- She dated Cameron in the 1990s while working at Conservative Party HQ
- It’s thought he was so shaken by their split that he never romanced someone in politics again
- By 2008 she had apparently become overwhelmed by problems with substance abuse
PUBLISHED: 16:09 EST, 28 April 2012 | UPDATED: 04:22 EST, 29 April 2012
With her long serge habit, make-up-free face and closely cropped hair hidden by a traditional wimple, she appears indistinguishable from her fellow Benedictine nuns.
Sister John Mary is devoted to a never-ending ritual of worship and work at her convent with the 36 sisters who follow the Rule of St Benedict on an isolated 400-acre farm.
It’s a life she was called to but it is hardly one the 44-year-old glamorous blonde seemed destined for when she worked in London at Conservative Party HQ – with her ambitious young boyfriend David Cameron.
Sister John Mary’s real name is Laura Adshead. She is a former pupil of £24,000-a-year Cheltenham Ladies’ College, from where she went up to Oxford – meeting Mr Cameron when they were young undergraduates.
Laura dated him from the spring of 1990 until summer 1991, and while he worked at Conservative Central Office, she went on to become the then Prime Minister John Major’s correspondence secretary.
Then their lives took different turns. Mr Cameron was selected for political stardom, while Laura left politics to study at the Wharton business school in Philadelphia.
She became an executive in Manhattan for Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency that inspired the television drama Mad Men – but the stresses of success, and, perhaps, of personal rejection, finally proved too much for her.
She descended into a world of drinking and addiction before finally finding salvation in God at the abbey in the Connecticut hills, three hours north of New York City.
‘I did think my life would progress on the normal tracks of meeting someone, marrying, having children, but that’s not the path that God has led me,’ Sister John Mary says in a new documentary revealing her story.
Photographs are shown of her when she was a young woman, posing in a leopard-skin top, dragging on a cigarette and savouring a glass of wine.
But she admits that her lifestyle then brought her little except loneliness.
She says: ‘I feel like I tried most things in life that are supposed to make you happy. That journey took me down into alcoholism and drug addiction.’
It has been suggested that her downward spiral may have started soon after her break-up from the future Prime Minister.
In a 2007 biography of Cameron, a former colleague of the pair at Conservative headquarters recalled Laura being granted a ‘period of compassionate leave’ to recover from the heartbreak.
The authors say Mr Cameron was also shaken by the split and its aftermath, and add: ‘Perhaps as a result of the fall-out from his affair with Adshead, Cameron thereafter dated women outside politics.’
Laura later went out with the historian Andrew Roberts, one of Mr Cameron’s friends.
When she moved to New York to work as a strategic planning director at Ogilvy & Mather, she found herself part of a social whirl that included aristocratic Europeans and American trust fund heirs.
Newspaper diaries chronicled her presence at society events – at one polo match she mingled with Prince Albert of Monaco, Estee Lauder’s granddaughter, Aerin, and a billionaire polo-playing friend of Prince Charles, Peter Brant, who is married to model Stephanie Seymour.
She spent freely, renting a £15,000-a-month summer home with pool and tennis court in the exclusive enclave of The Hamptons on Long Island, regarded as the summer seaside playground of America’s wealthy elite.
But by 2008 she had apparently become overwhelmed by problems with substance abuse, and declared that she had decided to become a nun. She recalls: ‘I remember having to tell my mother, “I’m going to join the abbey,’’ and she said, “Yes, I can see this world has no real meaning for you any more.’’ I looked at this place and saw women who had what I wanted.
‘You make a decision here to surrender your life to God.’
Laura seems to have embraced the lifestyle wholeheartedly. The film shows the formal ceremony that she went through in order to join the order of nuns.
‘I did think my life would progress on the normal tracks of meeting someone, marrying, having children, but that’s not the path that God has led me.’
She is seen dressed in a smart fuchsia dress and knotted pearls – then happily allowing the sisters to untwist her long blonde hair from a bun and cut it back.
A wimple is then placed around her head before she is introduced to the congregation by her new name.
‘This is the only place I could see myself being – because this is where it’s at,’ she says.
She is seen at prayer, weeping with emotion. ‘She really is committed to the abbey,’ said a source who met her at a service to which the public were admitted.
‘Her mother and sister were at the service. The nuns chanted in Latin. It was very beautiful.’
Last week, answering a telephone call from The Mail on Sunday, the convent’s porter, Mother Deborah Joseph, described how, as a novice, Laura must go through an apprenticeship known as ‘formation’.
Laura took her vows four years ago, but formation lasts for as long as five-and-a-half years.
Only at the end of this apprenticeship will she be eligible to take holy orders and assume the title of ‘Mother’.
Asked whether Sister John Mary could speak, Mother Joseph said she was too busy to come to the phone, explaining: ‘She’s out of the house and on the land. She’ll be busy until Vespers.’
To outsiders, the regime at the Abbey of Regina Laudis may seem harsh. The first bell of the day rings at 2am to announce Matins.
Then it clangs at first light, again at 8am for Mass and then at regular intervals until Vespers, at 5pm.
Chores for interns such as Laura include mopping the chapel floors, tending a herd of dairy cattle and scrubbing the pails that senior nuns use to churn butter.
Laura is embracing the lifestyle, despite the apparent hardships. ‘A monastic life, this is where the struggle is,’ Laura says in the film.
‘There’s no way out. You don’t get to leave and go to a movie.
‘You don’t get distraction from all the human emotions. It’s like this hothouse where things get worked out.’
The film featuring Laura is called God Is The Bigger Elvis, the title referring to the convent’s Prioress Mother Dolores and her former life, which was also glamorous.
She is a one-time Hollywood starlet, Dolores Hart, who appeared with Elvis Presley in two of his films, Lovin’ You and King Creole, before entering the order in 1963.