It’s been just over a year since Nickie Vella De Fremeaux’s life changed overnight when her husband Adrian Delia became the new leader of the Nationalist Party.
In a surprisingly frank interview with Lovin Malta, she lifts the lid on everything from how she and her five children have adapted to life in the public eye, to how she feels when she is accused of undermining her husband, to the reality of her own mental health.
The interview was nearly two hours’ long and these are the most interesting parts that emerged from it.
1. Their children were ‘completely against’ their father becoming PN leader from the start
Vella De Fremeaux confirmed her husband had taken the decision to enter politics singlehandedly and that her life changed dramatically when he told her he was planning to run for the post of Opposition leader.
“From Day One, when Adrian told me he was going to run for leader, my life changed from day to night,” she said. “People used to know who I was but it never effected my life and privacy. [The transition] was mind-boggling, it was very hard to digest and it gets harder and harder as time goes by.”
She confirmed that her children, in particular her second daughter, were “completely against” their father running for leadership of the Nationalist Party and had made their opinions clear to him from the start.
2. And they’re not enjoying life in the public eye
Vella De Fremeaux admitted her children have had a hard time adapting to life in the public eye, so much so that they no longer want to go to the beach with her in case people recognise them and take photos of them.
“We used to do so many things together; we used to go out to eat, go to Gozo…but when you end up having to almost become a recluse… I don’t even enjoy it myself… I don’t enjoy being recognised wherever you go and it’s very very daunting for the children to the extent where one of them said they want to change their surname. It’s very hurtful, more so because there are people who are working against what my husband believes in, which is ultimately what I believe in.”
3. She regrets Delia’s decision to run for politics but believes his heart is in the right place
Although in hindsight she regrets her husband taking the plunge into politics, Vella De Fremeaux nevertheless believes his intentions are genuine and have been so from the start.
“I don’t know how the hell he doesn’t [get out of politics],” she said. “When you’re seeking to save democracy and are seeing that your children are broken, I ask myself ‘What’s happening? Why would you want t keep on persisting?’”
“Adrian’s a persistent person and this is a question of character. If Adrian believes in something then he’ll do it because he believes it’s for the better of his children and because he wants to save them from living in a situation where it would be much worse than living in the 80s because if the government wins two-thirds of Parliament, it could amend the Constitution and turn Malta into a dictatorship.”
4. However, she is definitely not looking forward to becoming the wife of the PM
Asked whether she is looking forward to a potential future as wife of the Prime Minister, Vella De Fremeaux responded with a terrified ‘Maaaa’.
“You know what I want to be? I just want to be Nickie,” she said. “It will be an honour if [my husband] can save Malta from democracy and it would have been all worth something. But being in a position where I’ll have to sacrifice even more? I can opt not to go to events now but should he get elected, you know…”
5. And there’s no chance she’ll take on Michelle Muscat’s charity swim
Vella De Fremeaux has already categorically ruled out taking on Michelle Muscat’s annual charity swim challenge should she succeed her as wife of the Prime Minister.
“Swim? You must be joking. As if, I’m terrified of the sea. I only go swimming in certain places, wading in and I start shivering when my feet can’t touch the seabed anymore. I assure you I will never swim, not even till where my feet don’t touch the seabed, let alone…”
6. She doesn’t consider herself to be a feminist
Vella De Fremeaux admitted it bothered her “immensely” when people refer to her as the wife of the Opposition leader, rather than as a person and professional in her own right.
However, she doesn’t consider herself a feminist but rather a realist.
“Personally, I don’t agree with [gender] quotas as I would rather be given a post because I am excellent in what I do rather than to fill numbers. I find that to be very humiliating and demeaning.”
7. She didn’t speak to her husband before criticising him on his Facebook wall
Vella De Fremeaux confirmed she didn’t speak to Delia before criticising him on his own Facebook wall after he uploaded a status which linked the abandonment of a baby to the degeneration of Malta into a “soulless state”.
She said she was speaking in her capacity as a family lawyer and that she found criticism that she was undermining his political leadership to be “narrow-minded and insulting”.
“A few people told me that I’m his wife and I was trying to undermine him and make him look like a fool. Make him look like a fool? As if.”
8. She’s had a pretty memorable court career
In her career as a family lawyer, Vella De Fremeaux has had to deal with some extremely sensitive cases.
“The Nickie in court has been shot at, strangled…once Adrian was warned that his wife was being attacked and he came running to my aid in his toga,” she recounted.
Despite these experiences, she believes in the ultimate goodness of Maltese society and argues that many wrongdoings can be attributed to a poor upbringing.
“Back in 2003, I had gone to a house to speak to a guy who was abusing his children, who the police were afraid to speak to,” she recounted. “He told me he thought it was normal to abuse his children because it had been happening in his family for generations, and when I explained to him why it wasn’t right he became like a sheep. Who you open people’s eyes, you often realise that there’s no malicious intent behind their actions.”
9. She turned down a chance to become an MEP
Vella De Fremeaux was approached by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to contest the 2014 MEP elections but she turned down the offer because of family commitment and because she didn’t want to leave Malta.
“I turned the offer down because I didn’t want to leave my children and because I didn’t want to leave Malta,” she said. “My family comes first for me and the offer was made to me at a time when I couldn’t or shouldn’t have left my children.”
During last year’s PN leadership election, Adrian Delia confirmed that he had turned down offers to contest the 2013 and 2017 elections because of family and professional commitments.
10. She believes a culture of fear has seeped into Malta
A few years ago, Vella De Fremeaux was part of a campaign which sought to collect enough signatures to force an abrogative referendum on whether to ban the Individual Investor Programme (IIP), a scheme she remains ideologically opposed to.
“However, people were afraid to sign a piece of paper and show who they were because they were afraid of repercussions,” she said. “It was really sad. I’m not saying the PN is better than the PL, but people weren’t afraid to talk under a PN government. I see [this culture of fear], not from a political side but because people speak to me.”
She encountered this ‘culture of fear’ again when she was collecting signatures against a controversial legal notice, that was eventually scrapped, which would have allowed the education ministry to obtain student data.
“I was representing private schools and I remember there was this mother who was vociferously against this legal notice and was the first to sign against it. However, she later asked me whether the government will know whether she’s signed it and I said of course, because the signatures will be given to the government. She then went out and scribbled off her name.”
11. She has mixed feelings about Daphne Caruana Galizia
Vella De Fremeaux described the late Daphne Caruana Galizia as “Malta’s best investigative journalist”.
“She had so many sources and the ability to come up with information that I don’t think any other journalist here is capable of doing,” she said.
However, she said Caruana Galizia also wrote a lot of untruths in her regard – such as how her husband had allegedly laundered money from Soho brothels, how he had arrived late to his own swearing-in ceremony because he was trying on a suit, and how he had an affair with one of her friends.
“When Daphne alleged my husband was having an affair with Becky, I called her up and we laughed together,” she said. “It was all so ridiculous.”
“I think the hatred is being caused by certain people who were against Adrian from the very beginning”
She also said she couldn’t understand why Caruana Galizia had mocked her husband’s looks.
“We can’t all be Sean Connery, but why write a three-liner just to associate him with a beluga whale or a grandmother? Adrian can handle anything, but I was like ‘what the hell’ and my children were hurt. I think the hatred is being caused by certain people who were against Adrian from the very beginning and who absolutely just don’t like him, including some who were very good school friends of mine. I cried so much last summer but now I’ve just come a bit more immune.”
12. She constantly teases Muscat about the passport scheme
Vella De Fremeaux described Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as “a very nice person to talk to” and “very intelligent”.
“Whenever I talk to him, I always snidely ask him why he doesn’t contribute to a certain cause by selling a few passports and he always laughs,” she said.
13. She’s very open about her own mental health
“If people don’t like what I’m saying they’ll dismiss it as me not being quite all there”
Vella De Fremeaux was very open about her own mental health, confirming she suffers from depression that sometimes keeps her stuck in bed. However, she warned many people misunderstand her condition to the point where they brush off her opinions as stemming from her depression.
“I’m very opinionated but, because I suffer from depression, they say I’m saying what I’m saying because I’m not quite there” she said. “Many a time, mental health doesn’t mean you become mad. It means you have a condition which has to be treated but it doesn’t necessarily make you completely cuckoo. The fact that you have a depression or are anxious absolutely doesn’t mean that everything you do is done because you’re mentally unstable. Since Adrian was elected, this stigma has become even worse, because if people don’t like what I’m saying they’ll dismiss it by saying I’m a miskina who’s not quite all there.”