| Major at the business summit in California. (Reuters)
California, Oct. 7: John Major refused to make any comment on his affair with Edwina Currie over the weekend as he appeared at a speaking engagement in northern California.
Instead, he surrounded himself with security officers to keep away the press and the resulting media scrum at the San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton was more like a Hollywood film premiere than a minor business conference in a sedate American town.
The former Prime Minister flew into a local airstrip on Saturday less than half an hour before he was to appear on stage and his car was pursued by tabloid press reporters on the short journey to the college.
Once at the college, he was taken through a back entrance into the auditorium to dodge the battery of photographers and journalists wanting to question him about the events of the past week.
The college’s security staff had already warned the 30 members of the British press who were present that they would be “physically restrained” and “dragged from the auditorium’ if they raised the subject of Major’s adulterous affair in a question and answer session that followed his talk.
Later, as Major made his way to a reception, chaos ensued as a dozen protection officers pushed reporters out of the way.
The scenes bemused the 1,000 people who had each paid £200 to attend the one-day conference to discuss leadership and business models.
Few had any knowledge of Major’s sexual indiscretions, and a number admitted that they had only a limited grasp of who the man they were listening to was. “The only British leaders I really know are Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair,” said one.
“I have never seen so many journalists here. It really is not the kind of thing we are used to, but we are familiar here in America with the media being interested in our leaders’ sexual indiscretions.”
The organisers of the conference said they had only learnt of their speaker’s recent notoriety when they began to be bombarded with calls from British journalists. “The phones have been ringing off the hook,” said Rick Paulsen, one of the conference’s executive committee members. “We have made sure we are prepared for the unexpected.”
Major’s refusal to comment came after he had maintained a similar silence at an earlier engagement in Dallas last week. He had then cancelled a press conference at which he was to have publicised a local charity.
He flew out of Stockton immediately after the close of the conference.
Major is due to continue his American speaking tour next week when he will talk to students at a university in Ohio.