20 OCTOBER 2001, Page 80

Seven out of ten

Petronella Wyatt

Apparently, that is according to one of the Magyar girls who live in my house, there was a question on 147w Wants to be a Millionaire? about politics. Of course, as her grasp of English is Hungarian to say the most, she may have thought it was about molluscs. Or pork chops. But she claimed it was, 'Who is the new leader of the Tory party?'

The contestants had reached 16,000 quid. And there they stayed. lain Duncan Smith? That might as well have been the name of a maker of ladies' hats, for all they didn't know. And who wants to discriminate against the megabrains who populate TV quiz shows? Even after the Tory party conference last week most people in this country still think the leadership contest was won by Michael Portillo.

From the beginning, you recall, when pollsters showed various men and women television footage of Mr Duncan Smith, some of them referred to him as William Hague's uncle. This is just it, or not it. In the sex-appeal stakes, well, no one wants to seem to hold his stake. It is not even medium rare, let alone well done. This is what Mr Duncan Smith has to overcome if he hopes to become prime minister — the already disseminated view that he has no sex appeal.

Funny thing this sex appeal and politicians business. In the past, the less sex appeal the man had the more successful the statesman. For instance, Pitt the Younger, cold, haughty and shy and unable to clinch any sort of deal with the opposite sex or indeed his own. Then there was Robert Peel, whose colleagues, including the young Gladstone, found him charmless. But these days, as Raymond Chandler might have written, there's got to be sex in it somewhere.

So here we have Mr Duncan Smith, Is he sexy? Last week, or shortly before, I decided to find out. I went off to interview him at Conservative Central Office and would like to report my impressions. Would he be like Hague, that is, odd-seeming in a way one couldn't quite place, like an actor playing a role to which he wasn't by nature suited?

First, I liked what Mr Duncan Smith was wearing. A navy-blue suit, saved from being fogeyish by its immaculate cut. His tie was dashing without being loud — the sort of tie you could imagine twirling in your fin

gers in a playful manner, though of course no such disrespectful thought occurred to me.

But the hair, you say, the hair, or rather the lack of it. There are baldies and then there are baldies. Mr Hague's follicular sparsity drew attention to his oddness. Mr Duncan Smith's baldness drew attention to his rather fascinating, undulating nose. It had the sort of authority tempered by impishness that was not at all an unattractive prospect.

'Are you going to do anything about your baldness?' I asked him. 'Will you be wearing a baseball cap in the near future?' He snorted in a nonchalant kind of way. 'God, no. I have no intention of changing the way I look at all.'

After a while I thought he was the kind of man it would be nice to meet in the bar car of a train — if they still existed. Well mannered without being wimpish, and confiding without acting like someone on a confessional game show. His sister, Susan, is quite a cool doll who lives in Rome and promotes pop singers. Then there was the fact that he admitted to having been called lain Drunken Smith while in the army, so obviously unlike Hague's careful announcement of having once drunk so many pints of beer. As I remember, Hague never drank at all. The first time I met him he ostentatiously poured himself a glass of Pimms and then pretended to sip it in a way you would have booed in a simple rep player.

Another reassuring thing was that Duncan Smith seemed younger than his age rather than older. At least he didn't try to pass himself off as a cross between Kitchener and Ken Dodd. I would say then that, on a scale of one to ten, I would give him seven for sex appeal. Which isn't bad at all. That's about a point more than I would give Blair, although every prime minister's sexual attractiveness seems to rise during a war. Anyway, there is nothing unmanly about kin. If he carries on in this vein he may even become a gay icon. The Marlene Dietrich of the Tor y party.