THERE is a file newspaper photograph I find myself coming back to time after time as if, in its static, curiously old-fashioned pose, it can provide me with a clue to this Brexit debacle.

A couple sit on a sofa, their only child between them, looking straight into the camera lens with a startled, wary, don’t get too close, look.

The father, a clergyman, has a firm grip on his daughter’s hand – the mother clasps her own hands over her knee which is not glimpsed under the dress which comes well below it.

But it is the child – the six-year-old Theresa May – who draws the viewer. Or rather her hair. For this is 1961, yet this curious young/old creature could have emerged from a Victorian portrait.

A no-nonsense fringe cuts across the forehead; the hair flows to waist-length in waves that surely were made by unnatural means of rags used in the night.

Hair that needs to be brushed and brushed, perhaps by the mother who takes enormous pride in it.

It is clear Theresa is the centre of the world around her and yet, even then, out of step with the bigger world.

JFK has just been inaugurated in the United States; the UN General Assembly condemned apartheid; Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space; Americans were advised to build bomb shelters as the Cuban missile crisis intensified and fear of nuclear war invaded every child’s mind.

Closer to home, Britain first applied to join the EEC but was given short shrift by an arrogant, disdainful General de Gaulle who said simply: Non.

Fashion was in flux – Audrey Hepburn wore drainpipe jeans and a French Breton sweater. Music, too, with Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison being chased up the charts by girl group, The Shirelles, with their pulsating mix of rhythm and blues, doo wop and soul music.

They were merely the outriders, giving notice of powerful innovators to come.

Suddenly after years of post-war austerity, life – urgent, technicolour, hungry life – was bursting its way through the drab strictures of suburbia, then still a land of antimacassars, brown furniture and three distinct classes, where places were known and kept to.

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Yet one senses that here in the English vicarage of a good man, his ‘help meet’ wife and dutiful daughter, a clock still ticks and chimes in the background and faces are turned against the unstoppable surge of change.

From her own words we know it was her father who gave her abiding faith; her morals and her outlook on life. I sense, perhaps wrongly, her mother remained sidelined, unable to break through this bond.

He also allowed her to actively, if privately, work for the Conservative Party in local back rooms from the age of 12. Her love for the party was as fierce as that for her father.

No friends have ever been found to talk of jolly, naughty outings with this solitary soul. She had need for nothing and no-one beyond her family until at university she found a similar man to herself, and her father, Philip.

Had I met her during any of those years, I would have dismissed and disliked her as priggish, closed and ultimately unknowable. But, actually, I wouldn’t have hung around that long to find out.

I was too busy, even within the confines of my Convent, looking outwards, yearning for all that was to come – for journalism, travel, experiences of others’ lives. Yearning for real life itself to begin. I already saw in technicolour.

Last night I closed my Mac, life drained, head sore from a day and night watching the shame of the Palace of Westminster and her.

At times she had that same passively defiant look of the child in the photograph; but the mother and father are long dead. Her touchstone, Philip, sat in the gallery…her only confidant in this world.

Her ‘deal’ failed, her party deserted her as evidenced by the empty benches beside and around her. Even her voice had drifted away.

Yet I felt no pity, no sympathy, for she has given none, both as Home Secretary and PM, in her blinkered, emotionally stunted quest for the closed, narrow, world of the vicarage of times past.

Over many, many years of interviewing, I’ve found that the clue to the present is always found in the past. In the child. It’s not rocket science but so many miss it.

Almost without fail I’ve found the driven man was the bullied 10-year-old who has spent his life proving his worth to those who told him he was worthless.

He never thinks that those tormentors now proudly boast they were at school with him. They have long moved on but he has not.

The Johnsons, the Goves, the Rees-Moggs et al, are ultimately but a side show – a disastrous one to be sure – to May’s immutable centre.

She, above all, must take blame for the horror that has, and is, unfolding.

She has lied, manipulated, sneered and shamed us all. She will leave perhaps one of the worst legacies of any Prime Minister.

But she will never acknowledge such. For she still lives in the world of that photograph…. secure, safe and confident that her truth lies here.

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