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Betrayal: when you have been let down by your friends

Three writers on the moment they realised they'd been stabbed in the back

Published 29/02/2016

Prime Minister David Cameron and Boris Johnson
Prime Minister David Cameron and Boris Johnson
MP Michael Gove and wife Sarah Vine

Prime Minister David Cameron was reportedly furious when his friend Boris Johnson announced that he was joining the lobby campaigning for the UK to leave the EU.

Obviously viewing this as an act of betrayal the PM, already reeling from the fact that six Cabinet ministers are also urging a ‘no’ vote in June’s referendum, launched a lengthy and scathing attack on Boris, in the Commons, an indication of the depth of his anger.

It was a dramatic fall-out between the Old Etonian chums, although the PM later tried to soften the blow by calling Boris a great Mayor of London with a lot to offer the Tory party — even if he was wrong on this issue.

An even closer friend of the PM, Michael Gove, has also joined the ‘no’ camp and his wife, Daily Mail columnist, Sarah Vine, described recent days as “a bit of a nightmare”.

She added: “At the end of the day only he could make the final decision: to make the choice between loyalty to his old friend, the Prime Minister, and his own heartfelt beliefs.”

David and Samantha Cameron were guests at the Goves’ wedding and Sarah Vine is godmother to Florence, the Camerons’ youngest child.

Vine says she is glad her husband made his choice. “If, at the end of the day, he can’t stand up for what he believes in, then what’s the point?” 

Betrayal is one of the most hurtful acts of behaviour that anyone can suffer and three writers tell how such disloyalty still rankles with them long after the original event.

Suzanne Breen: My career in journalism would have been over before it began had it been down to one woman. To say she took an instant dislike to me is an understatement.

She did everything in her power to thwart me professionally but a casual onlooker would never have guessed. Her sabotage was conducted with the sweetest of smiles.

This woman was one of my bosses early on in my career. She was about a decade older than me and newly appointed to management.

I knew she didn’t like me from the get-go. She didn’t have to say anything. There was just an edge in her voice and a look in her eyes when she was speaking to me, the type of behaviour that a woman instinctively recognises in another woman.

It didn’t bother me unduly.  People don’t have to like those they work with to get the job done. But then it started — the marginalisation, the spiteful behaviour, the unfair treatment.

There was a group of us young journalists who started freelancing together but she’d routinely give me the worst jobs.

She’d hold court, lavishly praising the others — all men — while never managing a positive word for me no matter what good stories I brought in. Then I was invited to go to London to take part in a Channel Four series, Burning Books, and that made her worse.

I’d left university with my head full of feminism and sisterly solidarity, and here was the bitch of bitches, alive and well, sitting at the desk in front of me. She was the archetypal man’s woman and one of the most manipulative people I’ve ever encountered.

The editor liked me so she couldn’t get rid of me but she tried to freeze me out. When she was drawing up the work roster, I got minimum shifts. I lived on a pittance.

Once she came into a cafe where I was having lunch with my then boyfriend. She greeted me like a bosom buddy. “I’ll look after you with work over Christmas,” she declared, eager to impress my boyfriend. I’d already seen the holiday roster — I hadn’t secured a single shift.

Another time, she sent me to a story in Clonard Monastery. “Wear a skirt,” she instructed. I was astounded. I knew she had no right to do that. I told another member of management. “Just do what she says,” he advised.

She’d never get away with that nowadays but, back then, sexual discrimination at work wasn’t a priority and, besides, a young freelance counted for nothing.

Such was the detrimental effect she had on my life for two years that I’d find myself wishing for divine intervention when she went on holiday. Maybe that plane will crash or that cruise ship will sink, I’d pray.

It never did and I ended up going to work elsewhere and doing okay. I know she acted as she did because of low self-esteem. She felt threatened — even though she had no need to — by a younger woman with a university education.

As a female in management, she was thankfully the exception not the rule. The happiest time in my career was the six years I spent working for a woman editor, Noirin Hegarty, in the Sunday Tribune.

Once I had left my first female boss’s orbit, I never again thought of her or plotted revenge. She was utterly insignificant to me. Then, stories started circulating about other women she was bullying.

She eventually experienced her own multiple work disasters but that didn’t give me any pleasure.  Although, about 10 years later, I ran into her in a bar.

“I know we didn’t see eye-to-eye in the past but you’ve done well for yourself,” she gushed. I had a split-second decision to make — whether to smile sweetly back or speak my mind. I chose the latter. “But we didn’t have a harmless disagreement, you tried to wreck my career,” I said.

I’m glad I did. I’m still a feminist. As former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright said: “There’s a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women.”

Una Brankin: I would say teenage girls can be the most disloyal, fickle creatures and I had the misfortune of being betrayed by a group of them at Rathmore Grammar School in Finaghy, just outside Belfast, when I was 14 or 15. I've never forgotten what they did and I've had a very hard time forgiving them over the years.

There were five of us in a group who travelled on a daily hour-and-a-quarter long bus journey to and from the school, in Finaghy. One morning on the bus, I was sitting beside one of the girls, Kate Mulholland, who, through no fault of her own, was slightly less popular than the rest. She was chatting to a boy known to the whole group and happened to make an utterly harmless passing comment - so innocuous I can't recall it exactly - in reference to a fellow pupil who had died.

The boy misinterpreted it, stupidly, and reported back to the rest of the girls, who pounced on it as an excuse to victimise Kate.

I tried to explain she meant no harm, so they turned on me, too. Worse, they spread their venom throughout the whole fourth form, leading to a vitriolic campaign against us by a bunch of stereotypical Mean Girls and a couple of pathetic bitchy boys (the school was co-ed).

I was kicked in the lower back as I knelt at my locker and threatened with a beating by a giggling Belfast girl who'd never spoken a word to me before. And as the lies spread, there was constant cat-calling and verbal abuse in the school grounds, to the point where Kate and I were completely isolated.

Then, the leader of the pack - ­our former friend - turned violent. Standing over us on the bus and jeering at Kate, she asked me what I was looking at. "Not much," I blurted, nervous as I was.

In response, I got a clout across my face from her big, meaty farm-girl hand, while the rest of my former friends sat in silent acquiescence a few seats behind. Bully-Beef scuttled back to them, laughing.

My cheek stung the whole way home; the humiliation, a lot longer. It all came to a head one day afterwards, when Kate was off sick and I was sitting alone in the middle of the bus on the way home, my nose against the window, trying to ignore the back seat brigade.

Half-way through the journey, a burning bundle of bunched-up newspaper sheets and other detritus landed at my feet. I still don't like to think what would have happened if had landed on the extremely flammable empty seat beside me - ­­we're talking 35 years ago, here, when the restrictions on fabrics weren't as stringent.

Fortunately, a local teenager, who shared my surname, sprang up from his seat on the other side of the bus and stamped out the flames. But the psychotic schoolgirl hadn't finished with me or Kate yet, and - beyond the bullying ­- this is where the heart of the betrayal lies.

A few days later, Kate and I were asked to stay behind after morning class with our form teacher. I remember the looks and sniggers directed our way as the others shuffled out of the classroom, leaving us scared stiff of what was to come. We had been skipping out of school early on a few occasions to catch the bus home from Lisburn, rather than having to endure the entire journey with our tormentor, and I knew instinctively we'd been reported.

The form teacher admonished us and said she'd be informing our parents. Well, I never put in a day like it. The sheer dread was paralysing and my mother's thunderous face, when she collected me from the bus home, said it all. My dad, who had never told me off in his life, met me in the yard with a stern scolding (despite the fact he'd bring sandwiches to my brother's hide-out up the road when he was mitching. But that's another story.)

Covered in shame, I just couldn't explain to my parents what had been happening. It sounded like an excuse, and mum was friendly with the other girls' mothers. Anyway, they'd done their worst and eventually moved on to some other small-minded preoccupation, and as time passed, Kate and I were gradually re-incorporated into the group.

But it was never the same. I didn't trust any of those girls one inch and my self-esteem, already fragile, had taken a hammering.

As a result, I became paranoid of being rejected, for the rest of my teenage years, and fell into seedy company outside school, which took advantage of my weakness.

In a horribly vicious cycle, another betrayal of trust ensued. (But that, too, is another awful story).

Thankfully, the genuine friends and respectful husband-to-be that I met at university restored my trust in humankind. In later years, I came to realise all those betrayers in my past were the weak ones and I learned to forgive them.

But, if you're reading this, you former Rathmore girls, rest assured I won't forget...

Jane Graham: The worst thing about any kind of betrayal is what a fool it makes you feel. Even sharper than the anger at having been lied to is the humiliation. You saw yourself as a savvy observer of human behaviour; turns out you were just a common or garden sucker.

My only experience of betrayal was when I was part of a team launching a new magazine. We were promised the world by the owners and managers funding the project. Specific bonuses of thousands of pounds were discussed, on delivery of particular milestones.

The early meetings were full of excitement and positivity, and the editorial team, comprised mainly of people in their early twenties, were eager to get stuck into their creative new jobs. The bigwigs offered nothing but supportive words, and guarantees that we had a long, thrilling future together. For a few months, it felt as if all our Christmases had come at once.

Now that I’m older and wiser, and know a few more things about publishing, I can see there were warning signs. But at the time I had nothing but optimism and good faith. I believed we were working for a reputable company (there was much grand talk about clients they’d delighted in the past, one of whom was the current Prime Minister) who were keen to harness our energy and provide a high quality platform for our numerous ideas. So I made quick excuses for minor setbacks, like a website that looked like it had been built in the first days of the internet, and ran at a pace which suggested it was steam-powered. We were disappointed that the magazine launch party, which we’d been told would involve a headline-grabbing stunt halfway up a Harland and Wolff crane, ended up being a small soiree with cheap wine and egg sandwiches, soundtracked by a DJ who appeared to have parted company with pop music in 1985. But we brushed doubts aside — doubts are a drag when you have big plans for the future — and believed the manager when he assured it was just red tape and time constraints that had got in the way. Everything seemed to be going okay for the first few issues, though we had to bite our tongues when management insisted on vulgar, badly designed advertorials serving their other products or those of their partners. Pious sermons about being good God-fearing people were suffered on the basis that we had creative freedom on the page.

The mag itself did well for a newbie, outselling NME in many outlets. It wasn’t until the benchmarks for bonuses came and went and the money didn’t arrive — the owner told the editor the cash wasn’t through yet, but he was getting a weekly bonus in the form of his own passed-down wisdoms — that we began to get A Bad Feeling. Then writers told us they hadn’t been paid. Even the providers of the egg sandwiches hadn’t been paid.

The money had been promised on the basis of wild future projections. Within a few months the whole project was pulled. It felt like a massive betrayal, a kick in the gut. Not just the deceit, but the exploitation of so many people’s passion and exuberance. Over the years it stopped hurting, and the experience became a source of some very funny stories about youthful naivety. But if I saw the perpetrators today, I’d still cross the street to avoid them. And it would be a good few hours before my blood stopped boiling.

Belfast Telegraph

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