Our lives with Jack, by his adopted daughter

HANNAH McConnell's dad might have the most important job in Scotland, with all the trappings that power brings, but she didn't have the easiest start in life.

The 26-year-old is now busy carving out a good career for herself working for the British Council in London. Strikingly tall and slim, she is intelligent, witty and self-assured, with the poise of a woman a decade older. Hannah has a well-paid, interesting job, a wide circle of friends and a great relationship with her parents and her younger brother Mark. From the outside, she looks like a young woman who has it all. But by her own admission, she was an unhappy child. Hannah was born to Bridget McConnell and her first husband Richard Brown, a musician with the rock band Procol Harum.

It was, by all accounts, a bad marriage. Hannah was just four years old when she realised her mum was being abused and it is hardly surprising that she was traumatised by it.

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However, she now talks about it in a matter-of-fact way, as if she was describing something that had happened to someone else - as if describing another life. Certainly, the one she leads today is very different from the one into which she was born. Both she and her brother Mark, now 21, were deeply affected by their mother's unhappiness.

Bridget McConnell was working as a Community Arts Officer with Stirling Council when she made the decision to get out of her marriage. She had just met Jack McConnell who, at the time, was a rising star on the council and shared her interests in the arts. It wasn't long before Hannah and Mark were to meet the man who was to become their father by adopting them.

Hannah was six years old when she met Jack, but she doesn't recall the first time she was introduced to him. She remembers being taken to visit him in his flat in Stirling and the first time she went to Arran.

She said: "My dad obviously hadn't been round kids that much and he turned up wearing a pair of white jeans, a white shirt and a white jacket. By the end of the boat journey, he was covered in Coke which we had accidentally spilled all over him. He could have lost his temper but he didn't - he laughed it off. He was great with us and we loved him being around."

Hannah and Mark took to Jack instantly. Hannah was impressed that he listened to the same kind of music that she did. Hannah paints a picture of a childhood divided in two. The early part was dominated by insecurity and unhappiness and the second part was one of a normal, happy, family life. It is perhaps because of the first part that she appreciated the second part so much.

Although the kids liked Jack as soon as they met him, the most significant impact he made on Hannah's life was to change the way she saw her mother. Hannah said: "She was happy, relaxed and enjoying herself. I had never seen her like that before. And here was a man who was such a contrast to the man we had had in our lives before - it was great."

Soon, Bridget started divorce proceedings against her husband. The process was to be a lengthy and bitter one. Richard Brown fought for joint custody of his children and they were forced to go to and live with him in Fife for several weeks.

Between Hannah's mother leaving her father and marrying Jack, she went to five different primary schools. "I wasn't doing very well at school. While we were up north, I had to learn Gaelic. It was a very unsettling time. I never felt that my biological father wanted us for the right reasons. It was as if we were just part of his belongings and nobody else was going to have us."

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After the divorce was finalised, things settled down for a time but, when Jack and Bridget decided that he should adopt her children, there were more problems to come.

Jack set up home with Bridget and the children in late 1987 and they were planning to marry. The process of adopting Hannah and Mark could not begin until after the couple were married. There ensued a battle for custody of the children as their biological father contested the adoption. Hannah was desperate for Jack to become their father in the eyes of the law.

Eventually on 5 March, 1991, a sheriff ruled that Jack McConnell should become father to Hannah and Mark, who were then aged 11 and seven. It was a highly unusual decision to take parental rights away from a biological father and grant them to another man instead. However, after just one hearing, the sheriff was convinced by the case and found in Jack's favour. It is a date that the family celebrate annually as Adoption Day. The First Minister has described the first time that Hannah called him dad as the happiest day of his life. She says: "It was just spontaneous - it seemed natural. Nobody told me I should do it - I just wanted to."

Jack had decided earlier on that he did not want to have any children with Bridget. Perhaps because he realised the effect their early childhood had on them, he threw himself into making the youngsters' home life as secure and loving as he possibly could. Indeed, he hardly kept this particularly sensitive decision to himself. He was off work as a teacher for an extended period in 1992 ahead of his leaving do, an absence which prompted a frenzy of gossip in the staffroom at Lornshill, where he worked.

However, in an act of typical Jack bravado, he stood up in front of dozens of former colleagues and decided to put them out of their misery. Jack said: "I know many of you have been wondering why I have been off work for such a long time. Some of you think I have spent the time plotting. That would have been far less painful than the circumcision and vasectomy operation I have just undergone."

Some of Jack's close friends believe that, for a man who loves children, it must have been a sacrifice to make the decision not to have any more kids, but that is not his view. It is a decision which, years later, Hannah McConnell appreciates. "We had been through a difficult time and were probably quite damaged by it," she says. "We were asked our view about whether they should have more children but I am glad that he made that decision. I think it could have been very difficult for us if another child had come along. My dad made us feel very loved and secure for the first time in our lives and I am extremely grateful for that."

She admits raising concerns with him about the Dungavel Detention Centre. "I have pestered him about one or two things and he certainly listens to what I have to say, but I'm not sure that anything I have said has influenced him in any way."

Hannah's closeness to her parents was emphasised by her decision to spend a New Year holiday with them at the turn of 2005 rather than spend the time with friends.

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The fact that her parents were going to stay at Kirsty Wark's villa in Majorca probably helped make up her mind. Hannah has known Kirsty and her husband Alan Clements since she was a child and gets on well with both. She is also very fond of their two children, Caitlin and James. Little did Hannah realise when she agreed to go on the holiday that it would attract such huge press attention. She was completely surprised by the row that followed her parents' decision to go on the trip.

Asked if it angered her, Hannah's response is clearly thought out: "No, because if it angered me, then that would mean that it had really got to me and I don't let it affect me that much. I would say it left me feeling very frustrated. This was a story of two families who have known each other for many years choosing to go on holiday together. I think it would be a real story if my dad told us we couldn't speak to them any more now that he is the First Minister.

"It is laughable to say there is influence there - as if they spent the whole time plotting. The only thing we plotted was which family would win at Scrabble and we spent more time discussing what I would wear to my boyfriend's house and what presents I should take for his family than anything else."

Although Hannah McConnell understands the way the press works, it is clear she thinks that the level of intrusion into her family's life in recent years has gone too far. If she doesn't admit to being angered, then she is obviously irked at some of the areas of their lives which attract headlines. She cites her mother's car being broken into as one example.

The fact that she dated the TV presenter John Leslie a couple of times is something else that she believes is irrelevant to the public interest.

One Saturday night, the Clements family arrived for dinner at Bute House to be greeted by a bemused Jack McConnell who posed the question: "What would you least like your daughter to be doing this weekend?"

This was at the time when the accusations surrounding Leslie were at their height. He was at the centre of rape allegations, so Clements joked: "Dating John Leslie?" But, as it later transpired, the TV host had, in fact, asked Hannah out on a date. Jack had spent most of that day fielding questions from the press about the liaison and several newspapers carried the story the next day. By coincidence, two newspaper executives, Colin McLatchie of News International and Andrew Jaspan of the Sunday Herald, were also at the Bute House dinner. Hannah was furious that they were going to be running the story and she told them so. According to Clements, it wasn't an out-of-control outburst but an articulately argued case as to why she believed this was not newsworthy. Hannah was involved in student politics and worked in the House of Commons for Michael Connarty MP. She understands the game and can hold her own.

It is obvious that Hannah finds it easier to live in London while her father carries out the job of First Minister and she avoids reading the Scottish newspapers most of the time.

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"I don't think I could live in Scotland at the moment - it's too much of a goldfish bowl. I just wish they would give people their privacy. My mum has her own life but everything she does is scrutinised and I find that very frustrating and unfair on her.

"It's dreadful reading things about your parents in the papers when you know that it's not true.

"I see my dad working almost every hour that there is in the day and all people want to go on about is who he is going on holiday with. Sometimes I wonder if his job is worth doing - it seems such a thankless task. But then I speak to him and I know he loves it and gets so much out of it."

Despite seeing the drawbacks and pressures that go with the job of being First Minister, Hannah McConnell has not ruled out engaging in Scottish public life in the future.

Asked if she would consider standing for the Scottish Parliament herself, she smiles and says: "I'm not sure, not at the moment."

Jack McConnell did not come from a political family, but the McConnells may end up being a Scottish political dynasty.

Lorraine Davidson. From Lucky Jack - Scotland’s First Minister by Lorraine Davidson to be published by Black & White Publishing on 22 September 2005 at 14.99. To obtain a copy of Lucky Jack by Lorraine Davidson at the special pre- publication price of 12.99 ( p+ p free), please call Black & White Publishing on 0131 625 4500 quoting the reference ‘ Scotsman Offer’. Offer ends 30 September 2005; please allow 14 days for delivery.

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