Belfast Telegraph

Former Tony Blair aide who wed Belfast boy and fell in love with Ireland dies on Christmas Day from cancer

By Joanne Sweeney

She was the "straight-laced" English girl who married a Belfast boy - and discovered a strange affinity with Northern Ireland.

They should have lived happily ever after but Kate Gross, a former aide to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister, died from colon cancer on Christmas Day at her Cambridge home.

The wife of Belfast-born engineer Billy Boyle, Kate had written a heart-wrenching blog on how she envisaged spending her last Christmas Day with her husband and five-year-old twin boys Oscar and Isaac.

However, the 36-year-old succumbed to her illness two years after being diagnosed - and just minutes before her young sons awoke to open their presents.

Ms Gross had been one of the youngest ever senior civil servants when she worked for former Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and went on to lead the African Governance Initiative, a charity of which Mr Blair is now a patron.

Mr Blair tweeted: "Kate's death at such a young age is utterly tragic. My thoughts and prayers are with Billy, the boys, Kate's parents and her many friends."

Kate's husband Billy tweeted two days after her death: "Strangely comforting to see so many tweets about my darling" as social media tributes to her poured in.

The former Cambridge graduate is the co-founder of Owlstone Nanotech scientific company.

The couple married on February 9, 2013 and Kate recalled in a moving comment she made at their wedding that meeting her husband at a poker party for the first time was like a moment in a movie.

"We met in the hallway as I exited the loo. I looked at him and thought, first, he was the most handsome man I had ever seen, and second, that somehow I recognised him as someone I had always known," she wrote.

"That moment was the closest I have come to being in the movies. It was nine-and-a-half years ago, and I have loved him more and more with every day we've spent together since then."

Her mother Kathleen posted a comment which said that her daughter died at 6.29 on Christmas morning and added it was: "Ten minutes before Oscar and Isaac asked 'Is it morning?' - so just long enough for Billy to hold her hand and say goodbye before stocking-opening, which of course cannot be delayed." The former civil servant's fascination with Northern Ireland, and the world which her husband grew up in, featured heavily in her moving blog posts that she wrote throughout her illness.

Describing herself as an "very establishment English girl" married to an Irish Catholic, Kate speculated in November 2013 on what their sons' half-English and half-Irish heritage would mean to them over the years.

She wrote: "For the boys, being Irish means being part of a pack. It means having a gang of kids to chase around with.

"It means funny accents, being swung from the feet by Uncle Colin and fed contraband goodies by their smiley Aunties.

"For me, the whole thing is a glimpse into a delightful foreign world, a world which makes me feel up-tight, straight-laced, and very, very English."

Kate's eloquently written posts also included touching images of a family holiday to parts of Co Down.

Her book of articles, Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life), is due out in January.

Quotes

"I have had this disease for over two years, but now I am drawing in like the December nights, knocking on the door of what Philip Gould called the death zone - the great winding-down we all will face." Kate Gross, December 11

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph