Blair launches prime-time television offensive

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Tony Blair yesterday pictured on the Des O'Connor Show as part of a charm offensive to dispel his "smarmy" image. Added to an appearance on BBc Radio 4's Woman's Hour, he was trying to show that like other 14- year-old schoolboys, he was a bit of a teenage tearaway, writes Colin Brown.

The leader of the Labour Party wanted to go a bit further than most other boys who bunked off from school, however. When he played truant, he tried to catch a flight to the Bahamas. "It was one of the craziest things I've ever done."

His parents put him on a train in Newcastle to return to Fettes School in Edinburgh, but instead of heading off to lessons and "fagging" for older boys, he got changed into casual clothes and made his way to Newcastle Airport, where he joined passengers on a flight.

"I snuck onto the plane, and we were about to take off when the stewardess came up to me and said: `I don't think I actually saw your boarding pass'."

He told her: "Don't tell anyone, but I'm running away."

His escape never got off the ground. But the disclosure that he had played truant may have endeared Mr Blair to the elderly women, who, according to the polls, have so far proved impervious to his charms, and find him "smarmy".