FORMER Tory leader William Hague is enjoying life out of the spotlight.
Mr Hague, who resigned as leader after the 2001 General Election, has kept a low profile since his shock decision three years ago.
He appeared relaxed and happy when he dropped into The Woodman pub at Thunderbridge yesterday to address the Conservative Ladies Luncheon Club.
Mr Hague, still only 43, presents a pleasant and amiable figure - yet is a little more steely than TV gives him credit for.
The abrupt change from party leader to backbencher has apparently been a happy and wise decision.
"Excellent, yes," he reports. "I miss not asking questions in Parliament, but otherwise I'm delighted. I have had a better quality of life."
Mr Hague has been asked to join the front bench, but has no desire to take up the opportunity.
"I made it clear I would not move to the front bench in this Parliament. It is important to let new people come along."
Mr Hague was unhappy with the postal voting pilot scheme in Yorkshire. He feels Labour should have taken notice of the Electoral Commission, which advised against such a large-scale experiment.
"It has been quite a mess. It is one thing to have an experiment, but to have four large regions all do it was too much," he said.
"Before it is used again we have to have better protection against fraud and abuse," he added.
And, unsurprisingly, Mr Hague was happy with the council election results, which went well for the Conservatives.
"The elections were great, including for my friend Christine Smith in Kirkburton, who won by five votes.
"The Conservatives gained quite a few new seats in Kirklees.
"But it does not mean we are taking anything for granted, although we are making progress."
He agreed that the Tories had been hit in the European Union elections by the UK Independence Party.
"It does show how worried people are about deferring to the European line.
"But we must not over- react. The vast majority of people who voted for UKIP will vote Conservative in the General Election."
Mr Hague has been busy writing a book on William Pitt the Younger, who became Prime Minister at the age of 24 in 1783.
Mr Hague, the MP for Richmond, North Yorkshire, still adores the Dales and went to the recent Swaledale Festival.
His favourite villages are Keld and Muker.
* William Hague was born in Rotherham in March 1961.
* He attended Wath-on-Dearne Comprehensive School and went on to study philosophy and politics at Magdalen College, Oxford.
* He was elected as MP for Richmond in the 1989 by-election and was elected Leader of the Conservative Party in June 1997.
* He married Ffion in December, 1997.
* He retired as leader of the Conservatives in June, 2001.