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From a young age, Sue Gray was destined for great things. It wasn’t just that she pored over her school books with rare devotion while other children played outside on the street.

Or that she was sharp and persuasive, with an unusual equanimity. It was more, according to a relative, that she ‘had this aura, and when she spoke, even as a child, people listened’.

This week, possibly tomorrow, the whole country will be listening as he delivers his long-awaited Partygate findings: his unraveling of toxic claims and counterclaims about alleged Downing Street lockdown-breaking parties that may decide the Prime Minister’s fate.

From relative obscurity, Sue Gray has suddenly become the most famous civil servant in the country. Epithets applied to the 64-year-old man include ‘almighty’, ‘formidable’ and ‘executioner’.

Former cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin once quipped: “Our great United Kingdom is run entirely by a lady named Sue Grey.” Nothing moves in Whitehall unless Sue says so.

This week, possibly tomorrow, the whole country will be listening as he delivers his long-awaited Partygate findings: his unraveling of the toxic claims and counter-claims about the alleged lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street that may decide the Prime Minister’s fate.

But for all the talk of his omniscience, much of his past has, until now, remained a closed book, with even the most elementary biographical details unknown.

The Mail on Sunday may reveal that, unlike many of her peers, whose path to the top echelon of Whitehall was made easy by an expensive education and Oxbridge, Sue’s success was achieved from humble beginnings.

His parents were poor but hard-working Irish immigrants: his father, Leo, a furniture salesman, and his mother, Anastasia, a waitress of many years, who settled in Tottenham, north London, in the early 1950s. Sue was born in 1957, followed by her brother Kevin three years later. For several years, the family lived down the road from the Oakdale Arms, the large community pub where Anastasia worked, juggling raising children and having a pint.

Friends remember Anastasia, known to all as Cissy, as ‘charismatic’ and devoted to her family.

And her no-nonsense way of dealing with troublesome clients foreshadowed her fearsome daughter who, years later, would strike fear into ministers as director-general for decorum and ethics in the Cabinet Office.

In the 1970s, Sue’s academic achievements at a Catholic state school in north London were described by her cousin, David Howgill, 64, as “simply brilliant”. He said: “She was very motivated and it was obvious that Sue was going to have an amazing career.”

When he celebrated his 18th birthday in September 1975, he was contemplating college; but a month later tragedy struck.

His father, who always seemed to be in good health, died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 47. Money had always been tight but, with only Cissy’s income from the pub, the Grays faced serious difficulties.

The Mail on Sunday may reveal that, unlike many of her peers, whose path to the top echelon of Whitehall was made easy by an expensive education and Oxbridge, Sue's success was achieved from humble beginnings.

The Mail on Sunday may reveal that, unlike many of her peers, whose path to the top echelon of Whitehall was made easy by an expensive education and Oxbridge, Sue’s success was achieved from humble beginnings.

Family friend Hazel Dicks said: ‘In those days, and particularly in the area where Sue grew up, there was this attitude that you accepted anything that came your way.

‘You just had to do jobs to pay the bills, no one was there to help you. Sue lived in a tough neighborhood, kids were throwing bricks out windows, that kind of thing.

It’s easy to see why Sue gave up her dream of going to college and instead joined the Civil Service straight from school. Of this period, little is known. Relatives recall that he worked “long, exhausting hours” and that his mother was “concerned about his commuting to and from the office in the dark.”

Whenever her large extended family got together, Sue never mentioned work. “It was always said that she did something important for the government,” said a relative.

It was Mr. Howgill’s mother, Catherine, Cissy’s sister, who was instrumental in keeping the family together after Leo’s death. If Sue and Kevin, then 14, were devastated by their father’s untimely death, Cissy was even more devastated, falling into a depression from which she never fully recovered.

Catherine, known as Kitty, was an invaluable help and the two sisters were inseparable, later sharing a house. “They were always together, Cissy tall, Kitty much shorter, and they both dressed very well,” a neighbor recalled. Cissy died in 2003, aged 72.

Both mother and aunt were prominent figures in Sue’s early life and she drew inspiration from both.

According to Howgill, Sue didn’t have much time for boyfriends until she met Bill Conlon, a part-time Northern Irish country and western singer from the fishing village of Portaferry in County Down. “I think he was her first and only love really,” she said.

The couple, then 27, married in March 1985 at the Newtownards registry office near Belfast while Sue was taking a break from her career. A church wedding was out of the question since Bill, a carpenter, was divorced.

Bill’s dream had been to own a pub, preferably one big enough to double as a music venue. An opportunity arose when the Cove Bar, near the border town of Newry, needed new management.

At the time, Newry was a key battleground between the British Army and the IRA. A month before their wedding, nine policemen were killed and 40 people wounded in an IRA mortar attack on the RUC base in the town.

Sue’s stay in Newry is intriguing. According to Peter Cardwell, a former special adviser to four cabinet ministers: “Some speculated she was a spy, which she denies.”

From relative obscurity, Sue Gray has suddenly become the most famous civil servant in the country.  Epithets applied to the 64-year-old include 'almighty', 'formidable' and 'enforcer'

From relative obscurity, Sue Gray has suddenly become the most famous civil servant in the country. Epithets applied to the 64-year-old include ‘almighty’, ‘formidable’ and ‘enforcer’

In 1987, the couple returned to London, where their two sons, Liam and Ciaran, were born.

Sue resumed her career in the Civil Service, working in Whitehall in transport, health and labor and pensions, before joining the Cabinet Office in the late 1990s.

Relatives said Liam and Ciaran, now 30, inherited their parents’ sense of social justice.

A story from 2012 typifies the altruism of the family.

The five-member Paralympic team from Burkina Faso, West Africa, had arrived at Heathrow in the run-up to the 2012 Games only to find that a payment from their government to cover their accommodation and training facilities had failed to materialize, leaving them sitting . on the airport floor surrounded by their suitcases, with nowhere to go.

Liam, an official Paralympic meet and greet volunteer, saved the day. The then 24-year-old took them to the family home in Essex. The three men in the group stayed with him at his parents’ house for three and a half weeks, while the two women were housed in a nearby convent. Also, Liam found them new equipment and a place to train.

For now, your friends and family will just have to wait, like everyone else, for the results of your investigation.

For now, your friends and family will just have to wait, like everyone else, for the results of your investigation.

‘It was an absolutely wonderful thing to do,’ recalled another close relative. Sue’s two children are lovely. And all credit to Sue and Bill for assembling the team unannounced. At the time, Liam, now chairman of the Irish Labor Party Society, called it a “privilege, not a chore.”

Sue surprised many five years ago when she moved to Northern Ireland to head the Finance Department in Belfast. Before returning to Whitehall last April, he sent a farewell email to his senior colleagues, explaining that due to restrictions, he was unable to mark his departure socially.

A Mandarin from Belfast who knew her well said: “She certainly brought energy and drive and had a different perspective than most people you would meet in the Civil Service.”

For now, your friends and family will just have to wait, like everyone else, for the results of your investigation.

Howgill was not surprised last week when his cousin chose not to respond to his text message wishing him “good luck with the Boris report.”

“She has always been very private,” he said. ‘Private but down to earth. The whole family is very proud of Sue.

“And her mother would be so proud that she did so well.”


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