May, 56, revealed that doctors told her two months ago she was suffering with the chronic illness and must now inject herself with insulin at least twice a day for the rest of her life. The Conservative politician, widely tipped as a future party leader, said that while the illness had caused health setbacks, these would not interfere with her role as a prominent member of David Cameron‘s government.
“The diabetes doesn’t affect how I do the job or what I do. It’s just part of life … so it’s a case of head down and getting on with it,” May told the Mail on Sunday.
The home secretary’s revelation follows speculation that she had undertaken a drastic weight-loss programme over the past 18 months as part of a style makeover in preparation for a possible Conservative leadership bid. She said, however, that although she had been attempting to adopt a healthier regime since taking office in 2010, her illness was partly the cause of her weight dropping nearly two stone.
“It was a real shock and, yes, it took me a while to come to terms with it,” she said. “It started last November. I’d had a bad cold and cough for quite a few weeks. I went to my GP and she did a blood test which showed I’d got a very high sugar level – that’s what revealed the diabetes.
“The symptoms are tiredness, drinking a lot of water, losing weight, but it’s difficult to isolate things. I was drinking a lot of water. But I do anyway. There was weight loss but then I was already making an effort to be careful about diet and to get my gym sessions in.”
May’s admission follows an intense period of political activity for the home secretary due to issues such as the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada and enforcing cuts to police budgets. Her emergence as a strong presence in the cabinet has fuelled rumours that she harbours ambitions to challenge Cameron as Tory leader. Dismissing claims of a “machiavellian plan” to seize power, she demurred when asked whether her illness would prevent her from one day taking the top job. “There is no leadership bid. We have a first-class prime minister and long may he continue.”
Shortly after details of May’s diabetes were revealed, Justin Webb, the BBC journalist and Today presenter whose son also suffers from type 1 diabetes, offered his support via Twitter. He wrote: “Much sympathy for Theresa May who is diagnosed with T1 diabetes. Sonia Sotomayor [US supreme court justice] has it so no bar to high office!”
Tony Ellis, a former assistant editor of the Liverpool Echo now working in the health sector, criticised the Mail on Sunday interview for “ignorant, trivialising and scaremongering” reporting of type 1 diabetes.
According to May, when doctors told her she had the condition, which means her body does not produce insulin, they initially thought she had type 2 diabetes. Around 90% of diabetics have type 2, thought to be primarily caused by obesity, and 10% suffer from type 1, caused by the destruction of islet cells in the pancreas. Despite the more serious diagnosis that followed, May said she is comfortable with the daily regime needed to maintain her health.
“It doesn’t and will not affect my ability to do my work. I’m a little more careful about what I eat and there’s obviously the injections, but this is something millions of people have … I’m OK with needles, fortunately,” she said. “Tiredness – speak to any politician and they will tell you the hours they work. Tiredness can be part of the job. It is full on.”
The Maidenhead MP has been married to banker husband Philip for 32 years. The couple have no children. She first made an impact on politics by declaring in 2002 that the Tories had become “the Nasty party” because of a perceived tough line on issues such as race and welfare.
“There’s a great quote from Steve Redgrave who was diagnosed with diabetes before he won his last Olympic gold medal. He said diabetes must learn to live with me rather than me live with diabetes. That’s the attitude,” May said.