London: David Cameron’s first serious girlfriend was the daughter of a fine art auctioneer who was a good friend of his father, it has been revealed.
Lydia Craig, now Lydia Dickinson, and the politician were inseparable for a while but went their different ways when he set off on a gap year before going up to Oxford and starting his steady rise up the ranks of the Tory party.
Her relationship with Cameron was just one of his youthful flings — there were to be many others before he set his heart on the delightful Sam Cam ten years later.
In fact Cameron was known as a heartbreaker who was so single-minded, he was usually the one to end romantic relationships if he realised girls were unsuitable.
“Dave never had any trouble pulling,” the Daily Mail quoted one of his friends as saying.
He started dating surprisingly early. One of his first girlfriends was Caroline Graham, now a journalist for the Mail on Sunday, who remembers him as a shy but ‘expert kisser’ at the early age of 13.
According to one contemporary, he dated lots of girls in his teens and went out with ‘some real crackers’. He liked high-born ones with an artistic side to them.
They, in turn, liked his easy charm, his self-confidence and a rather un-British emotional side to his character that can still prompt him to cry at tear-jerking films.
He had a good time on that gap year, and though on one occasion, having twisted his ankle falling down Rome’s Spanish Steps, he was unable to see the sights along with his friends, he is said to ‘have made up for it in other departments’.
Dave continued to be popular with the opposite sex when he went up to Brasenose College in 1985. There he met girls by all the usual methods, including going to old-fashioned sherry parties.
He also frequented a student nightclub called the Playpen expressly to pick them up.
Another Oxford flame was Alice Rayman, a student at Wadham College, who has since become an entertainment lawyer and married the son of former Tory Cabinet Minister Lord King. She is known by her peers as ‘knowledgeable, extremely able and above all outstandingly nice to deal with’.
But the most serious of Dave’s Oxford romances was with Francesca ‘Fran’ Ferguson, a statuesque half-German girl who was reading history at Somerville.
By Christmas of their first student year, Cameron was mad about Fran according to friends. The daughter of a diplomat she had lived all over the world and was acutely conscious she was not part of David’s inward-looking Home Counties set who did everything together — skiing, French holidays, house parties.
The romance lasted 18 months, but according to Fran, who is now director of a Swiss architecture museum, it was he who ended it when he realised she didn’t fit into his master plan.
One girlfriend who remained upset when they parted was Lisa de Savary, the eldest of the five daughters of property developer Peter de Savary. Cameron met her in London after his Oxford days were over. She fell for him in a big way according to a friend, but: ‘Dave kind of dumped her and she was very cross. It all left rather a nasty taste.’
The break-up did not put Lisa off politics. She managed her father’s campaign as a Parliamentary candidate for James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party and later married banker Tim Doyne and went to live in Bahrain.
The romance lasted from the spring of 1990 until summer 1991, and again did not end tidily. ‘I seem to recall the young lady had to be given a period of compassionate leave to recover,’ says one of the couple’s workmates at the time.
Laura, who also dated historian Andrew Roberts, descended into alcohol and drugs and has now found redemption as Sister John Mary, a nun in an American convent. Perhaps as a result of the unfortunate fallout from that affair, Cameron thereafter dated women outside politics.
And then came Samantha Sheffield. Daughter of a baronet and stepdaughter of Lord Astor, she was initially a friend of Cameron’s sister Clare.
He first set eyes on her at a party at his parents’ Berkshire home in 1987 when she was just about to go to Marlborough on an arts scholarship, and according to his affectionate memories was ‘a sulky 16-year-old who thought: “Who’s this crashing bore who is your friend’s older brother?
By 1992, when she was invited to holiday with the Camerons in Tuscany, he realised she was for him, even though with her penchant for roll-your-own cigarettes and hippy interest in pop concerts as well as her youth — she was only 22 to his 27 — she did not fit the obvious profile of a Prime Minister’s wife.
He was so sure she was the right one, he waited till 1996, by when she had become a businesswoman in her own right, to walk her up the aisle.