News Analysis

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Colourful past of minister Shatter wrought from sense of loss

Parents' death and family's emigrant history give clues about the life that shaped the man, writes Will Hanafin

Will Hanafin

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:30

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Alan Shatter is the classic outsider who's most comfortable at the heart of the establishment.

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I spent some weeks profiling him for Life magazine in 2011 and he opened up about his colourful past.

His parents were English and Jewish who met by chance when they were both on holidays in Ireland in 1948 and decided to settle here. His father, Rueben Shatter, was a Londoner while his mother Elaine Presburg was from Southport.

Their families were Polish and Russian emigres. Shatter's surname isn't even his real one. "The real name is Sachnin. When my grandparents on my father's side arrived in England they

were asked what their name was and they said 'Sachnin.' The British authorities couldn't spell it... and all their papers had the name Shatter on it." His grandfather's brother arrived the next year and he ended up with the surname Stamp because he said 'stamp!' as the emigration official stamped his papers.

With such a chaotic emigrant past, it's no surprise he tackled the citizenship backlog with great gusto since becoming minister.

Family tragedy has left him with no immediate relatives. "I presume somewhere in the distant past many of the relations who would have been there on my father's side would have perished in the Holocaust."

He's an only child and both his parents were dead by his early 20s. His mother's death while he was a teenager still affects him deeply.

"I had my 13th birthday and my Barmitzvah and six months later my mother died. It was at home. She had a series of difficulties. She would only have been in her late 30s or early 40s. She was just unwell... I just don't want to go beyond that," he said.

An unpopular granny was installed in the house with father and son Shatter after his beloved mother's death. "It was just my dad and my dad's mother – who was a very difficult individual – who would have been my grandmother. She moved in with us to be of some help. Let's just say at the age of 15 I was a pretty good cook!"

Stability was restored when he met his wife Carol at the age of 16. They married while they were both in Trinity and lived in his family home. Then tragedy struck once again.

"My dad passed away with a coronary in 1973 – a year or so after we got married. He'd had a heart attack, went to St Vincent's hospital, was given the all clear and the night he returned home he had another massive heart attack. He would have been 58."

His father Rueben made women's dresses in Nassau Street and during the Swinging Sixties. Alan followed in his footsteps.

"I made and designed wet-look coats made out of PVC, although we did get some classy alligator looking stuff at one stage. The Mary Quant look. They were really good... I used to call the stall in the Dandelion Market 'Drips'.

"When I was heading off to Trinity there wasn't too much money around. I had to make a few bob. This wet-look clothes craze started and one day I just sat down with pen and paper and I designed three coats. I suspect I could still do it. I was able to set out what I wanted to do and dimensions and everything else and I just went to this guy in Francis Street and I said, 'can you do this?' And he said 'yes'."

He still has a love of fashion and Shatter loves going clothes shopping with his wife. "I actually prefer shopping for clothes for my wife than myself. I encourage her on occasions to buy things. I used to occasionally buy things. You wouldn't always necessarily get it right."

Sunday Independent

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