The ordinary life of Tony Blair’s extraordinary wife

May 19th, 2008 - 10:41 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, May 19 (IANS) Recounting scenes from a lifestyle unimaginable in VIP-conscious India, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s high-profile wife in her just-released autobiography tells of ten years in Downing Street that were - in many senses - just ordinary. Cherie Blair’s no-holds-barred book, “Speaking for Myself”, has become controversial for its sensational revelations about her husband’s successor Gordon Brown.

But away from political controversies, snippets from her daily life scattered through the 421-page book (published by Little, Brown) show how the Blairs, through their sheer ordinariness, changed stuffy Downing Street.

Cherie Blair not only developed her career as a barrister, but also gave birth to her fourth child after moving into Downing Street, initially drove to work (Tony drove too), continued her engagement with breast cancer charities and fiercely protected her children from the British tabloid press.

Downing Street, a stone’s throw away from the grand buildings of the British parliament, is the official central London residence of the British premier.

But its long and impressive list of occupants had not included a full-time career woman living as the spouse of the premier - that is, until Cherie came along in 1997.

Other prime ministers’ wives were busy in their own different ways - but none was like Cherie, a devoted mother and wife, in addition to being one of Britain’s best known and busiest human rights lawyers.

The first change made by the Blairs - very much a doting pair - was to swap the traditional premier’s residence at 10 Downing Street for the more spacious number 11, the home of the finance minister, who happened to be Gordon Brown.

That single practical step - taken because the Blairs had three children which necessitated a larger house - set the tone of the 1997-2007 Blair years.

“During those first few years as the prime minister’s wife, I was driving myself into chambers every day. I had become increasingly frustrated at the way things continued to operate there as if we were in the nineteenth century,” Cherie writes in the book.

Her life during pregnancy in 2000 was “hard”, particularly by the standards of an Indian VIP’s spouse.

“Pregnant or not, we trundled on. As nobody knew [of the pregnancy outside the Blairs' immediate circle], there were no concession to my delicate condition.”

Once, she was on the train from London to Norwich to celebrate the opening of new offices for a firm of legal aid solicitors.

“Halfway there, overcome with nausea, I was sick all over everything. It was in the middle of the afternoon and fortunately the carriage was empty, so I was able to go into the toilet and clean myself up.

“Then I went back to the carriage to scrub away at the seat and the floor, all the time thinking, This is hard, hard, hard.”

Tony and Cherie come across as very much the everyday couple. After Leo Blair was born, Cherie decided to take a break in Algrave, which meant the British prime minister stayed back in London “to keep an eye on the kids.”

Unfortunately, this was just when their eldest son Euan was found by police sprawled across the pavement in central London.

“But you don’t have to worry because I’m in charge,” Tony told Cherie on the telephone.

“If you were really in charge, this wouldn’t have happened,” she replied.

But their cherished freedom to move about freely and lead the ordinary life changed forever after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US, when the entire family had to have round-the-clock protection.

This meant having to make compromises - the Blair children could no longer take the public transport, such as buses and trains, to school and Euan, who had been taking the underground train to school since 1996, “was far from pleased.”

“Like Tony I could no longer drive… no popping out to the shops, or going for a run in St James’s Park,” Cherie writes.

On one occasion, she was late for the theatre and had to call up her security to make for late-night arrangements, suggesting they meet her at the theatre.

“I’ll just get a taxi there,” Cherie said.

“Sorry, Mrs B. You can’t do that. You’ll have to wait till I get there.”

“But we’ll be late,” Cherie replied.

“Well, then you’ll just have to be late.”

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