Cherie Blair: ‘I do miss Tony. How sad is that?’

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    28th November, 2009




    This Times report by Camilla Long is certainly worth a read.


    ‘I don’t know what goes wrong between Cherie Blair and me, but it definitely goes wrong in the first five minutes and probably on sight because, bowling into the foyer of a London hotel, she takes one look at me and says: “Oh, hello! Are you the greeter?” When I tell her I’m the journalist, she looks faintly puzzled, and starts to strike up conversations with people in the lobby anyway, and when I finally get her into the interview room, she begins asking me questions, such as: “How old are you?” And, “You’re in your thirties! Are you married?” I’m 31, I say. And no, I’m not.

    “Well, it’s very difficult,” she says, fixing me with those moist, Spanish infanta eyes. I’m surprised how nervous she is. “When I was in my twenties, I was concentrating on getting ahead in my legal practice. But … I’d also met my husband. I was 25 when we were married, and by the time I was 29, I thought it’d be nice to be a young mum. I didn’t want to be into my thirties . . .” And on the shelf like me? She smiles, blinks, carries on. “So I managed to slip in Euan when I was still 29! And I can remember going in 1983 to the maternity places, and they would say, ‘You’re a bit old to be a first-time mum’!” she trills, and then she laughs and I laugh too but all I can think is, what is she on? We’re here to talk about women in the workplace and the Cherie Blair Foundation, and this is how we start?

    Mind you, I don’t think I’m the first person to feel this about Cherie, and besides, I don’t think she even notices, ploughing on about her children, about the foundation and the good work it’s doing, helping women entrepreneurs abroad, about her involvement in the Women’s Leadership Fund, a new £1.2 billion initiative set up by a Zurich hedge fund to promote women in companies.

    “We need to make sure women are getting through the glass ceiling,” she says firmly, pausing to take a sip of water and shake her bouffed black locks. At 55, she looks rather good, if overdressed. “Women are under-represented! Only something like 1% of the heads of FTSE 100 companies are women.”

    She got to the top of the legal world herself through hard work and sacrifices. “When I had my first few children,” she says of Euan, 25, Nicky, 23, and Kathryn, 21, “Charles Howard [a fellow barrister] was just nine months ahead of me. We were having these parallel careers and then I had my children and his career carried on going up, and mine basically went down a bit, and then it went up again. And in fact,” she says, “I took silk before Charles, as it happened, ha ha ha … But the important thing was that I was able to go back up [in my career]. A lot of women go off on their maternity leave and are forgotten about, and never come back … We have to stop that.”

    Still, she “took more time with Leo”, now nine, because she could work from home, and now, what with Tony away a lot and the other children up and out, he’s kind of all she’s got. Empty nest syndrome? “You get used to it,” she shrugs, but freely admits she was devastated when Euan left home. “It was a big shock. I remember thinking about when I’d gone off and I remember my mum crying and thinking, ‘How stupid’, but finding myself in a similar position.” She was sad all over again recently when Kathryn went on a year away in Strasbourg, “my one and only daughter, my pal”, she says. Oh, Cherie! I begin to feel sorry for her. Does she get lonely at all?

    “I do miss Tony,” she says, but then she rather spoils the sentiment with a brusque: “How sad is that?”

    Still, she’s quite pleased at the moment because Nicky has just decided to become a lawyer, and he’s been picking her brains about exams. “He did Teach First [a fast-track teacher training scheme] in Birmingham, and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. Then he turned round two weeks ago and decided he wanted to be a lawyer. He’s just signed up to the course.” She wanted to say, “fantastic”, she hoots, “but you don’t want to be too enthusiastic in case they change their mind”.

    Will any of them become politicians?

    “I would be proud if any of them wanted to become politicians, but it’s tough at the moment. I worry about whether anyone’s going to want to go into politics when you become public property. The press in particular mistrust every politician’s motive, and it’s going to discourage good people from wanting to go in. Would you want to?”

    No, I say. Funnily enough, I did wonder about becoming a politician, a barrister or a journalist and I chose … don’t look shocked …

    “The only reason I am looking shocked is because you went for the worst possible choice,” she says, tartly, the sudden force of her statement reminding me of an alcoholic uncle who’s just gone shouty-crackers at a family tea. So I say, oh ha ha, I don’t think so, Cherie, I quite like it actually, but again she snaps back: “I know, because you have power and no responsibility.”

    That’s not true!

    “No,” she continues, “you have no professional standards and you have no professional body that keeps you in line.”

    The Press Complaints Commission? “Oh, puh-lease,” she says, sarcastically. “Let’s not all fall about laughing. Are you really terrified of the PCC? Would they take away your practising certificate? You don’t have a practising certificate, do you? I am concerned about the Bar Standards Board because if they’d decided I’d done something wrong, then they could take away my practising certificate. But no one can stop you being a journalist!” She pauses. “Even estate agents have codes of conduct!”

    I begin to laugh, but it’s not terrifically funny, and actually I am amazed that Cherie is saying any of this at all, living up to her gobby stereotype within the very first few minutes. Not only that, but her complaints are disingenuous. She’s perfectly capable of airing her objections publicly: just this past week, she has been writing to editors about reports of a shoot at Waddesdon Manor, the home of Jacob Rothschild in Buckinghamshire, which she allegedly attended with Peter Mandelson and Saif Gadaffi, son of the Libyan dictator.

    She is adamant she wasn’t at the shooting bit — “I live 10 minutes down the road,” she says, as if she might pop over for a pint of milk — but won’t go into details. “That’s not a question about my foundation.”

    Anyway, I am also taken aback because I had always thought all that stuff about Cherie being chippy — a mentality forged as an in effect fatherless seven-year-old who punched and bit her way around her Liverpool playground — was apocryphal, exaggerated, misogynistic, even. Okay, she has done some fairly stupid things, succumbing to Carole Caplin’s quackery and the grabbiness over the Bristol flats, but part of me grudgingly admired her cleverness and her career. So I’m disappointed to see that she really can be this artless and self-serving. Also, we’re meant to be talking about women supporting women. Why is she even giving an interview?

    “I’m giving this interview because I also absolutely agree that we need the press,” she replies, crisply.

    Well, it’s always been a weird relationship. No one knew quite what to do with her when she burst into the limelight in 1994, the sharp daughter of the original “scouse git” actor Tony Booth, the clever girl who famously came top in her bar exams, way ahead of her more charming husband. She says she’s not sorry about their notorious pact, that he went into politics and she remained a lawyer. “We did the right deal: I am a better lawyer,” she says, “although sometimes I do think it is ironic that in many households the person who’s the QC would be the one who’s the principal career person! All those colleagues of mine who are No 1 in their household!” She pauses. “Of course, I am No 1 in my household. Tony is a slave to me! All that ironing he does.

    “Actually I don’t do my ironing either. I pay someone to do my ironing. Because that’s the other thing: I wouldn’t have got where I am without the help of a lot of people, mainly women. My mother, who when I was a young woman with three children under five, would come up and help me at the weekends.” She owes success to her cleaner, too, and “the various wonderful nannies I’ve had . . .”

    And men? “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t had men to mentor me,” she says. “And my husband, for example, is a man who appreciates and welcomes strong, opinionated women, and I’m not the only one in his life who’s like that.” Oooh, so are there other women in his life?

    “No!” she shrieks. “In his career, if you look at his cabinet and his office . . .”

    Anyway, he’s at home now, working on his book. She won’t talk about that, and clearly doesn’t want to talk about Iraq, either. “I know what he did was right, and it wasn’t a decision he took lightly. I trust his judgment,” she says, although she does say that the Chilcot inquiry “will do a good and thorough job”.

    In the meantime, she can busy herself with the foundation, and doing up their homes, in Connaught Square, London, and John Gielgud’s old gaff in Buckinghamshire. She was recently spotted buying furniture at Christie’s, wasn’t she? How much did she spend? “I couldn’t tell you how much I spent but it wasn’t as much as they say it was.” And besides, she and Tony have “never been the sort of people who sit down and say, oh, look, I’m earning this much”.

    Oh tee-hee, Cherie. She’s got it good, although if she could change anything about herself, she’d like to be “thinner”, she says. She is “too cowardly” for plastic surgery, though, so she hasn’t tried Botox — “it’s rat poison, isn’t it?” — and neither has Tony. “Definitely not. He hates needles, doesn’t like giving blood or anything.” She pauses. “Did they say he had? Are you sure they didn’t just say he needed it? He’s definitely got a furrow . . .”

    What next? The president-of-Europe business “didn’t affect me at all”, she says, somewhat unconvincingly. Surely she’d have loved being the first lady of Europe? “I don’t think there’s any point in speculating what might have been,” she says firmly. “But wherever goes Tony, there go I.”’

    Cherie DOES sound rather insecure at times in this interview, which is surprising given her success as a barrister. But the reporter didn’t seem to do much of a job of interviewing her on women in the workplace or on the Cherie Blair Foundation.

    Why do I get the feeling Ms Long wanted the report of this interview to be a reflection of her own prejudices – perhaps actually about Cherie’s insecurities?

    Cherie wins me over immediately with her criticism of the Press Complaints Commission, and of journalism as she is wrote today.

    Cherie: “… you have power and no responsibility.”

    That’s not true!

    “No,” she continues, “you have no professional standards and you have no professional body that keeps you in line.”

    The Press Complaints Commission? “Oh, puh-lease,” she says, sarcastically. “Let’s not all fall about laughing. Are you really terrified of the PCC? Would they take away your practising certificate?

    Cherie is right, of course. The press get away with sticking in needles and drawing blood from her husband daily in such as The Daily Mail, and nothing is done about it, even now during the Iraq Inquiry. Particularly now when there should be an embargo on such biased tittle-tattle based on “leaks”. And as for their coverage of Cherie herself … well, nuff said.

    Tony’s “mouthy scouser” sounds exactly what she is meant to sound like. No pomp, no circumstance, no pretences, little held back. She even lets it slip that Tony hates needles or giving blood. An invite, if ever there was one, for remarks by the usual suspects. But Cherie seems blissfully unaware of this potential.

    Most men, btw, don’t like needles. Ask most women.

    A rather sweet and refreshing picture of Cherie here. Especially given the present fondness for the discreet, behind-the-scenes wives of politicians’.

    We miss Tony too, Cherie. And how!

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