Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Call me Cherie

Well, happy birthday Cherie Blair, 60 today. I wonder how you’re celebrating, and whether you’re likely to have an ‘odd do’, as you did on your 40th, at least according to your husband’s press and policy adviser. I have no idea whether you keep a diary or not, but if you do, and it gets published one day, I’m sure it will be a good read. Meanwhile, I have mined Alastair Campbell’s diaries for a few tidbits about your life during the years when Tony was leader of the Labour Party and then Prime Minister.

Theresa Cara Booth, known as Cherie, was born on 23 September 1954 in Bury, Lancashire, and was brought up in Waterloo, just north of Liverpool on the Lancashire coast. Her parents were both actors, but her father, Tony, left when she was eight, so she and her sister were then brought up by her mother, and Tony’s mother, Vera. The sisters were educated at Catholic schools. Cherie went on to read law at the London School of Economics. While training she taught law at the Polytechnic of Central London, now the University of Westminster, and became a barrister in 1976. Until 1988, her head of chambers was George Carman, a barrister well-known for taking on high-profile cases.

Cherie met Tony in 1976, and they married in 1980. They had three children between 1984 and 1988, and then a fourth (Leo) 12 years later when Cherie was in her mid-40s. Leo was the first child born to a sitting Prime Minister in 150 years. Being the Prime Minister’s wife, she came under much press scrutiny, not least in relation to her friend, Carole Caplin, a kind of New Age style adviser, and Caplin’s boyfriend, Peter Foster, a convicted Australian conman.

Cherie Blair was made Queen's Counsel in 1995. In 1999, she was appointed a Recorder (a permanent part-time judge) in the County Court and Crown Court. She is a founding member of Matrix Chambers in London, and has specialised in employment, discrimination, and public law. She was the third Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, is a Governor of the London School of Economics and of the Open University, and is a patron of Breast Cancer Care. In 2008 she launched the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, to help support women entrepreneurs in developing countries, and she published Speaking for Myself: The Autobiography. In 2011, she was appointed Chancellor of the Asian University for Women. In 2013, she was awarded a CBE. More about Cherie, the posts she holds, the books she’s written, can be found on her own website.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Director of Communications and Strategy between 1997 and 2003, refers often to Cherie Blair in his diaries, first published by Hutchinson in 2007 under the title The Blair Years. (See The Diary Review article A good press secretary for more about Campbell and his diaries.) Campbell says in his introduction to this book that the focus ‘is very much on Blair himself’, but inevitably the Prime Minister’s wife is often part of his daily life, whether because of her presence at formal occasions, or because of issues, such as those revolving around her friendship with Caplin. He notes, in the introduction, how Cherie herself ‘pointed out that I certainly spent more waking hours with him than she did.’ Here are a few snapshots involving Cherie Blair taken from The Blair Years.

23 September 1994
‘Cherie’s 40th birthday party at Frederick’s. Odd kind of do. Didn’t feel right being photographed going in, by Alan Davidson [celebrity photographer] of all people, and I couldn’t quite work out the guest mix. Family, a bit of politics, law, and friends that didn’t always seem like Tony’s kind of people. Maybe he is a lot more eclectic than we are. Cherie had certainly been given a makeover. She looked great, but it was an odd do.’

23 April 1995
‘I had a perfectly nice chat with Cherie, in which we both lamented how much of our time we spent having to talk to TB in his underwear.’

8 September 1995
‘Eventually Fiona said we should discuss Cherie, what role and image she was supposed to be developing, what was good for her and for TB, and how we managed conference. Cherie said we had reached the position where she felt unsupported, and she had a poor relationship with the office because she felt we saw her purely as a problem. She said she had a contribution to make beyond being a ‘rich lawyer/wife’. I said I accepted there was fault on both sides. Things had got off to a terrible start because of Carole [Caplin] at conference last year. I felt Carole was a problem anyway and they had to understand if she became a story again, I would have nothing to do with it.’

27 October 1997
‘CHOGM [Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Edinburgh] finished on time, TB telling us how brilliantly he had chaired it. TB was regaling us with a few stories from the receptions. One of the African leaders pinching Cherie’s bum and asking her who she was, then him jumping a mile when she said she was Tony’s wife. Mandela being difficult on a couple of issues and TB saying to him ‘You are so revered you can come out with any old nonsense and nobody is allowed to say it’s nonsense,’ Mandela laughing.’

16 September 1998
‘TB was heading off to Coventry and I was due to come back with CB. We met up at the shop, where I had a brief glimpse of [Prince] Charles, who was showing them some of his organic produce. She said organic farming had taken up most of their conversation at lunch. The rest had been a meandering around foreign affairs. TB was always pretty discreet about his royal dealings, CB less so. She said when she first Princess Anne, Anne had called her ‘Mrs Blair’, to which CB said ‘Call me Cherie.’ I’d rather not, Mrs Blair,’ said Anne. She said she didn’t bother to protest when Charles called her Mrs Blair today.’

25 September 1999
‘I went into the office first thing, then up to see TB. He was now sure. Cherie was pregnant. They worked out it happened at Balmoral. A royal baby!. He said he felt a mix of pleasure and horror. Thank God I’m a Christian, he said. It allows me to assume there must be a reason. We discussed it on the train. At the moment, TB, CB, Fiona and I were the only people who knew, and I was winding them up as to how much money we could make by tipping off the press.’

18 November 1999 
‘At one o'clock. Piers Morgan called and said he had a story and if he told me what it was could he guarantee it would stay exclusive? I said I know what it is. He said ‘How are your christening robes?’ I said I would have to talk to TB. Then I had a meeting with Fiona and we agreed we would just let the Mirror run it and then confirm. But the Sun had heard something and Rebekah Wade [deputy editor] was paging and calling both of us relentlessly. Eventually, after speaking to CB, Fiona gave the story to Rebekah around 8, which was clearly going to be disasterville with Piers. There was no way he would think the Sun got on to it themselves. I got TB to call him to try to mollify him a bit but later Piers was absolutely fuming. ‘Why do those two women (Cherie and Fiona) have such a problem with me? I don't get it.’ CB was clear she didn’t want her pregnancy to seem as somehow being owned as a Mirror story. Once the Sun were on to it, she wanted them to have the story. It was a one-fact story. Dealing with the Sun and the Mirror the whole time was like having two mistresses. It was a fucking nightmare. Both thought they were entitled to some kind of special treatment. It would probably have been better just to have announced it earlier, but Cherie had wanted to keep it quiet for as long as possible, which was fair enough. We had a statement out at 9.10, and it led Sky straight away. There was something amusing about seeing all these hard-nosed characters standing outside Number 10 going on about babies.’

19 May 2000
‘Fiona and Cherie were pretty sure the baby was going to be born fairly soon. TB stayed at the office till about 8 and Anji [Hunter] said later he had been really nervous, nervous about the politics of where we were, nervous about the baby and what it would do for him, Cherie and the way we work. TB called as he was going to the hospital. I called Anji to get Cockerell down there to film the media outside. Fiona kept me in touch through the night. It finally came at 12.25 and we decided not to put anything out until they got home. I was in bed when Fiona texted that it was a boy. I called through, spoke to TB, who sounded very happy about it. I heard the baby and TB said ‘Here you are, Leo, talk to your spin doctor.’

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