POLITICS

Tony Benn, Natasha Kaplinsky And Their 'Astonishing' Platonic Friendship

14/03/2014 09:03 GMT | Updated 14/03/2014 10:59 GMT

Tony Benn, by then in his 80s, astonished friends by entering into a warm friendship with TV newsreader and presenter Natasha Kaplinsky, who was almost 50 years his junior.

At one stage, Benn wrote to a Fleet Street editor saying it was outrageous for him to suggest it was a purely platonic relationship.

natasha kaplinsky

Natasha said: "I liked him very much, but he was 83 and not really for me."

The couple met at his London home in May 2003 after the death of his wife Caroline. She had come to interview him for a BBC TV programme, Heaven And Earth. At the time Benn described her as "very professional and exceptionally beautiful". Afterwards, they sat in his garden and chatted.

Two days later, she arrived at his doorstep with a box of chocolates, an action he described as "really sweet".

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The following month, they had lunch together at the House of Commons and then cups of tea in the Terrace Cafeteria. He recalled that she had peppermint tea.

"After that I drove her to Dickins and Jones," he said.

In May the following year, he watched her on Strictly Come Dancing, winning that particular edition "doing a foxtrot, I think".

He went on: "She was terribly good and I must say that although I cannot stand Bruce Forsyth, it is quite an amusing programme, so I sent her a little message."

The following week, he recalled, she came top again: "I voted several times in support of her and I rang and said how fabulous she was."

The following month they had lunch together at her request. He told her: "I have kept a month open for you. She said, 'only a month?', which was very cheeky."

A few days later what he described as "a fabricated picture" appeared in the Daily Telegraph of Natasha "in her beautiful ball gown and me in evening dress". The paper said it was a "platonic relationship".

He said: "So I rang her and said, 'I hope it doesn't embarrass you in any way, but I have written a very angry letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph saying how outrageous it was that he should suggest that it was a platonic friendship.' She laughed at that."

During a subsequent conversation, she said to him: "Let's meet again, and start a new scandal." At that meeting. He gave her a book entitled The Art Of Belly Dancing. Benn was invited to her engagement party before her marriage to

Justin Bower, an investment banker.

At one stage, Natasha said: "I liked him very much, but he was 83 and not really for me."