... and then I put sun cream on the goldfish

Kindness to animals was yesterday added to John Major's list of attributes with the revelation that he saved a pet goldfish from sunstroke with emergency medical treatment.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, revealed the heatwave drama when quizzed over the joke shared by the three main party leaders when they were filmed smiling together during a break in the VJ Day commemorations.

During the 10-minute aside, "the Prime Minister gave us a very engaging description about his goldfish. It had sunstroke over the holidays and had to be taken out and given some sun cream," Mr Ashdown told a Westminster news conference.

The fish, said to have survived the ordeal, lived with a number of others in a pond in the Prime Minister's Huntingdon home. Number 10 routinely declined to give details of the first aid exercise, which was "private".Tony Blair's office was similarly tight-lipped: "It's not our goldfish to talk about."

It was one of the worst summers on record for UK fish - although experts doubted they suffered sunstroke. Ray Butcher, a former president of the British Animal Veterinary Association, said vets would treat sunburned fish with a medicated cream, although in some cases, a normal sunblock might be used.

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