Dis-chord! When Edwina Currie brought her uniquely toxic brand of diplomacy to a local male voice choir, it ended in savage fallouts, an industrial tribuntal – and the conductor on medication for stress

  • Edwina Currie took over as president of the Tideswell Male Voice Choir in 2012
  • Chose to represent Derbyshire Peak District choir in court when former principal conductor took them to employment tribunal for unfair dismissal
  • Choir lost the case, leading to costly £8,000 compensation payout to Dennis Kay

When Tideswell Male Voice Choir launched their search for a new president, it wasn’t long before they found the perfect woman for the job.

Step forward Edwina Currie, former Tory minister, ex-mistress of John Major, bonkbuster novelist and something of a celebrity amid the tranquil valleys and sleepy dales of the Derbyshire Peak District where both she and the choir are based.

At the time of her appointment at the beginning of 2012, twice-married Edwina — who now goes by the surname Currie Jones — had recently been booted off BBC’s TV show Strictly Come Dancing and seemed an ideal choice to ‘represent and promote’ the choir, which has performed alongside the likes of Aled Jones and the Military Wives Choir and raised tens of thousands for charity.

‘I may have lost an Italian stallion,’ she purred, with a mischievous nod to her erstwhile Strictly partner Vincent Simone as she addressed the choir for the first time, ‘but I have gained 60 Derbyshire men’.

And, right from the start, Mrs Currie Jones embraced her honorary duties with gusto, turning up to Tuesday night rehearsals in an upstairs room at the Old Grammar School in Tideswell and listening attentively as the men belted out their charming repertoire before heading off to The Star Inn for a post-practice ale or two.

Edwina Currie, former Tory minister, ex-mistress of John Major and bonkbuster novelist, took over as president of the Tideswell Male Voice Choir in the Derbyshire Peak District in 2012

Her husband JJ, former Scotland Yard detective John Jones, a man she likes to describe as ‘the most handsome baritone in the High Peak’ also signed up as a singer. ‘I like to sit near the bass section — the sound of those deep male voice makes the hairs on my neck rise and quiver,’ she declared in an interview in November 2012 which made clear just how much she was relishing her new role.

You must wonder, however, how much the choir is now regretting the appointment of the gaffe-prone 71-year-old former politician, whose books include Chasing Men and What Women Want, after her part in securing them a swathe of awful publicity in recent weeks.

The once harmonious group has been torn apart, with some singers no longer on speaking terms and one former member left emotionally battered, on medication for stress, and threatening to sue Mrs Currie Jones for slander.

So what did she do this time to cause such upset? Let’s not forget that this is the woman who once told old people to dig out their hot water bottles and knit socks when faced with crippling winter fuel bills, famously commented that ‘good Christian people’ don’t get Aids and asserted that Northerners die of ‘ignorance and chips’.

Her 1988 outburst about British eggs being infected with salmonella brought about her downfall as junior health minister under Margaret Thatcher. Diplomacy, quite simply, is not her strong point.

She chose to represent the choir in court when Dennis Kay, its former principal conductor and musical director, took them to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal a few weeks ago.


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It was a role she embraced with customary gusto, so much so that at one point in the five-day hearing, the female tribunal judge had to remind her that she was no longer in the House of Commons.

A retired magistrate who witnessed proceedings likened her performance to that of the Sixties TV lawyer Perry Mason.

Yet it was no laughing matter for Mr Kay who said being questioned by the former politician left him ‘exhausted and drained’.

‘She kept pushing her glasses to the end of her nose and peering at me through them as if she was trying to stare me out. I think she thought I would just roll over and die. It was a day-and-a-half of torture. I was in bits by the end.’

And at the end of all that, the choir didn’t even win the case, leading to a costly £8,000 compensation payout from choir funds to Mr Kay.

The Oxford-educated grandmother has come in for stinging criticism from some choir members. Among a hoard of colourful emails which whizzed back and forth between members is one in which the former chairman wrote of her: ‘We all know what a loose cannon the dear girl can be! A perfect combination of Boris Johnson and Monica Lewinsky!’

‘It’s all such a shame,’ says one former choir member who left Tideswell Male Voice Choir soon after this sorry saga unfolded.

‘The whole situation was handled really badly and it all got out of hand. Dennis wasn’t given the opportunity to defend himself. People blindly listened to unfounded rumours. The end result is that there are no winners here.’

Dennis Kay, pictured here with wife Helen, took the choir to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal a few weeks ago. He had been the music director for 11 years

So how on earth did a choir which was founded in 1956 by the musical menfolk of one of the most idyllic villages in Britain find itself at the centre of such a vicious row?

Certainly, those who heard the choir, which draws men from across Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester, at a series of spectacular concerts during the summer and autumn of 2016 would have had no idea of the trouble brewing within its ranks.

The four performances, featuring a staged tribute to the musical Les Miserables, were put on at venues included Buxton Opera House and Gawsworth Hall near Macclesfield and were the brainchild of Mr Kay, 70, who had been musical director and conductor of Tideswell Male Voice Choir since 2005.

During his 11-year tenure, the former sales director for Matchbox Toys had slowly transformed the ensemble from an old-fashioned troop of 30 or so men into a 60-strong choir much in demand.

They’d appeared alongside the Military Wives Choir and the Band of the Royal Air Force and with ‘people’s tenor’ Russell Watson. They even produced a CD of their repertoire which was entitled, rather ironically given the events which followed, One Voice.

In return for his work, Mr Kay was paid a salary of £12,000 from January 2011, which rose to £15,000 the following year. But by 2016 his ambitious plans and leadership style were starting to ruffle feathers in certain quarters, especially when professional soloists were brought in for the choir’s biggest performances.

There were complaints that having previously performed in dazzling gold blazers and ties, the men were now often dressed entirely in black and relegated to the role of chorus at the back of the stage behind the hired ‘stars’. Asked, for the sake of uniformity, not to wear their wrist watches on stage, some of them defied Mr Kay and timed exactly how long they sang for in comparison to the soloists.

Faced with all this discord, Mr Kay started to get, in the words of the choir’s former chairman Paul Dinsdale, ‘deeply p****d off’.

Dinsdale wrote about their griping in an email to Mrs Currie Jones in August 2016: ‘They’re fed up with singing what people will actually pay to come and hear. They snipe from the sidelines . . . they even accuse the man of financial malpractice. Hardly surprising that he is deeply p****d off.’ Maybe reading the runes, he added: ‘Do we need to be thinking about a future post-Dennis and, if so, what would it look like?’

What began as a handful of dissenting voices quickly descended into an all-out witch-hunt.

Former Salvation Army choirmaster Mr Kay found himself at the centre of unfounded accusations of financial misconduct and, as the situation deteriorated, Mrs Currie Jones, ex-South Derbyshire MP, became drawn into the melee.

By her own account, which formed part of a witness statement she gave at the tribunal hearing in April this year, her role ‘suddenly increased in April 2016’ when ‘choir men and officers increasingly asked for my advice.’

In November 2016, she chaired a special general meeting at which Mr Kay, who was not invited, was unceremoniously dumped following a vote. He lost by 16 votes to 15 after some members, objecting to the fact that Mr Kay was not invited to defend himself, refused to take part.

The following day the locks on the rehearsal room doors in Tideswell were changed to stop Mr Kay entering and a search for a new musical director began. Mr Kay tendered his resignation on December 6 of that year, saying that his position had become ‘untenable’. But Mrs Currie Jones confidently brushed away fears that he might be able to sue the choir for unfair dismissal, even claiming to the chairman of Tideswell Male Voice Choir via email: ‘I’ve helped make this law’.

She wrote: ‘As he was not an employee but self-employed, by mutual agreement, and as he’s resigned anyway, he can’t sue for unfair or constructive dismissal.

At the end of the hearing, the tribunal ruled in favour of Mr Kay and ordered the choir to pay him £8,000 compensation. He has also received £5,000 from two choir members following defamation cases settled out of court

‘He wasn’t employed so he can’t be dismissed. Should he attempt to go to an employment tribunal, that’s what they’ll tell him. I’ve helped make this law and seen numerous constituents bring cases.’ For all her bravado, Mrs Currie Jones’s advice appears to have been way off the mark.

In the months that followed, requests by Mr Kay and his solicitor to deal with the matter via the independent arbitration service, Acas, were turned down. And, when Mrs Currie Jones stood up to present the choir’s case at the tribunal hearing this April, she proceeded to make a string of extraordinary and unfounded allegations against him.

There were claims that he ‘had his hand in the bucket’, had stolen money raised for charity and had ‘fabricated’ a bonus payment for extra shows.

The truth was that the choir’s chairman had agreed in advance to pay both Mr Kay and the choir accompanist an extra payment of £500 each per show because of the extra work and hours required to work on them — an agreement later reneged on by the committee after incorrect claims that the shows lost money.

She also described him as being ‘bombastic and aggressive’ and said that she had ‘tried to make friends’ with his wife Helen, but ‘got the impression that they were ‘joined at the hip’, that he was the dominant partner and that she would do what he told her.’

She even accused him of being rude to her husband, JJ, ‘whom I had to drag away for fear of blows being exchanged’. Mr Kay, she said, had told her husband, who has undergone treatment for colon cancer, to ‘stand up straight’.

At the end of the hearing, the tribunal ruled in favour of Mr Kay and ordered the choir to pay him £8,000 compensation. He has also received £5,000 from two choir members following defamation cases settled out of court. Most of that money, he says, has been wiped out by the £10,000 legal costs he has had to pay. He says that without his choir salary, he has been forced to sell his home.

Mr Kay said this week that the ordeal had left him ‘wrung out’.

‘My wife and I have had counselling. We’re both still on medication. We haven’t been able to sleep. It’s the injustice of it all that hurts so much. We’ve taken such a battering.’

He is now considering taking legal action against Mrs Currie Jones for defamation.

Despite her usual loquaciousness, Mrs Currie Jones has declined to speak to the Mail about her role in these unfortunate events.

As for the beleaguered choir, it still meets each Tuesday in Tideswell, although its 38-strong membership is not quite what it was when it peaked during Mr Kay’s tenure. Mrs Currie Jones is still its president.

Despite the turbulent events of the past 18 months — not to mention Mrs Currie Jones’ humiliating tribunal experience — the show, as ever, must go on.

After she and JJ moved to the Peak District in 2011, she penned an article not long after about her ‘perfect weekend’ in which she described how she and ‘Hubby’ would walk their dogs wearing pyjamas under their coats and waxed lyrical about cosy nights in at their rural cottage.

No doubt, by escaping to the country she hoped to put all the bad headlines and attention behind her. But as this case surely proves, where there’s Edwina Currie, there will always be a drama. 

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