Penny Mordaunt: From grafting for Ukraine to making a splash on TV - meet the Portsmouth MP now odds-on favourite to be the next prime minister

IT WAS a stuffy Saturday morning, writes chief reporter Tom Cotterill. Our cramped office was packed with boxes of military clothing, body armour and medical supplies.

By Tom Cotterill
Thursday, 14th July 2022, 2:32 pm

All of it needed cataloguing, all of it needed packing - all of it destined to head to Ukrainian troops battling Russian invaders.

And tirelessly sifting through everything was Penny Mordaunt - Royal Navy reservist and trade minister.

She launched the appeal for kit days before with The News and was a driving force behind the campaign, which had been a stunning success.

Pictured is: Penny Mordaunt MP carrying rations into The News's HQ which will be sent to Ukrainian troops battling Russian invaders Picture: Sarah Standing (070322-360)

Scores of people from across the UK donated kit – so much kit, in fact, that it almost filled our entire office.

Sorting through it was a mammoth task. But far from leaving it to others to do, Ms Mordaunt was working through the weekend with her team to prepare it all for shipping.

It said a lot about her character: practical, selfless, focused and hard working. It showed she wasn’t afraid of the hard graft to get the job done.

In many ways, I wasn’t surprised by this. I’ve dealt with Penny for the past six years, first as armed forces minister, then international development secretary and the first female defence secretary to equalities minister.

Penny Mordaunt at the launch of her campaign to be Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, at the Cinnamon Club, in Westminster, London.

Whenever I’ve dealt with her, she has always been friendly and charming. She is professional but approachable, someone who is always willing to support a campaign.

She is a force to be reckoned with.

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But she is also someone that has had to grow up quickly.

Penny Mordaunt at the launch of her campaign to be Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, at the Cinnamon Club, in Westminster, London.

Born in Torquay as one of twins, she moved with her family to Portsmouth at the age of two.

Her mother died of breast cancer when she was 15 – the same year her father was also diagnosed with cancer – turning her into a ‘child carer’, looking after her twin and her younger brother.

Penny paid her way through sixth-form college by working as an assistant to a Portsmouth magician called Will Ayling - all while still juggling her role as family matriarch.

Before heading to Reading University to study philosophy, she spent a ‘life-changing’ year working in Romanian orphanages.

UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt during consideration of the Ministerial and Other Maternity Allowances Bill in the House of Commons

Her formative years instilled a sense of compassion and hard work that have carried through into her political career.

In 2018 while working as international development secretary she became the first minister to use sign language at the dispatch box in parliament while discussing a global disability conference.

She is also someone who isn’t worried about walking a different path to other political rivals.

She attracted scores of admirers – and raised her political profile – during her 2014 appearance on Splash!, in which celebrities are trained to dive by Olympic medallist Tom Daley.

Penny gave all the money she earned from the show to charity after performing a painful belly-flop on national television.

As well as raising eyebrows on Splash!, she also caused a stir in parliament during a notorious speech in 2013 in which she repeatedly used the word ‘cock’ after losing a bet with some of her Royal Navy colleagues.

Excell Metal company shop opening with Penny Mordaunt at Hilsea, Portsmouth on Monday 24 January 2022 Pictured: MP Penny Mordaunt touring the Excell Metal workshop Picture: Habibur Rahman

She is someone that embraces her flaws and turns them into strengths. She is unashamedly dyslexic, having been diagnosed with the condition at the age of 47.

I remember her speaking movingly in parliament about her condition while discussing children with learning disabilities being unable to access school. It was brave.

And she is not afraid of a fight. Back in 2018, while on a trip to Somalia, Penny carried a pistol with her if she needed to defend herself from kidnappers and terrorists.

She was a keen supporter of Brexit, despite it initially being an unpopular stance and has been outspoken on many issues, from LGBTQ rights, and IVF, to supporting the armed forces and the disabled.

Insightful and sharp-witted, Penny has shown she has the mettle for senior leadership.

Poll after poll have revealed she is a popular figure in the Tory party, consistently beating rival Rishi Sunak.

It’s no surprise then, that she is the bookies’ odds-on favourite to become the next prime minister.

We will only have to wait a few more weeks to find out.

If she does become the next PM, it’s unlikely I will see her again sifting through boxes in our office in Lakeside.

However, one thing is clear: if she is to be our next premier, I have no doubt that Ukraine - like it was on that stuffy Saturday morning - will remain a key focus for her if she does make it into Number 10.

Veterans from Portsmouth rallied to support the joint campaign by The News and Penny Mordaunt to supply tactical kit to Ukrainian freedom fighters. Forgotten Veterans UK, supported by SAS hero Phil Campion, delivered a van load of "life-saving supplies" to The News's Lakeside HQ. Pictured is: (l-r) Gary Weaving, CEO and founder of Forgotten Veterans UK, Penny Mordaunt MP and Phil Campion. Picture: Sarah Standing (070322-464)
Penny Mordaunt hands in a petition against Aquind to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy on Thursday, June 10 2021.