Mary Parkinson was well-educated, well-groomed, attractive and well-connected — in other words, a woman who had been dealt a hand of cards that can make life both worthwhile and rewarding.
However, appearances can be deceptive. The gifts that fate had bestowed could not soothe the turmoil that raged inside the mind of the late Lord Parkinson’s daughter. It was a burden she, at times, found hard to carry as she battled years of drug addiction during which she once admitted with lacerating candour: ‘I so very much wanted to please my father.’
The ebbs and flows of her tortured life led her down dark alleyways and finally to her premature death. Earlier this week, the 57-year-old spinster, beanpole thin and frail after succumbing to anorexia — the eating disorder that first gripped her as a teenager — was found dead at her £900,000 home in Battersea, south-west London.
Mary Parkinson was found dead at her £900,000 home in Battersea, south-west London earlier this week
Parkinson was well-educated, well-groomed, attractive and well connected. She is pictured with her parents Cecil and Ann
Friends say her death was being treated as a case of suicide. They were also saying that the tragedy could be directly linked to the death almost two years ago of the father she worshipped.
Cecil Parkinson had been one of the towering figures of Margaret Thatcher’s government, a man whom many thought might become her successor as prime minister but for the revelation that he had fathered a daughter with his secretary in 1983. It wrecked his political career.
Mary, the eldest of his three daughters by Ann, the wife who stood by him over his affair with Sara Keays, was the only one to break the family’s long silence over the scandal. She praised her father’s former mistress for the way she had struggled to bring up her disabled daughter, Flora.
With that same candour she had demonstrated years earlier, Mary — who never met her half-sister — said Miss Keays ‘had done a brilliant job’.
As for her own relationship with the father she adored, it is worth going back to the day Mary was fined for possession of drugs in 1987. Standing on the steps of the court, she said of her father: ‘He used to get really angry with me because he had never known failure in his life. The pressure on me was too much, and I just cracked.’
Mary, the eldest of his three daughters by Ann, the wife who stood by him over his affair with Sara Keays (above with her daughter Flora)
Her problems began at an early age. She suffered from anorexia at 14, while studying for her O-levels. At university, she discovered drugs and alcohol and quickly became addicted
After losing 11 years to the black hole of drug addiction and a chaotic life in which she was admitted to 22 different clinics, Mary did turn her life around.
But locals in the terrace street where she had settled believe Cecil’s death at the age of 84 triggered a new round of pain from which she never recovered.
Neighbour Keith Edwards, 69, said Miss Parkinson had been admitted to hospital for psychiatric treatment twice in the past year. He said he believed her recent struggles had been sparked by the death of her father.
‘She stayed with her mother on and off for the past year,’ said Mr Edwards. ‘This was her fourth suicide attempt.
‘Her neighbours managed to save her last time after breaking in through her garden. She went into Queen Mary’s Hospital to receive psychiatric care just after Christmas last year. She was in hospital again in September. It followed the death of Cecil, and I think that’s what triggered it all.
Her mother helped her by setting up the charity, Action on Addiction, to give her something to do. But after the initial recovery, and a brief period working with the charity, she was back on drugs
‘On several occasions she broke into tears when I bumped into her. I lost my wife last year, so we were both in the same boat and we were both depressed.’
Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, said Miss Parkinson was rarely left on her own at home after her previous suicide attempt. She said: ‘It looked like people were keeping a close eye on her. She obviously couldn’t cope with being in the house on her own, so it seemed like someone was always with her.
‘When she came home, she was always with someone, but that’s the strange thing about Sunday night — she must have come back with no one there.’
Ryan Wheeler, 21, whose father Alan discovered his neighbour dead after breaking a downstairs window, said sadly: ‘She did yoga classes and seemed very happy, so when she tried to take her life the first time, it came as a bit of a shock because I didn’t think she was depressed.
‘Luckily the first time around they were able to save her, but second time around they weren’t so lucky.’ Just over two months ago, police were alerted after Mary was reported missing and found miles from her home — in East Sussex.
For Lady Parkinson, suffering the cruel loss of a daughter in what would have been the year of her 60th wedding anniversary must be unbearable.
Years ago, when Mary was lurching from crisis to crisis, Ann Parkinson admitted: ‘Once you have been through an experience like this, nothing can even touch you in the same way again.’
It was the closest she came to breaking her omerta on the Sara Keays affair. For her, the struggles of her daughter — not Cecil’s love child — were front and centre of her life.
How often she and her husband must have asked why the curse of addiction should be visited on their bright and vivacious Mary.
As a child, she had wanted for nothing. Her life was the same as those of her younger sisters, Emma and Joanna — good schools, holidays abroad, friends of the family in high places, should she need them.
Her childhood memories included idyllic family holidays in Cornwall, where she swam and played golf
Her childhood memories included idyllic family holidays in Cornwall, where she swam and played golf. She excelled at sports and her parents bought her a horse when she was a teenager. Winter holidays were spent skiing.
But her problems began at an early age. She suffered from anorexia at 14, while studying for her O-levels. At university, she discovered drugs and alcohol and quickly became addicted.
She tried everything, from ecstasy and speed to cocaine, and nearly died three times as a result of her addiction to heroin.
For more than a decade she was in and out of treatment centres as her parents tried everything to help her, footing bills of £2,500 a time. But instead of welcoming such gestures, she became devious and would run up huge bills on her father’s gold American Express card to feed her habit.
On one occasion she spent £42,000 on drugs and a Rolex watch on Parkinson’s card. She became well known to police, who once picked her up for prostitution in Brighton. In 1990, at the age of 30, she was arrested for drink-driving.
The Parkinsons’ energies were poured into their eldest child, but she did not seem to care, and attempted suicide several times. While her father was a government minister, he would visit her in 22 clinics in all. Her heartbroken mother has said that she believed her daughter would die.
Mary once said that her problems stemmed from the pressure of being Cecil Parkinson’s daughter. ‘I wanted to be successful and I wanted to be the best in his eyes, as any daughter does,’ she said.
Mary is pictured with Cecil, Ann and her sisters Jo and Emma at a party. Just over two months ago, police were alerted after Mary was reported missing and was found safe and well miles from her home in East Sussex
She kicked her drug addiction once, at the age of 21. Her mother helped her by setting up the charity Action on Addiction, to give her something to do. But after the initial recovery, and a brief period working with the charity, she was back on drugs.
‘There was a lot of pressure on me,’ she said, although later admitting her upbringing was the same as both her sisters, who were fine. ‘I was portrayed in the Press as being this wondrous person who was spending her life saving other desperate drug addicts. I believed all that nonsense and I felt I had to be an angel.’
For the next four years, she was once more an addict, finally kicking the habit for good in 1990. She worked briefly as a fitness instructor and then fronting a football show for a satellite TV channel.
But the demons were never truly far away. Now, they have finally overwhelmed her. Yesterday, a Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘At this early stage the incident is not being treated as suspicious.’
Last night, a friend of Mary, said: ‘When I saw her last week she had become stick-thin and very frail. She was very depressed, but she had been that way before and always pulled through in the end. Maybe her latest illness had weakened her that much that she just could not do it any more.’
- Additional reporting Chris Greenwood and Tim Lamden
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