Profile: Gail Sheridan

TO THE watching world, Gail Sheridan was the glamorous and loyal wife, who frequently had a beaming smile for the cameras as she walked in and out of court these past weeks.

But to her friends and family, the real Gail Sheridan was the woman who, with great relief at being able to make it, settled down to watch daughter Gabrielle perform in her first nativity play yesterday afternoon. The five-year-old was cast as a snowflake, not the biggest role perhaps, but Gail could not have been more proud.

For all the pressure she has been under over the past few years, it was how the scrutiny would affect her daughter that worried her most.

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The defamation and perjury trials have turned her into something of a style icon, but in a media-hungry world, where every Big Brother and X Factor contestant is desperate for their five minutes of fame, she remains surrounded by a close circle of friends and family, and is firmly rooted by her Catholic faith.

She married Tommy, her childhood sweetheart, and after taking voluntary redundancy from British Airways, where she worked as a stewardess, is now a full-time wife and mother.

Gail Healy and Tommy Sheridan, born just a couple of months apart in 1964 - she in January and he in March - had known each other since they were in their teens at school.

However, they did not start a serious relationship until the early 1990s.

They married in June 2000 and she tried to follow him into the political arena, standing without success in a council election. Despite this, those who know her do not doubt her capability.

Jim Monaghan, 47, a writer and researcher from Cumnock, said: "I've known Gail for about five years and we keep in touch quite a lot. The thing about Gail is, because she's in the background, she's the wife, people don't realise how tough she is.

"She was a shop steward while at British Airways and she's very strong in a quiet way. Gail is not someone people would think of as strong politically, but she is very savvy."

He added: "She helped me recently in a way that not many people would have done, and I'm very grateful to her for that."

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As well as the pressure of the court cases, Gail has had to cope with being suspended from BA following the discovery of miniature bottles of drink in her home.

It was some months before allegations of theft were dispelled and she was reinstated by the airline. Earlier this year, after 25 years with BA, including the period during which her husband was a Scottish Socialist Party MSP, she took voluntary redundancy.

Friends said she would have carried on if it had not meant switching to long-haul flights and therefore having to spend long periods of time away from her daughter.

Joyce Drummond, 38, a family friend, said: "She's a strong, strong woman with a daughter who she dotes on.Gail's focus has been on keeping life as normal as possible for her.

"It was Gabrielle's first nativity and (the court] breaking up early meant (Gail and Tommy] were able to attend it. That meant so much to them."

Tommy's sister Lynn Sheridan, 52, a university lecturer in social work from Glasgow, said of Gail: "She's extremely perceptive, kind, gentle and strong.

"We socialise a lot as a family, but we're good friends too."