Minister is belle of the ball, even with Pippa and Poppy

The Times
© 2013 Times Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved
by Lucy Fisher

Minister is belle of the ball, even with Pippa and Poppy; Theresa May, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes this year, showed support for fellow sufferers and was praised for being open about her illness, writes Lucy Fisher.

More accustomed to jeers and criticism from fellow politicians in the House of Commons, the Home Secretary elicit-ed uproarious applause and praise at a charity ball.

The simple fact of her attendance at the Sugar Plum Ball for type 1 diabetes prompted the raucous welcome: Ther-esa May has become the poster girl for sufferers of the illness.

Mrs May discovered earlier this year that she had developed the condition. Her decision to attend the fundraiser, after speaking openly about diabetes in July, led to an outpouring of praise from sufferers and their relatives.

Justin Webb, a presenter for BBC Ra-dio 4’s Today programme, held up Mrs May as a role model for children with type 1 at the event.

He said in a speech that while he was “dismayed” that she has the condition, he was “delighted” that she had chosen to attend the event.

“You give enormous succour and support to people who want to believe that they, too, one day will succeed in careers and hold down difficult, de-manding Jobs and can cope with this ill-ness,” he said.

Mr Webb, whose son has type 1 dia-betes, also told the crowd, which in-cluded Pippa Middleton and the model Poppy Delevingne: “People who have it taking the trouble to come and say, ‘I’ve got it and I support this cause’ is enor-mously important. It’s really decent of you.” The screenwriter Julian Fellowes also attended.

Mrs May first re-vealed her diagnosis after hearing that false rumours were spreading among her Westminster colleagues about her two-stone weight loss.

She said that she would have to inJect insulin twice a day for the rest of her life but she vowed not to let the condition affect her political career.

“It was a real shock and, yes, it took me a while to come to terms with it,” she has admitted.

“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 get-ting on with it.”

A year ago doctors mistakenly told Mrs May that she had type 2 diabetes, which can be controlled by tablets and diet, but this spring type 1 – a chronic condition that requires sufferers to in-Ject insulin – was eventually diag-nosed.

She has since been hailed, however, for proving that the illness does not pre-clude sufferers from filling a challeng-ing, high-powered role. Her announce-ment also prompted Lord Ashcroft, a Tory pollster, to reveal that he, too, is a diabetes sufferer.

“It doesn’t and will not affect my ability to do my work,” Mrs May said. “I’m a little more care-ful about what I eat and there’s obviously the injections but this is something millions of people have.” She added: “I’m OK with needles, fortunately.”

Colleagues in the Conserv-ative Party have rallied round the Home Secretary since her announcement.

Mark Reckless, the Conserva-tive MP for Rochester and Stroud, said: “There is no reason why it should get in the way of the great Job she is doing. It is good that she is be-ing open about it as it will help raise awareness.”

Usually people with type 1 diabetes get their diagnoses in their teenage years.

Mrs May said: “I didn’t realise that at my stage of life you could develop type 1. But apparently there is a per-centage of the population in whom it’s latent and they just don’t know what it is that triggers it.”

Diabetes charities have also ex-pressed their gratitude to her for going public with her illness.

Sarah Johnson, the director of policy and communications at JDRF, the global type 1 diabetes charity which hosted the Sugar Plum Ball on Wednes-day, said: “We’re incredibly grateful for her candour in talking about her condi-tion, attending the event, and her com-mitment to research.”

She added: “Type 1 is a challenging and complex condition but Theresa May demonstrates to children that it doesn’t have to stop you following your dreams.”

More than 300,000 people in Britain have type 1 diabetes, according to the charity Diabetes UK.

The dangers of diabetes: Diabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels become dangerously high, which can damage many organs (Chris Smyth writes). Both types of the condition are caused by problems with the process by which the hormone insulin moves glucose from the blood into cells.

In type 1 diabetes, the parts of the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed by the body’s own immune system and sufferers will need insulin injections for the rest of their life. Theresa May is unusual in that type 1 diabetes tends to appear before the age of 40.

Symptoms can include feeling very thirsty or tired, urinating frequently or losing weight – Mrs May said recently that she had lost two stone (12.7kg) in 18 months.

If left untreated the condition can cause heart disease, stroke, eye and kidney damage and foot problems that can lead to amputation.