Samantha’s polka-dot dress: full story unravels

David and Samantha Cameron

That £65 off-the-peg M&S dress worn for her husband’s big speech was anything but

BY Sophie Taylor LAST UPDATED AT 19:06 ON Fri 23 Oct 2009

It must have looked to Conservative spin doctors like a sure-fire PR winner. Samantha Cameron, wife of Tory leader David Cameron, would appear at party conference for her husband's keynote speech not in Vivienne Westwood or Alberta Ferretti, but in a £65 Marks & Spencer polka-dot dress, just the sort of thing a young Tory wife might wear to the vicarage fete.

It would tell the party faithful that even if the Camerons were incredibly wealthy - a figure of £30m was put on their fortune shortly before the conference - they understood like the rest of us what it's like to live through a recession.

Samantha duly wore the dress and all was going well until last Sunday when the Mirror exposed the truth: that M&S had actually run out of stock back in the spring and Samantha had had to persuade the chairman himself, Sir Stuart Rose, to pull strings to find her one.

Based on an M&S "insider's" tell-tale report, the Mirror's story was that Rose's staff were ordered to search the company's 600 British branches and eventually hunted down a size 14. It was then retailored to fit Samantha's trim size 10 figure.

But that was before the Times poured further resources into hunting down the truth of the polka-dot dress .

Today the full, embarrassing story can be told: not only was the polka-dot number out of stock, but M&S had to rely on the good wishes of its supplier, Amanda Marshall Ltd, to make a new one from scratch.

It cost Alison Mansell, who runs Amanda Marshall and personally designed the polka-dot dress, an estimated £150 to make the one-off for Samantha Cameron. Mansell did not charge M&S for it - though Samantha was charged £57 (she had been offered a 20 per cent discount normally available only to M&S staff).

"We made it from scratch," said Mansell. "We did not charge them, we made it out of goodwill."

But there's one more twist to come in the Times story: Amanda Marshall was dropped as a supplier by M&S earlier this year, with 15 jobs put at risk. But because the dress got so much publicity, M&S have decided to bring it back in black and white - without telling Mansell.

According to Mansell's business partner, Marshall Doctor, M&S were hoping this story would not get out. He claims he received a phone call earlier this week from Kate Bostock, executive director for clothing at M&S and a contender to take over from Rose as the company's boss, asking whether Doctor and Mansell planned to reveal the story behind Samantha's dress.

Doctor told the Times that Bostock said: "I want to know, plainly - are you going to the press? Because Stuart and I are very concerned." Doctor says she added: "I'm sure there's something we can do for you."

A spokesperson for David Cameron stated that Mrs Cameron was not aware of the history of the dress or the fact that it cost M&S nothing.

Amanda Marshall Ltd has no plans to work with Marks & Spencer again.

A Marks & Spencer spokesman told the Times: "As the UK's leading clothing retailer, we frequently receive requests for our clothes from high-profile individuals. As this dress had sold out, we did ask for one for Samantha Cameron and Amanda Marshall Ltd was more than happy to supply it." · 

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