Four days before the 1974 General Election, a lunch meeting between Bernard Donoughue, head of Harold Wilson's policy research unit, Marcia Williams, and No10 press secretary Joe Haines revealed an intriguing dynamic. Williams, known for taking purple hearts to stay awake, exhibited undiminished intelligence and a close bond with Wilson. Described as a nearly incestuous father-daughter relationship, their connection was rooted in mutual intellectual stimulation rather than romance.
Williams' behavior, however, began to change after Wilson regained power. Observers noted her increasingly eccentric actions and intemperate demands, causing distress to the Prime Minister and embarrassment to those around him. Donoughue recounted an incident where Williams abruptly left a dinner with the Prime Minister of Fiji and later returned with Frank Sinatra, fawning over him. Concerns grew about her erratic behavior and potential addiction to Drinamyl.
Williams' dependence on prescription drugs, including Valium, became apparent as she used them to counteract the effects of purple hearts. Her stability further eroded, leading Wilson's physician, Joe Stone, to prescribe large quantities of Valium. Stone's suggestion to "dispose" of Williams raised alarms but was rejected. However, no one questioned the underlying cause of her erratic behavior or considered her potential need for help and treatment.
In a controversial move, Wilson bestowed a barony upon Williams, now known as Marcia Falkender, facing outrage from the public and even some colleagues. Speculation regarding the resignation honours list fueled further controversy, with some believing that Williams used her influence to reward her friends and supporters. While allegations of Wilson selling honors were not made, the perception of Williams' power over him persisted.
After Wilson's resignation in 1976, rumored to be the result of a deal with his wife, Williams' relationship with the Labour Party deteriorated. She even reached out to Margaret Thatcher before her victory, offering assistance in defeating Prime Minister Jim Callaghan. The disillusionment with Labour stemmed from feeling unappreciated and undermined by the party's traditional hierarchical structures.
Williams' twilight years were marked by personal and financial struggles. Despite being the longest-serving Labour peer, she lived in relative obscurity, collecting attendance allowances in the House of Lords without making speeches. Her tragic story, characterized by unfulfilled desires for privacy and a baroness-like lifestyle, ended with her burial alongside her parents in West Haddon, Northamptonshire.
Marcia Williams was indeed a trailblazer and a woman who wielded true power in Downing Street. Her contributions remain underappreciated and overshadowed by her personal struggles. It is time to acknowledge her role as a political powerhouse and recognize her as a groundbreaking figure in British political history.
Linda McDougall's book, "Marcia Williams" delves into the captivating and poignant story of this remarkable woman, offering a fresh perspective on her rise and fall.