On the subject of Frank Portelli

Published: August 7, 2017 at 2:57pm

NOTE: You will find updated information in this later post.

Frank Portelli, one of the two vainglorious contenders in the Nationalist Party’s catastrophic leadership race, has given a couple of contentious interviews, in one of which he said that he does not speak to me and that under his putative leadership, the Nationalist Party will have no association with me either.

Dr Portelli, more than anybody else, will know that the Nationalist Party has never had any association with me, or vice versa, but the reasons why he will know that need not be explained here. Just know that he does.

As for ‘not speaking to me’, Dr Portelli should be honest and tell the truth: that five years ago, I rang him myself on a stormy Saturday morning in October, when the streets were rivers of rainwater, and gave him the telling-off from hell because of his constant appearances on the Labour Party’s television station to run down the Nationalist Party, the Prime Minister and everything associated with them. His behaviour was disgusting, belly-crawling and shameful, and I told him as much.

It wasn’t any kind of party loyalty that made me do that – I don’t bother with that kind of thing, as Dr Portelli himself knows – but private revulsion at his behaviour. And I knew him personally, which is why I rang him on a private and personal level. It was strictly between us.

I told him then, five years ago, that I never wished to see him or speak to him again because his words, actions and choices were revolting. You are quite clearly only doing it, I said to him, because you want the Labour Party to sign a deal with you to take on your bankrupt St Philip’s Hospital when it gets into government, Lawrence Gonzi’s government having refused to that despite your best efforts.

This was in the months preceding the general election of 2013, and true to my word, I haven’t spoken to him since. The one time I chanced upon him in a hotel lobby, I cut him dead. That is my nature, and that is the way it’s going to stay: I’ll put up with a lot from people, beyond what most would think is bearable, but when the shutters finally slam down in my mind, they slam down permanently. I cut out those individuals completely and break off all contact.

And now five years later Dr Portelli comes along in his farcical effort to become Malta’s first octogenarian prime minister, and says that he doesn’t want any association with me. That is why it is now essential that I describe what I had intended, out of respect for the past, to be an entirely private conversation.

That past includes the fact that Frank Portelli put himself through medical school in the 1960s by working for my grandfather’s medical supplies company, worked for and alongside my father on hospital projects in Libya under King Idris, and it was my father who took great risks by dismantling the medical and surgical equipment at Zammit Clapp Hospital, working in the dead of night with my mother frantic with worry at home, and removing it to Dr Portelli’s clinic by agreement with the Blue Sisters nuns, with a threatening and dangerous police presence outside the hospital building, when in 1980 Prime Minister Mintoff shut down the hospital and deported the nuns.

Frank Portelli and his first wife – a British woman and the mother of his older children, who are almost the same age as I am, which is unsurprising given that he is my parents’ age – were also invited to my wedding, by my parents, 32 years ago. (It is one of those situations where the man’s first batch of children with his first wife are almost the same age as his second wife, who he met in the workplace – in this particular case, when she was a newscaster at the Nationalist Party’s television station years ago.)

First wife, I hear you ask? Yes, his first wife. To my great astonishment, I realise from current conversations how almost nobody knows that Dr Portelli is a twice-married, once-divorced man, that two of the three children he notes down in his newspaper bios are actually adults in their 40s from his original marriage, while he had the third child at the grand old age of 56 with his second wife, who now works to support their family.

Shouldn’t these things be public when a man is seeking to become the head of government? Look at the endless dissection of Macron’s marriage, and how it happened, in the French press. It’s got nothing to do with prurience or unsavoury curiosity. It’s got everything to do with the people’s right to know what and who they are voting for. Full disclosure shouldn’t only be about financial assets.

Having obtained a divorce under British law because his first wife is British – convenient for him, given that his Maltese compatriots were denied that right until 2011 – Dr Portelli then proceeded to apply for and obtain, heaven only knows on what grounds, given that he had been married for years and had two children, a declaration of nullity of marriage from the Roman Catholic Church, so that he and his girlfriend (who I hasten to add is a very nice woman and completely different to her husband) could be married by a priest rather than by the civil rite.

Why do I mention this? It’s because I am sickened by Dr Portelli’s Facebook post, a few days ago, about same-sex marriage, something along the lines of “gay can divorce his wife and marry another man”, suggesting that this is somehow worse than a straight man divorcing his wife to marry another woman.

I have to ask how Dr Portelli thinks this is somehow worse than a straight man divorcing the mother of his two children and marrying somebody young enough to be his daughter, then having a child who should technically be his grandchild in terms of age.

This is not a moral judgement, but a reminder to Dr Portelli that one’s choices are not good or bad depending on whether one is gay or straight.

Dr Portelli, in another of his homophobic tirades, has said – a variation on this same theme – that people should formally declare their sexual orientation when they marry. To whom, the state? The person they are marrying? Would declaring his sexual orientation to his fiancée or the state have made any difference in saving his first marriage? Obviously not. Has his second marriage survived into the present because he formally declared to the very patient Mrs Portelli II that he is straight and not gay? Obviously not, either.