they tolerated it. In fact if anything, by sort of taking me to all sorts of extra lessons and what have you, they were opening up my horizons quite significantly. But I have to say there was a tendency for Greeks to go and study abroad, as I mentioned earlier.
00:07:12.07 Vicky Pryce:
So my brother went to the States at the same as I did. My sister, because we all left, decided to stay behind. So it was pretty common but not really for women at the time. And that was the real difference. And I remember quite a lot of my relatives talking to my parents because at the time, of course, we had lost everything because we had the Colonels in power. So not only did I come to England on my own but I had no cash at all. So they were saying, ‘Why are you doing it? Why are you letting your daughter go?’ And my father said, ‘Well, that’s what she wants.’ And that was extraordinary. So I owe a lot actually, to my parents and my upbringing. Even though they were tough in terms of women’s role in society and what have you, they were also very, very keen on education. And that was really important for me.
00:08:02.03 Andy Coulson:
I listened to an interview the other day with the actor Brian Cox and he said something that I thought was rather brilliant, that if we want to remind ourselves of who we really are we just need to carry a picture of ourselves as a child. Essentially that that’s our truth and that everything else, as he put it, is propaganda. On that basis are you still that sort of twelve year old hammering through the streets of Athens on a motorbike?
00:08:32.05 Vicky Pryce:
00:08:33.05 Andy Coulson:
Fiercely independent and just driving forward?
00:08:36.12 Vicky Pryce:
Yes. I think you don’t change, this is the interesting thing, above a certain age, which was twelve as you said, I’m very much the same person. Obviously I know more and through the process one has made loads of mistakes, of course, but one is basically formed then and one remains like that, despite all the interesting things that may happen to you on the way.
00:09:03.15 Andy Coulson:
You get to work in London as a budding economist after graduating from the LSE. A very tough career choice in a very tough decade in a very tough city for a young woman. More resilience training, one imagines. Again when you look back at those early years at work, and how they formed your strength of character, what comes to mind?
00:09:32.19 Vicky Pryce:
Oh they were an amazing experience because, if I remember correctly, when I was hired to be an economist for a bank I must have been the first woman economist employed there. And I do remember a conversation with my boss who was very, very open-minded which I overheard, ringing the Bank of England to say that he couldn’t come to a meeting could he send someone else in his place and of course they said yes. And he said, ‘But is it okay because it’s a woman?’ He may even have said it’s a girl, because obviously it just was not done.
00:10:07.08 Vicky Pryce:
So what I have developed is a way of being resilient in that area, which has come naturally to me which is work very, very closely with all the people who work for you. And I have said this whenever I make a presentation on how to be a true leader, if you like, particularly if you’re a woman, which is have people who work for you who are very bright, better than you if possible. And rely on them and delegate, don’t just take it all on yourself and also don’t try and be perfect. You’re just never going to do it. Because obviously I had a big family and worked and I travelled hugely for a long period of time.
00:10:46.07 Vicky Pryce:
And that has been incredibly helpful because what you end up having is a huge support network. So this resilience, you can’t just do it by yourself, because you can’t just rely on you own resources. There is a limit and what you do need is the support all around you. And I have carried that throughout in my life. And even when I came out of prison it was that network that really did it for me.
00:11:14.22 Andy Coulson:
Let’s move on to 2011, Vicky, when the police begin their investigation into you and the allegation that you took your husband’s speeding points. I should say for people listening that this podcast is not about picking over the detail of someone’s crisis. You know, if that’s what you want no doubt you’ll find it elsewhere online, but this podcast is about trying to identify the ways we might navigate a proper challenge. My view of crisis, for what it’s worth, is that you can’t begin to get through unless you confront the reality of what’s happening to you. When in your situation, were you able to get to that point, to realise that it was real and it was serious?
00:11:57.14 Vicky Pryce:
Ah, well it because obvious that it was serious and of course the press were very interested and all that sort of stuff. But I carried on working and I got huge support from the people I worked for. So I had by the of course, left the government, I left working for the government, I left towards the end of 2010. So I did actually work for the coalition government as well for a while. Which was very interesting just seeing the differences that were there.
00:12:25.18 Vicky Pryce:
So I think there was generally the incredulity all around me but nothing chanted in terms of the way I was working. Which was really good and during that period too I wrote Greekonomics because the crisis was happening. In fact I’d never been so busy in terms of interviews on Greece and writing about it. Not just on Greece of course, but on the Euro crisis generally. So that was quite a nice way to survive that period because otherwise it would have been incredibly worrying and tense. And the support from network continued throughout and of course until 2013 when the verdict came and then the period when I was actually away.
00:13:15.11 Andy Coulson:
It was horribly public. You were married to someone who was very comfortable in the public gaze, at least then, if I can put it that way. But I’m guessing that you weren’t?
00:13:28.00 Vicky Pryce:
Well, it wasn’t very easy but it was interesting because you mentioned the trial earlier. And I had somehow decided in my mind, that how you look is really important. So every day that I would get to the court I would always come with a cup of coffee which I actually needed, so I still do. And I would be careful what I wore so that I looked okay every day because I think as a woman it’s much more important and that’s where again it came to me that there is difference, in terms of how you are treated between a man and a woman. And then of course the moment I would come out of London Bridge and start walking towards the court, I knew that at a certain point that all the photographers would be there. And actually I took the view that they were doing their job. And the important thing is to let them take the pictures.
00:14:26.20 Vicky Pryce:
So I would stop and let them take the pictures and then I would walk a bit and if they asked me to stand in a certain way I would do too. I would do exactly that. And I do remember there were some very, very funny moments. There was a guy who for some reason, with a dog, with a plaque along the dog about nuclear for some reason, green energy, who would insist on coming in the middle of the picture. So I was able to make room for him and then when we could, without him having the ability for the photographers to take picture, and they were very grateful for that. So they never took a bad picture, they never took a picture that showed you in a bad light.
00:15:09.00 Vicky Pryce:
And my view has always been that if you don’t look downtrodden then that’s to your benefit. And I didn’t look downtrodden and in a way these photographers sort of became my friends. And they would come up actually, I’d occasionally sit outside the courtroom. And later of course, I’d see them again because they would take pictures of me when I was entering the BBC to do an interview or they would take a picture because they were covering a particular story that I was talking about. And they’d say ‘Hi Vicky’ and so on. So it’s quite interesting I think we often look at the various bits of the press and think that they are our enemies but they’re just doing their jobs really. And you’ve got to make sure they can do their jobs easily.
00:16:00.10 Andy Coulson:
00:16:00.24 Vicky Pryce:
And in the end it’s helpful to both.
00:16:04.08 Andy Coulson:
How did you cope with the process of prosecution? The being in a room full of people who don’t know you at all, who you don’t know at all, but who’ll decide your fate? You know, that sort of loss of control. How did you feel when you found yourself sitting in a dock in that situation?
00:16:26.03 Vicky Pryce:
You’re quite right one could lose control. You can react to this and the way that I reacted in the way that I survived it was by almost being an observer of what’s happening. And I found it fascinating, something I learnt. So you’ve got to avoid thinking of yourself as sort of a victim right in the middle of all this, but somebody who takes part in this. You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the end. You may have some influence over it. But it was an experience to go through. And that actually worked very well and I managed to go every day and actually take it in and not let it seriously, seriously upset me.
00:17:08.10 Andy Coulson:
But there must have been moments where… clearly you achieved that, in the way that you talk about it now, I remember well, being in a similar situation myself and then took a very similar approach. But there are days when that’s very difficult. What did you do when that was a struggle? What techniques would you use to kind of bring yourself back to that place when you’re sat in a court and your values are being questioned who you are is under the microscope. This podcast is all about trying to give people the tools, if you like, to deal with, not just this kind of crisis but ay crisis, what did you do to bring yourself back to that place you just described?
00:17:59.14 Vicky Pryce:
I could think of nice things to spend my time on. So if things were… obviously I would have to listen to see what was being said but nevertheless there would be pauses in between, I would just go back to things that I remember that were rather nice, involved children, being with nice friends, thinking about Greece, the sea and knowing also that I had the support out there. And that would calm me down very, very significantly. And I wouldn’t do it necessarily consciously but it just happened.
00:18:35.12 Vicky Pryce:
Maybe I’m just used to it because I have been in quite a lot of difficult situations in my life, albeit doctored by the progress of my career, but also my personal life, which you know it sounds like it’s smooth but of course there have been difficult times and you have to just in a way distance yourself a bit. And that’s the only way to do it, in my view, you just take yourself away a little bit and it’s all happening around you, it’s interesting but you don’t have to be a particularly active participant every point that this is happening. And I think that I’ve done that throughout. And also doing my period, of course, the eighteen months that I spent in prison, I’d do the same.
00:19:20.10 Andy Coulson:
But so does that go to the need to surrender control if you like? To kind of accept that you are where you are, there is only so much you can do to influence it.
00:19:33.11 Vicky Pryce:
No, no you don’t surrender control at all. In fact, you take control that way. Because if things may happen but if they don’t have quite the impact on you than would otherwise be the case, then you’re in control.
00:19:49.02 Andy Coulson:
In the tough moments, and over the period, I suppose, did the anxiety manifest itself in any way? Or were you able to keep all that in the right place throughout?
00:20:06.07 Vicky Pryce:
There was a certain amount of anxiety, there’s no doubt about that, but I carried on and that was the important thing. And even up to the last minute I was still working and writing and doing various things. So you have to do that and the anxiety was always there. I’m pretty certain my blood pressure must have gone up very significantly. Actually I measured it when I went to Holloway and it had dropped. In other words it was perfect. So I wouldn’t recommend going to prison to bring your hypertension down, but it certainly seemed to because that period of anxiety, if you like, was over. And it was a different type but it really made a difference. So yes, obviously still happens, you can’t necessarily control that completely, but you can still be in as much control as you possibly can or at least you mustn’t show you are otherwise it overwhelms you.
00:20:59.22 Andy Coulson:
Did you seek any advice? Did you talk to anyone who’d been through a similar situation? Presumably your lawyers obviously had lived that kind of world in a way, were there for you. But was there professional help? Are you a believer in that? Do you sort of believe in counselling or that kind of help?
00:21:21.00 Vicky Pryce:
No, but in terms of going away for however many months… I mean the first thing that I have to say is that somebody going through the process, when I said goodbye to the children I really thought, to the day of the sentencing, that I might be away for five months or… because I had no idea whether it would be a year or whatever…
00:21:44.07 Andy Coulson:
The lawyers had warned you that it could be that long?
00:21:47.13 Vicky Pryce:
It could be longer; it could even be longer. And frankly when the verdict was announced and then the sentencing, sorry the verdict had already been announced, but the sentencing, I realised I would only really be in prison for two months and that was very cheering for me. And it would have been, I thought, for the kids as well if they realised it. So it actually was a great relief. So instead of going to prison feeling really, really bad I actually went thinking, oh that’s fine.
00:22:17.05 Vicky Pryce:
Of course, I’m considerably luckier than all those people who I met who are there for much longer, were there for much longer. So in many ways I’m one of the privileged ones. And I also knew that I had somewhere to come back to and a house that I wasn’t going to lose in the process. I wasn’t going to lose my kids in the process. I mean, it’s terrible what happens to women, it’s one of the reasons why I’ve written the book. It happens also to men, of course.
00:22:47.22 Vicky Pryce:
So about the fact that it just makes very little sense sending people to prison who are not a threat to society. When you think of other ways of doing it, it costs society a lot and it really doesn’t help those people either in terms of rehabilitation, if you can call it that. And it’s a waste a really serious waste for them. But for me, of course, it was a short period so I could limit that waste, if you like, quite considerably and I had ways of getting back and loads of other women I met did not and I’m sure loads of men do not.
00:23:17.09 Vicky Pryce:
So that was quite positive. And also I had travelled hugely in my time. I would leave the house and there were times I’d spend it in developing countries and I just decided in my mind to perceive it as going off for a while to do a particular job or to get through a particular… and the number of conditions that I had to put up with when I travelled were terrible.
00:23:42.14 Andy Coulson:
So work, you just treated it like a fairly miserable work assignment with bad expenses and worse food.
00:23:54.19 Vicky Pryce:
Something like that although of course, I had no idea what to expect. You ask whether there’s any advice, I didn’t really speak to very many people. And I had read a little bit about what it’s all about and what I could take and what I couldn’t take. So I did exactly that and that worked. So at the time it was pretty lax because it was before they started trying to prevent people from being sent books, for example. And while I was there I was receiving so many books. I think on average I think I received two and a half books a day, some of them very big books, being sent by everybody. And that was absolutely extraordinary. Including I don’t know how many stamps I was sent which I then managed to use for the next year. So I was very lucky from that point of view and I decided to really, really use my time in quite a productive way I thought and to consider it as something to be experienced and to go through. And not knowing of course, how exactly I would come out.
00:25:01.17 Andy Coulson:
Yes, I mean, we both of course have experienced that moment of being found guilty and sentenced to jail in court. Whatever you read or prepare it’s a truly wretched moment. You say that you focused on the positives but in that moment what were you saying to yourself?
00:25:24.15 Vicky Pryce:
That’s a very good question, do I remember exactly? I was so prepared for it that, for me, it was the fact that it wasn’t going to be anything like as bad as I’d expected. So it was a positive when the sentence came rather than the other way around which was really quite interesting.
00:25:47.03 Andy Coulson:
But you’re still… you’re not leaving the door; you’re going through the other door.
00:25:52.12 Vicky Pryce:
Oh, which was actually the funniest bit of all. Because so there were so many funny moments and so many human moments that you found with people who dealt with your transfer to prison. So I was being taken down which was as I said, expected anyway. And then they tried to see what I had in my handbag because obviously I couldn’t take loads of things that were in there and my bag was fine with all my clothes, it seems I had taken just the right amount.
00:26:25.16 Vicky Pryce:
But my handbag, I had to count all the money that was in it and put it away so that I could have it at some other stage. And of course I was just a complete idiot, I intended to leave lots of cash for the kids to pay for whatever was going to be happening those many months I was going to be away and of course I wrote them cheques in the end. And all the cash that I was taking out of the machines constantly all that time, expecting some sort of verdict and therefore what happens, I had to leave them some cash, was still in my bags.
00:26:55.16 Vicky Pryce:
So they started counting money and I became… it was so jolly because they were finding an extra twenty quid there and they were counting and calling everyone, ‘come and see how much money we’ve got here’. And I was just standing in front and everyone was laughing. And we counted £1,481.00 were in my handbag. I had no idea. And it really was very jolly. So we’d known that all the way also people who were there escorting me and so on, it became quite a big joke. And they were all, basically they were trying to help me and I thought that was really good. I got on incredibly well with all of them, with the prison officers, with all the support systems that exist in the prison.
00:27:41.17 Vicky Pryce:
And I don’t know whether it was because I was different to everybody else because I was watching others coming in as I was waiting to go through my various systems of entering to Holloway and they were dealing with them the same way, ‘Oh hello, nice to see you again’ because somebody had been, obviously there were some repeat offenders. But they were going through the same process of coming in and having a chat and I have to say…
00:28:07.07 Andy Coulson:
So a sense of, a surprising sense of civility?
00:28:10.21 Vicky Pryce:
Yes, yes. And the women that I met were also inmates were incredibly helpful as well. And there was a huge amount of solidarity. That may not exist in men’s prisons but it does in women’s.
00:28:30.03 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, was Holloway what you expected?
00:28:33.02 Vicky Pryce:
I didn’t know what to expect at all. It was freezing cold and so on but I was glad I was there for only four days.
00:28:43.08 Andy Coulson:
Of course, you wrote a book about your experiences in prison. Did you decide you’d do that in advance? Was focusing on that a coping mechanism, if you like, albeit a very positive one?
00:28:55.01 Vicky Pryce:
Well I started writing a little diary little points of what I was doing in the day. And that’s how, the book is a diary. It doesn’t talk much about my personal experience necessarily but it just gives you an idea of what was happening on that day. And depending on what was happening I would then interject quite a lot of economic stuff in it in terms of the cost of this and the cost of that and why this isn’t working and what we would learn type of analysis and so on. And a lot of people sent me a lot of information while I was there, reports that had been done on prisons and the whole criminal justice system.
00:29:31.15 Vicky Pryce:
And then, I have to admit, that my publisher then sent me a note saying, we’re thinking perhaps of writing about it. So we agreed on Prisonomics, that would be the title. So I carried on doing little notes throughout. And of course, I was also receiving so many letters, so many letters. So there’d be times I’d get, I don’t know what your experience was, but I’d get a hundred a day. And of course I had to read them. I also had to do my work in there. So because there were lots of paparazzi who were coming to see what I was doing….
00:30:06.09 Andy Coulson:
You had your, by the time you get to open prison, you had your own room?
00:30:10.20 Vicky Pryce:
Oh yes, I’m sorry, I completely forgot to say that I moved after four days. I didn’t have my own room, no, no, no. I was sharing it with two others.
00:30:18.04 Andy Coulson:
Right. Able to work though?
00:30:22.05 Vicky Pryce:
Yes, yes, yes. And of course there is space there, you can go into other rooms. So it’s quite easy but I didn’t work outside, whereas my room mates worked outside all day. Whereas because of the paparazzi there, who were climbing on trees and waiting to see whether they could see me move around the gardens, we decided I would have an indoor job which was to make sure the kitchen preparations for breakfast and lunch were all okay and the table settings were fine and it was all clean. So nobody fell ill during my watch and I was very, very pleased about that.
00:31:00.00 Vicky Pryce:
So I was doing that and I was inside, which meant that I had quite a lot of time to do all the reading and writing and so on. And then the telephoning. And the good thing about having gone in with so much money is that I was able to, it’s very expensive ringing, and I was able to ring quite a bit and then buy various things additional which we shared with others, whereas you know lots of others couldn’t quite do that and that was very lucky.
00:31:29.15 Andy Coulson:
So you’re giving a sense here of having once again, turned to work really, as your armoury if you like, or as your methodology for getting through it.
00:31:43.13 Vicky Pryce:
I learned to play bingo as well though, I have to say. So it wasn’t all work. In fact it was front page news in The Sun ‘Vicky Pryce learns to play bingo’.
00:31:53.09 Andy Coulson:
It must have been a slow news day. You also touched on the humour though and how important that is. I couldn’t agree more that humour is massively undervalued as a coping mechanism. Important to you too, yes, throughout the process?
00:32:13.02 Vicky Pryce:
Hugely, hugely and there were some incredibly funny moments where we’d be in stitches. I mean, really, it wasn’t just in order to pass the time. So many women were so depressed because they were deep down, we probably we all depressed, away from children and so on. And you needed the humour to survive. So when people realised that somebody was really down because there was a problem with their child, they’d just been on the phone and their child was being bullied at school because the mother was away and so on and so forth, then we would think of other ways of cheering them up. So there was a lot of that going on. And again, that is so encouraging in terms of human nature if you like.
00:33:07.00 Andy Coulson:
You served alongside women who were, as you say yourself, who were in much more precious positions that you. Socially, economically, at risk of losing their home and their family. And they obviously informed a lot of your book. But what did you learn from those women who you spent time with? What did you learn from them during and after the experience?
00:33:34.10 Vicky Pryce:
How vulnerable they were, I mean, that was really interesting and worrying but also I think what I learned about life is that things can happen just like that. So and you don’t actually control it sometimes, those things that happen. So it’s quite dangerous. So some were there because they were involved in some fight which didn’t have much to do with them, just one second event. Or someone they were with got hurt or they were involved in some event where somebody was really hurt. And it can happen without too much warning. So you’re normal one moment and then you’re no longer. And that’s quite dangerous.
00:34:25.05 Vicky Pryce:
So I find that yes, I can talk about controlling feelings and all that sort of stuff but things happen and can hit you, tragedies can happen and a lot of them women are unprepared for this, what the implications for this would be. And it can shatter your life completely. Just like that at the, a momentary lapse if you like. So I was inclined, I think perhaps I wrote int he book as well if I remember, to write to all my kids and say, ‘While I’m away don’t leave the house. It’s too dangerous.’ So it makes you aware of how uncertain everything is. And if you’re not planning…
00:35:10.08 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, especially when you look at young, the young people who are in prison.
00:35:13.01 Vicky Pryce:
Young, because life can be… you know there were people who were accountants or whatever they were and something happened and of course they can’t go back to that. Or who can’t go back to their community because of whatever may have happened. And it can just happen like that and you leave your house in the morning thinking you’ve got all these plans for the future or whatever it is you want to do and all that just stops. And that’s the unfairness of it, that by then being sent to prison and also having a record and so on, a lot of them can’t go back to where they were and their lives are ruined forever, that’s my worry.
00:35:49.00 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, you’ve been very active, Vicky, in the debate about prison reform. We won’t rehearse all that here, I think that’s probably for another podcast, but there’s one truth about prison that I suspect we can both agree on, that by its very nature it sort of breaks family bonds and in doing so, more often than not, creates a new generation of criminals. That statistic about the children of criminals is always, I think, the most heart breaking. I saw that with young dads in prison but I’m guessing that it was pretty visceral for you with fellow inmates who were young mothers?
00:36:29.09 Vicky Pryce:
Well yes, indeed, and I’m now a trustee also of Women In Prison, the charity that looks after women and we have loads of centres and so on around the country. And we look very much at what the impact is, of course, and how they can rebuild their lives if you like but also whatever other help they may need. So yes, you could see the worries that many had in terms of losing their kids. But I’ve written about the cost of taking children into care, that very often was considerably greater than the cost of putting a woman in prison. It doesn’t make very much sense in society. And of course, children in care are much more likely to then be involved in anti-social activities than those who are not. So we are basically perpetuating the problem.
00:37:23.20 Andy Coulson:
It goes to the balance of victims as well though, doesn’t it? Because obviously a lot of people would argue that yes, of course that child has rights but so do the victims of those crimes.
00:37:39.19 Vicky Pryce:
Oh absolutely and that is to be recognised. There could be different ways of doing it. Of perhaps making it up if you like, to the victims. But you don’t actually achieve an awful lot if you just basically don’t have the indirect impact on families and children which then of course increases without the need of crime happening anyway. So there will be more victims and also of course, as we know, going to prison increases the chances of somebody reoffending or offending. So you don’t do anything in relation to reducing the number of victims that way.
00:38:20.20 Andy Coulson:
Yes, I’ve no doubt there have been difficult days when you’ve wondered how this new life, if you like, will work out. Have I got that about right?
00:38:32.05 Vicky Pryce:
Oh, there are all sorts of things that would have happened that can’t happen now. There’s no doubt about that. So life has changed very significantly in terms of what one can achieve or can expect by comparison to what perhaps would have been a normal path otherwise. So all sorts of things or goals or whatever you could have got possibly but which who knows? But you are in a different situation, there’s no doubt about that. And also there’s no doubt in my mind that some of the things I could have done or even the types of work I could have done, haven’t happened because of my record.
00:39:13.23 Vicky Pryce:
But other things have opened up that probably I wouldn’t have even have considered doing or thought of doing if that hadn’t happened. Or even things I might have written about, or I have written, which I would never had thought of doing otherwise. Or even my entire view on how evidence is used in government which I could talk quite a lot about. Because all the evidence on prisoners exists there already it just hasn’t properly been used.
00:39:41.04 Vicky Pryce:
So I’ve moved into areas that I wouldn’t have done before but there is no doubt that it is much harder so we talked earlier about the work ethic, I’ve had to work incredibly hard, as I’m sure everyone else who’s in my position has done whose managed to get back somehow, in order to be able to do what I’m doing at present. So I could easily have just given up and I don’t know, gone on a very, very long holiday.
00:40:09.15 Andy Coulson:
You just, I guess, what a lot of these questions are getting to is how? On one level you’re being incredibly self-effacing in saying that you, that’s the choice you made, that’s just what you did. But of course there are all manner of other choices you could have made and you didn’t. And that’s what I’m interested in really is how did you get to that state of mind, not just so quickly, but so effectively Vicky? Because you have been, sort of, laser-like in the approach that you, almost immediately you wrote the book in prison, you come out of prison and you’re giving speeches within weeks. That takes enormous courage quite aside from anything else. How is it that you were able to do that?
00:41:04.03 Vicky Pryce:
I think it’s mainly because of the support both of the family but also the network that is absolutely essential. I remember I had only come out of prison maybe a few weeks, I had received a letter while I was in the open prison from the European Sub-Committee at the House of Lords to go and give evidence on Europe, would you believe it, as soon as I’d come out? And I went on the bus wearing my tag because I was still on curfew for a couple of months, into the House of Lords to give evidence and finding there were loads and loads of, I think it was probably the best attended event of the Europe Sub-committee at the time.
00:41:54.17 Vicky Pryce:
All these journalists, who I knew were there to write about it, and of course they had to write, they were sketch writers mainly. And of course what they were trying to do throughout the period that I was speaking and I was there sitting at a desk alongside some ex-colleagues, friends, other economist, was to see where my tag was, where was I wearing it? And they couldn’t find it. So there were all sorts of assumptions. Well perhaps it’s a bracelet, maybe it’s the bracelet she’s wearing? And of course, I was hiding it incredibly well because they’d been very when they came with the tag and all the paraphernalia so it was put in such a way that trousers would cover it. It was fine, they were really good about it.
00:42:36.21 Vicky Pryce:
So that was quite funny and I didn’t even give evidence. So it was people who knew me on that committee who asked me to go on purpose, I’m sure, so I think I was helped by that. I was helped by offers of jobs. I was helped by offers of being patron of various things while I was still in there, so that was quite nice. So you know, in a way, it was the network that did it, really. It was the fact that people were prepared to employ me.
00:43:12.08 Andy Coulson:
I mean, obviously people appreciated that you had enormous value to add in particular to the prison reform debate. But also, acts of kindness? Is that how you would characterise it?
00:43:21.24 Vicky Pryce:
Oh yeah, completely. Or people who were prepared to take the risk. Who weren’t phased by this and who may have had to explain it to the odd client. And then they sort of widened from there. The speakers, events etc. etc. and then academic stuff. Which I had been doing from before, loads of them came back because I was there and doing things. So you use the network but you also create your own opportunities as much as you can. But also accept that it’s not going to be very easy all along at all. And that you’re going to have setbacks.
00:43:59.11 Andy Coulson:
Has the professional and the personal recovery happened at the same pace, would you say?
00:44:06.00 Vicky Pryce:
The professional recovery certainly helps. So the two are very much linked, yes, absolutely. But I also, if you feel that you have the personal support as well then that’s good news. I mean, in terms of friends more generally as well that has worked very well indeed. So I didn’t speak to many people before but I can tell you that they were all there. I would say that 90% of people that I was linking up with, and there were quite a lot of them, were very supportive and that was brilliant.
00:44:45.13 Andy Coulson:
What’s your attitude towards the 10% who weren’t?
00:44:50.01 Vicky Pryce:
Oh, I just don’t see them, I don’t have any problem at all. So it’s perfectly normal. I think in life you go through periods of people moving away for particular reasons or what have you. So it’s…
00:45:03.06 Andy Coulson:
No bitterness about that?
00:45:06.05 Vicky Pryce:
The interesting thing is I have absolutely no bitterness whether it’s the media or anyone else or the legal establishment or anything. I absolutely no point at all, no point at all. And very open to in fact there being some I haven’t seen for a bit and they all come back, no problem whatsoever. So I decided there was no point but also I’m not that way inclined.
00:45:33.14 Andy Coulson:
Let’s move onto the crisis we’re all now finding ourselves in. I don’t know about you, but the lockdown has certainly brought back some memories of being on tag. But in terms of the politics, from the outside looking in, the scientists seem to have had a much louder voice in this crisis than the economists. You’ve been in a few of those rooms Vicky, during your time in government, was the effect of pandemics or the potential effect of a pandemic, the economic effect, if you like, was that modelled at all in your experience?
00:46:08.02 Vicky Pryce:
Oh we had some practice, if you like. Because of course there was the 9/11 attack and the impact that that had on travel and particular sectors. And then there were a number of concerns about pandemics. There was swine flu of course, that we were worried about, and of course the BSE problem with the Bovine illness that of course had a huge impact on the agricultural sector. So yes, the economists were all involved in looking at some of those impacts and what it would mean at the time. And I remember being involved in that myself.
00:47:00.08 Vicky Pryce:
But what you know about uncertainty, a little bit like the uncertainty, because we just weren’t prepared, of the financial crisis back in 2008, 2009 is that you don’t actually know what the reaction of the players is going to be. And therefore you’ve got to try everything you can to rectify the situation. So the evidence gives you a little bit of information of what works and doesn’t work but if the environment is so different and unprecedented then it’s trial and error, I’m afraid.
00:47:37.23 Vicky Pryce:
That’s why right now everyone’s just putting forward scenarios rather than forecasts, because you don’t know what’s going to happen internationally. You don’t know about how bad this health problem is going to be. You don’t know whether countries will open up fast enough, now they are, some of them. You don’t know whether trade will ever return to where it was. You don’t actually know what business will actually do in terms of all the supply chains. You don’t know how individuals are going to react. In fact you never know what individuals will do.
00:48:06.08 Vicky Pryce:
In fact I do remember in all the modelling that people have done in the past and we all did, that the consumption function is the most difficult one to estimate, because you just don’t know whether consumers are going to be saving more, spending more. So as an economist you’ve got some contribution to make, quite a significant contribution to make, but what you’re basically going to be saying is throw it as much as you can at the problem and see what sticks.
00:48:30.14 Andy Coulson:
Do you think that what this has exposed is a lack of behavioural science thinking in government? Is that what you’re saying, that there’s not enough, there hasn’t been enough preparation? There isn’t enough modelling or sort of disaster planning in terms of as you’ve just said, how society will react to a situation like this?
00:48:55.18 Vicky Pryce:
I think that’s been lacking and it is indeed the fact that there weren’t any economists on stage. Well there were some statisticians, there are statisticians, there are modellers but I think one needed to listen a lot more to the economists. But of course there have been influencing what the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s been doing. And that has been quite useful even though, in my view, there’s still a huge lack of understanding of how business actually operates and particularly the small and medium enterprises. And they may get it very wrong.
00:49:27.13 Andy Coulson:
So where are we heading do you think? What does the next two to three years look like in the UK, from your perspective?
00:49:34.02 Vicky Pryce:
Oh, there will be recovery, there’s no doubt about that, unless there’s no doubt about that unless there’s a new pandemic that hits us. But at least now we know perhaps what to do but what we’ll do is we’ll just stop everything, so that isn’t going to be very good for growth. But maybe we’ll have more beds. Maybe the NHS would be better supplied in the future. But I think we have crossed the point where we can really be cutting and cutting and cutting the way that it was done after the financial crisis, very, very wrong thing to do. That can leave public services in such a way that they can’t actually cope at all with what hits them. And we’ve got to just lock everything down and stop activity generally. So I think we’ve learned that and we will be spending a lot more in those areas but we may come out of it also with a better idea of what type of society we want in the future.
00:50:26.23 Andy Coulson:
Vicky, you’ve been incredibly generous with your time and with your insights, sincere thanks. Before you go I’d like to ask you for your crisis cures. These are three things, anything other than another person, that you’ve sort of leant on during the tricky times. Anything other than another human being.
00:50:53.00 Vicky Pryce:
Well I’m a football fan, I’m afraid I support Chelsea…
00:50:59.00 Andy Coulson:
Don’t be Vicky, I mean, I’m a Spurs fan, that’s a cross to carry.
00:51:07.10 Vicky Pryce:
So I just love to watch and go, I’m a season ticket holder, go with the kids and that’s a great, great release from any tension. Although, of course you substitute one type of tension with another. So I’m the sort of person who really sort of screams a lot and occasionally my children move away from me because I scream too much. So that’s one.
00:51:33.23 Andy Coulson:
How have you coped without the football?
00:51:38.04 Vicky Pryce:
With difficulty I have to say although it’s been a godsend in some ways because we were doing really badly and we were about to be thrashed by Bayern Munich in the second leg of the champions league, that was about to happen, but we somehow or other managed to have those two glorious games when we beat both Liverpool and then Everton I think it was four something in each case but I can’t quite remember. Certainly the Everton was four, I should remember this now but it’s been such a many months ago. So we left on a high, so that was alright but of course it’s about to all re-start. But at least we’ve been spared the champion’s league ones, they’ve sort of been abandoned. So yes, football, very, very, very important and I watch it at every opportunity.
00:52:25.08 Andy Coulson:
00:52:27.12 Vicky Pryce:
00:52:26.18 Andy Coulson:
I need three things from you. So you have your Chelsea season ticket what are the other two?
00:52:35.21 Vicky Pryce:
Well books, they certainly keep me going and I’m pretty open as to what type of books.
00:52:45.19 Andy Coulson:
Is there a particular book? Perhaps when you were in prison, was there a particular book that you turned to?
00:52:53.20 Vicky Pryce:
There was one book that I loved and in fact I was sent some Graham Greene which is, one of his books called, Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The bomb party. It’s about greed and it shows that the richer you are the greedier you are and the more risks you’re prepared to take to make more money. It’s an incredible book and I’ve read it and re-read it. And I have to admit that every time I re-read it I think it’s less than a good book that I thought in the beginning in terms of how it was written. But it certainly made how it’s written but it’s certainly made huge impact on me in terms of its subject matter.
00:53:29.24 Andy Coulson:
Super, one other?
00:53:33.04 Vicky Pryce:
One other, it’s the sea. When I want to relax I think of swimming and looking at the horizon on a beach in Greece.
00:53:48.06 Andy Coulson:
Wonderful. Vicky, thank you so much for your time and as I say, for your perspective on crisis. It’s enormously appreciated.
00:53:59.11 Vicky Pryce:
Thank you very much.
00:54:01.17 Andy Coulson:
Thanks for listening to Crisis What Crisis? Do feel free to email your feedback to [email protected] where you’ll also find the show notes giving you the key insights from our guests. There are more useful conversations on the way so please do subscribe and if you like what you hear give us a rating and a review. Thanks again.
00:54:24.05 End of transcription.