NICK Clegg, the newly elected Liberal Democrat leader, does not believe in God, he revealed yesterday.
The 40-year-old declared his lack of faith in a radio interview. He also declined to say whether he had ever taken drugs, citing the Tory leader David Cameron's argument that politicians had the right to privacy over what they did before they entered public life.
Mr Clegg said he was not an "active believer" but, like former prime minister Tony Blair, he is married to a Catholic and has committed himself to bringing up his children as Roman Catholics.
Asked directly in the interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, "Do you believe in God?", Mr Clegg replied simply: "No."
Later, he said he had "enormous respect" for people with faith and added: "I'm married to a Catholic and am committed to bringing my children up as Catholics. However, I myself am not an active believer, but the last thing I would do when talking or thinking about religion is approach it with a closed heart or a closed mind."
Asked if he had ever taken illegal drugs, he said: "I'm going to cast a veil over that. It's the one thing I agree with David Cameron on. I think politicians are entitled to a private life before they go into politics."
Keith Porteous Wood, the executive director of the National Secular Society, praised Mr Clegg for his honesty about his beliefs.
He said: "I do not think that he should be disadvantaged because of the fact that he does not believe…Some people who represent religious institutional views may try to make his political life difficult as a result of that."
In a round of interviews to mark his elevation to the Lib Dems' top job, the Sheffield Hallam MP and former MEP spoke of the "message of optimism, energy and ambition" that he wanted people to associate with his party.
He also unveiled Brian Eno, of Roxy Music, as his adviser on youth affairs.
Mr Clegg, the Lib Dems' third leader in two years, has left people in no doubt that education will be near the top of his agenda, and he used a visit to a school in London to launch an attack on both Labour and the Conservatives, claiming two-party politics in Britain was "dying on its feet".
In an apparent bid to shake off comparisons with Mr Cameron, he accused the Tory leader of pursuing "the politics of presentation" and dismissed his proposals for tax incentives for married couples as "naive and patronising".
"Much more importantly, it shuts out the millions of people who do not live their lives like that," he said.
Mr Clegg seized the leadership on Tuesday after a ballot of party members, beating off his rival, Chris Huhne, by an ultra-slim margin of a little over 500 out of more than 40,000 votes cast.
He is expected to give Mr Huhne a top job in his front-bench reshuffle, which is due to be unveiled today.
Nick Clegg met his future wife, Miriam Gonzlez Durntez, while they were studying at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. They married in September 2000. He is said to have learned Spanish while they were courting. They live in staid, middle-class Putney, south-west London, with their two young sons, who speak both Spanish and English. After the birth of their first child, Mr Clegg took a long paternity leave so that his wife could return to work first.
EDUCATION AND BACKGROUND
Ms Gonzlez Durntez's mother is a science teacher and her father was a conservative senator in the Spanish parliament. Mr Clegg's mother, a special-needs teacher, is Dutch and came to Britain as a child following incarceration in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Indonesia. His half-Russian father is a banker; his aristocratic grandmother fled St Petersburg after the tsar was ousted. Raised in Buckinghamshire, Mr Clegg was educated at Westminster School and went on to study social anthropology at Cambridge. He won a postgraduate scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he studied the political philosophy of green campaigners.
Ms Gonzlez Durntez is an international lawyer and has worked as an expert on the Middle East peace process at the Foreign Office.
The television presenter Louis Theroux is a good friend of the Cleggs: they once took a road trip across North America together. He is also close to the film director Sam Mendes, the husband of Kate Winslet, and he once acted opposite Helena Bonham-Carter in a university play.
Nigella Lawson lookalike Ms Gonzlez Durntez favours conservative chic – polo necks and pearl earrings – but she didn't get it quite right at the leadership announcement on Tuesday, opting for a black suit and a floral shirt. She shops at Zara on the high street. Mr Clegg prefers a fairly sombre suit, almost always with a blue tie. Not the most individual dresser, his floppy, public-school fringe is probably his most distinguishing characteristic.
During his gap year, Mr Clegg worked as a ski instructor in Austria; he is an expert skier. He speaks five languages and counts reading and going to the theatre among his interests. The couple enjoy hiking in the Peak District, and also holiday at her parents' house in Spain.
The Camerons met through Samantha's sister while at university. They have three children: Ivan, Nancy and Arthur. Ivan, five, was born with cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy. The couple have homes in both Notting Hill, west London, and Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.
EDUCATION AND BACKGROUND
She is the eldest daughter of Sir Reginald Sheffield, 8th baronet, an old Etonian landowner. Her parents divorced after five years and her mother married another old Etonian, William Astor, 4th Viscount Astor. After initially saying she was raised "near Scunthorpe", it was revealed that, to be more specific, she grew up on her father's 300-acre Normanby Hall estate, which has been in the family since 1590. She went to the private School of St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon, then Marlborough College in Wiltshire, and studied fine art at Bristol Polytechnic. Her husband grew up in Berkshire with his stockbroker father and his mother, Mary Fleur Mount, the second daughter of Sir William Malcolm Mount, 2nd baronet. He went to Eton, then studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford.
Samantha is co-owner of Oka, her mother's interior-design shop in Notting Hill, and creative director of the stationery and leather goods firm Smythson of Bond Street.
When supermodel Kate Moss asked Cameron for his phone number, he must have thought it was too good to be true. It was; she merely wanted him to do something about her flooded weekend house in Oxfordshire. However, he can console himself with the fact that Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole has admitted to having a crush on him. His wife, on the other hand, was a celebrity schmoozer from a young age. She was friends with hip-hop star Tricky during her days at college in Bristol.
Cameron is famous for his green ties and for donning a pair of Converse trainers and an open-necked shirt. His wife is regularly seen in Topshop outfits, which she often teams with a 1,000 bag from, of course, Smythson. She was on the cover of Harpers Bazaar in August 2007, but loses style points for a dolphin tattoo on her ankle.
We all know he enjoys cycling, but he's also a fan of stag hunting. The Camerons take regular family holidays on the vast estate belonging to her stepfather, Viscount Astor, on Jura, where deer outnumber people by 30 to one.