A woman who adds flair to the party of Blair: Tamsin Blanchard asks why Cherie Booth has had a make-over

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Indy Lifestyle Online
SINCE Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party, Cherie Booth - political wife, 40-year-old mother of three, high-flying barrister - has been subjected to non-stop prattle about the dress she wore at the Blair victory party, about her running mascara, her feathered haircut.

At first she appeared to ignore the pressure to glam it up - like Kenneth Clarke's famously homely wife - but now, on the occasion of her husband's first party conference, she seems to have had a make-over.

Political wives are thrust into the unforgiving lights of television cameras and newspaper photographers when their partners either advance their careers or are discovered as adulterers. Who can be surprised that Cherie Booth has changed her image? Wouldn't you have a haircut and buy a new suit if you had to face a barrage of photographers? Woe betide anyone who wears the same outfit twice.

Yesterday Ms Booth appeared at her husband's side in Blackpool, hair swept away from her face, wearing a striped trouser suit. She looked elegant, neither underdressed nor overdressed. John Prescott's wife, Pauline, with her big hair and strong make-up, looked like a character dreamt up by Jackie Collins. But Cherie Booth manages to look quietly confident.

Just as Ms Booth has kept her own name, she has also managed to keep her own style and taste. She has not become the archetypal statesman's wife, power dressing in rigid suits. Nor has she taken notes from her predecessor, Glenys Kinnock; her style is not ordinary, thrifty or low-key. Instead Cherie Booth has put her finger on the pulse of working woman's style for 1994. It was inevitable that Cherie Booth's clothes would become a metaphor for Labour's new-style leadership. It is now her turn to be labelled Islington Woman.

We do not yet know exactly which labels are inside the clothes, but they appear to be at the understated end of the designer market. The shirt under her corduroy suit on Monday could have been by Equipment. She certainly looks like a woman who might shop at Joseph or Whistles. She has softened the look of a hard-edged career woman, just as Marie- Claire has been advocating, and kept her own personality at the same time.

Mary Spillane of CMB Image Consultants, who advises MPs, has a book out this week called Presenting Yourself, with a whole chapter on dressing for political careers and women in the public eye. But she has denied having anything to do with Cherie Booth's new look.

'Cherie will have to be very careful how she plays it,' she says. 'She has gone from the contrived into something much more successful, but she has to be careful she doesn't shoot herself in the foot by going too far.' Spillane would not have introduced her to the knee-high leather boots she wore earlier this week.

Anyone who thought Ms Booth's new look was her own work will be sadly disappointed. Both the Blairs are being attended to by a make-up artist. As Mary Spillane says, the once shiny Tony Blair is wafting around Blackpool in a cloud of powder. And Cherie Booth is being dressed by an ex-employee from Lynne Franks, the absolutely fabulous PR company. But Ms Booth is not paid to be a fashion clothes horse. If she has a professional make-over, who can blame her?

Whether the image of a politician's partner really affects his or her position is another matter. Past prime minister's wives have looked anything but stylish. Dorothy Macmillan managed to look dowdy even in the Sixties, Mary Wilson was not in the same league as her contemporary, the snappy dresser Barbara Castle. Can anyone remember a single outfit worn by Audrey Callaghan? And the doddery way Denis dressed was never an impediment to the career of Margaret Thatcher, who was styled and moulded right from the sound of her voice.

Fashion magazines are probably queuing up to photograph Cherie Booth in the style of a grainy Donna Karan advert. It is refreshing to have a political wife in the spotlight who wears anything other than Frank Usher, the glitzy frock maker favoured by Tatler cover girl Norma Major.

But Cherie Booth should wait until her husband has had his make-over and posed for Esquire or GQ before she admits to being a fashion icon. Then she really will be laying herself open for non- stop debate over the width of her lapels or the colour of her lipstick. Until then, she can revel in the fact that, for the moment at least, she is a woman who has it all - a career, a family, a second career as political wife and a well-chosen wardrobe.

(Photograph omitted)