Damned if she has her hair done, damned if she doesn't: life for Cherie Blair - wife, mother and QC - is a jugglethon. By Fran Abrams
They never played "Stand By Your Man" at Cherie and Tony's big country night out in Denver, but they should have. The mawkish, sickly- sweet strains of Tammy Wynette singing "sometimes it's hard to be a woman ..." would have chimed in perfect irony with the accompanying sight of Mrs Blair in dutiful wife mode.

The dilemma faced by the Prime Minister's wife is a tad more complex than the routine tribulations of lesser mortals, of course, but none the less perplexing for that.

Take this week as a case in point. On Monday, Cherie the resident clothes horse at No 10, is under fire for paying pounds 2,000 for her personal coiffeur's trip to the G7 summit. Today, wig clamped tightly over the offending hairstyle, Ms Cherie Booth the high-flying QC is in Luxembourg to put the case for lesbian rights at the European Court of Justice (see above).

The death-defying leaps this woman makes as she hurls herself between the three planets she inhabits (there is Cherie the mother too, of course) are enough to make any mere mortal's stomach churn.

Although Downing Street aides point out that there has been a large number of high-profile events since 1 May, it certainly seems Mrs Blair has made up her mind to be at her husband's side when the occasion warrants it.

But the fact is that whatever Ms Booth does, she will be damned for it. From her very first appearance at her husband's side after his election as Labour leader in July 1994, she has been impaled, to mix a metaphor, on the horns of a paradox. Her powder-blue ankle-length skirt, boxy jacket and iridescent velvet slippers were "bizarre," The Daily Telegraph decided. The Sunday Times quoted the fashion designer Ben de Lisi: "What strikes me is that petite girls should not wear tall girl clothes. And she needs her hair styling. That feathery thing on top has to go."

So, Cherie went to work, revamping her image completely before that autumn's conference. Her reward was to be accused in this newspaper of succumbing to "the Princess of Wales headless chicken syndrome".

Now, made-over the Lord only knows how many times since those early days, Mrs Blair the first lady is being criticised for spending her own money on such fripperies.

Some might argue that a less dangerous course would have been simply to keep her head down, a la Norma Major. The role of first lady for which Cherie has been so tastefully groomed is particularly fraught, clashing as it does with the British nation's reluctance to accept such American- style figureheads.

Why bother with charity events in the garden of No 10, one might ask, when she risks being criticised as a result for taking on too public a role? Why not simply make a few token appearances and then fade gracefully back into a former life? But therein lies the rub. Ms Booth's former life did not consist mainly, as Mrs Major's apparently did, of going to the ballet and freezing cheese.

The alternative PM's wife on offer is not a neat, mousy creature with little to say and even less desire to say it. This woman has a successful legal career which might - and certainly will, sooner or later - lead her into embarrassing conflicts of interest with government policy. Heavens above, she might even harbour a political opinion or two of her own, as well!

No, better by far to continue to divert the attentions of the press with designer clothes and hairstyles. That way, the really uncomfortable stuff stays in the background.

And there is at least one more good point about that wretched hairdresser. He is reported to have had the good taste to take one look at the cowgirl outfit provided for the Denver bash and to pronounce: "There is no way you're wearing that!" For this, at least, the nation has cause to be grateful.