She’s come under fire for contesting the decision of the nation, but what is life like now Brexit challenger Gina Miller has won her historic court ruling? Elizabeth Day speaks to her
Margaret Thatcher famously survived on four hours’ sleep a night. Gina Miller claims she only needs three. ‘It’s just that something always needs to be done,’ she explains. Recently, ‘what needed to be done’ was the not inconsiderable matter of mounting a legal challenge against the Prime Minister’s plans to leave the EU without the approval of Parliament following the 23 June Brexit referendum vote.
Miller, a 51-year-old investment manager and philanthropist, was the lead claimant in a case that saw three High Court judges rule earlier this month that Parliament must have a vote on any plans to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Although the Government is appealing, Miller’s victory has seen her hailed as a hero by Remain voters. ‘I don’t think I’m anybody’s hero,’ she insists. ‘But it’s nice to hear.’
Miller talks like she sleeps: rapidly, with little time to waste. She is engaging, with a ready laugh often directed at herself. As a mother of three, Miller is also busy. Very very busy. ‘I’m not a great exerciser, I really don’t have time to look after myself,’ she admits. The High Court battle meant she had to forgo her regular bikini wax appointment: ‘I joke that I look fine on the outside, but no hedge-trimming is happening beneath – I don’t have the time!’
She has kept her sense of humour, but she has been subjected to a tirade of misogynist online abuse since the ruling, including threats to gang-rape her and racist insults. How is she coping with the onslaught? ‘I can’t let myself think about it,’ Miller replies. ‘I will do at one point but I can’t right now. The thing that’s carrying me through are the heartbreaking messages and calls I get from people who felt so alienated from the country they live in. I didn’t anticipate this, but it’s given them light and hope.’
Miller was born in Guyana, where her father was Attorney General. She was sent to Moira House, an all-girls’ boarding school in Eastbourne when she was 10. School was tough: ‘It was just the fact that I spoke differently, I looked different... I felt very much an outsider.’
Her mother used to wear Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps perfume and had given the young Gina a bottle to take with her so that she wouldn’t be homesick. ‘The first weekend, the girls poured it out and filled it with water,’ Miller recalls. ‘As a 10-year-old, those things are hurtful.’
That early experience left Miller with an innate sense of justice. It was this same instinct that prompted her to pursue her Brexit legal challenge: ‘I’m a combination of a nosy parker and someone who has a real hatred of people being bullied or if something’s not truthful. I never think anything is too big for me, simply. In the playground, I stood up for anyone who was being bullied.’
"I'm a combination of a nosy parker and someone with a real hatred for people being bulled"
Gina Miller talks to the press after the High Court judgement on 3 November
Miller’s parents found it increasingly difficult to send her money because of the domestic political climate in Guyana. After two years of boarding, she and her 15-year-old brother, who was being educated nearby, became day pupils and lived on their own in a at in Eastbourne. Miller found part-time work as a hotel chambermaid. She married for the first time at 20 and had a daughter, Lucy-Ann, now 28, who was deprived of oxygen at birth and is now severely disabled.
‘It makes you tough,’ says Miller. ‘I don’t cry over spilt milk or look backwards. It’s really important to focus on the positive and my daughter is the most extraordinarily emotionally intelligent person and that’s what makes her special.’
After her first marriage failed amid allegations of domestic abuse, Miller was Lucy-Ann’s full-time carer and ‘did everything I could to survive, from leafleting to greeting at Pizza Express. We were living in a one-bed flat in Stoke Newington [North London]. I was sleeping on the sofa.’
In 2002, Miller started work at a new investment firm and met her now- husband, Alan: ‘At the time, I was very upfront. I said, “You know, I’m not an easy person because I’m impassioned and very determined.” And he said, “Well, that’s not going to put me off.”’
The couple now have two children: Luca, 11, and nine-year-old Lana, who has been giving her mother fashion advice for all her various TV appearances (she’s not a fan of jackets, apparently). Miller truly believes women can do anything if we believe in ourselves. ‘Many women will knock on the door and the first word out of their mouth is “sorry”,’ she says. ‘We need to stop saying sorry and own the space. It’s not about being showy; it’s about having principles and that starts from knowing who you are.’
If the Government’s Supreme Court appeal is successful, it will mean that Miller’s legal action will have come to nothing. How will she feel if that happens? ‘Oh, we’re winning,’ she says matter-of-factly. After 30 minutes in her company, I don’t doubt it.