UK Politics

Sally Bercow urged to pay Big Brother fee to taxpayer

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Media captionThe former Channel 4 show relaunched on Thursday with the wife of the House of Commons' speaker Sally Bercow as one of the contestants

Sally Bercow, wife of the Commons Speaker, is being urged to give some of the money she is earning to appear on Celebrity Big Brother to the taxpayer.

She is donating £100,000 of her £150,000 fee to charity, paying £20,000 to publicist Max Clifford and keeping the remaining £30,000.

Labour MP Kate Hoey said Mrs Bercow was not paying rent on the apartment in Parliament in which her family lives.

As a "public figure", Mrs Bercow should contribute to its cost, she argued.

Mrs Bercow, whose husband and former Tory MP John has been Commons Speaker since 2009, is one of 11 contestants taking part in the Channel 5 reality show, which launched on Thursday evening.

'Grace and favour'

By tradition, the Commons Speaker and their family live in a grace-and-favour apartment - known as Speaker's House - within the Palace of Westminster.

Some MPs have been pressing for the Speaker, who earns about £146,000 for his dual role as Commons figurehead and constituency MP, to pay rent on the lodgings.

Miss Hoey, who represents Vauxhall, in south London, told BBC News: "If she is earning that amount of money, why should taxpayers - and my hard-pressed constituents - contribute to her living in rent-free accommodation?"

"If she is a public figure, why is she not contributing to the cost of her accommodation?"

But Mr Clifford dismissed the Labour MP's criticism, saying: "This grace-and-favour accommodation is her husband's.

"Would Kate Hoey prefer it if she moved out of there with her three children?"

'Own person'

He added: "I am a Labour supporter, but it doesn't really bear too much looking at."

Mr Clifford described Mrs Bercow as a "socialist" and said she expected to be attacked for appearing on Big Brother by "traditional Tories".

"She expects there will be a lot of criticism, most of which she will enjoy," he told the BBC News website.

"She is her own person. She is not her husband's representative."

He said she had agreed to appear on Big Brother to raise her profile and "wants to speak to Simon Cowell about potential TV projects".

Mrs Bercow was not receiving as much money for appearing on Big Brother as Kerry Katona, another of Mr Clifford's clients, who is being paid £300,000, while singing duo Jedward are receiving £500,000, claimed the publicist.

The Celebrity Big Brother launch show was watched by more than 5.58 million viewers, according to unofficial overnight figures - the fourth biggest audience in Channel 5's history.

During its expenses investigation in 2009, the Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Bercow had spent £45,581 on redecorating the apartment in Parliament, including new wallpaper, furniture and televisions.

Mr Bercow said he had spent £20,000 on making the accommodation suitable for his family. But he said the rest of the refurbishment was maintenance required by the parliamentary authorities, due to the building's age, and he had no say in it.

'Not chuffed'

Miss Hoey said she did not care whether Mrs Bercow appeared on the programme or not.

"She can do what she likes," she added. "I don't watch Big Brother and I am even less likely to do so if she is on it."

Mrs Bercow has said she is appearing on the show to raise money for the charity Ambitious About Autism and to "stick two fingers up to the establishment".

Asked what her husband's reaction was, she said. "He is not exactly chuffed about it. He was not very pleased but he knows what I am like. He respects the fact that I do my own thing."

Mrs Bercow, a Labour activist who failed in her attempt to become a local councillor last year, has courted controversy in the past.

She told the Evening Standard earlier this year that her husband had become more sexually attractive since taking on the job, with more women trying to "hit on" him.

The interview was accompanied by a picture of her posing in a bed sheet against a backdrop of Parliament. She said she was a "fool" to agree to this but said it was "harmless fun".

Mr Bercow, himself unpopular with some Tory MPs, has dismissed attacks on his wife by the media, saying she is an "independent" figure and "entitled to her views".

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