Blairs show Windsors the way

The Prime Minister's dignified departure to Italy for a family retreat is a good lesson in PR for the royals, reflects Cole Moreton
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The Independent Online
AS GETAWAYS go, it was a right royal success. Discretion and privacy were guaranteed as an RAF jet flew the First Family off on holiday for some quality time together. They are to live in luxury as the guests of a president, enjoying a coastline cleaned up in their honour. Security was tight, to keep out the long-distance lenses of the paparazzi. The Queen must have been sick with jealousy to see the Blairs go.

And she would have been even less pleased yesterday when young Tony pointedly offered to make a donation to charity after the Italian government refused to allow him to pay for his holiday. Such a dignified gesture from a man who knows how to behave.

Tony and Cherie and their three children left for Italy on Friday night, the very model of a happy, fully functional family. Meanwhile the Queen's eldest son, Prince Charles, was hiding on a former Norwegian ferry somewhere in the Aegean Sea, moored in secluded spots by day and island-hopping by night.

The large retinue on board includes his two boys, his long-term mistress and her son, who has admitted to using cocaine. Some of the guests even had to suffer the indignity of getting there on ordinary scheduled airline flights.

Both families will be soaking up the sun this week, but the Windsors might reflect on how they have been totally eclipsed by the House of Blair in terms of breeding, deportment and the ability to present a united front. While the royals continue to fall out like squabbling lottery winners, the Prime Minister and his family are behaving as though they were old- fashioned aristocrats.

We do not know how Nicky or Euan Blair, who are 14 and 15, feel about their father, because all rows are dealt with behind closed doors in the traditional English manner. They could have a punch-up about who gets the last piece of Viennetta and the public would never find out, because Downing Street insists on absolute privacy for the children - and has been far more successful at enforcing it than Buckingham Palace, which has been powerless to stop gossip about how William and Harry are coping with life after Diana.

Snapshots of the Blairs on their Christmas holiday in the Seychelles did appear in the Sun, but other newspapers declined to run them. Even the tiniest detail of how the hunky Prince William hurt himself playing sport or helped a stranded motorist push a car is broadcast around the world - but last month the Press Complaints Commission ruled against a Mail on Sunday report about the schooling of Kathryn Blair, 11.

But the security men will have to be extra vigilant this week, since an embarrassed Prime Minister asked the Italian authorities not to close off the five miles of beach around his borrowed villa as planned. Land access to the former royal estate is customarily restricted but the nearby coastline is usually open to boaters, who can drop anchor, swim, fish and go snorkelling.

Even if the press cannot get close to the good ship Alexander this week, information will surely leak out by way of an indiscreet crew member or an off-the-record briefing from St James's Palace. Holidays can expose the cracks in any relationship - particularly when a widowed, undemonstrative father shares the close confines of a yacht with his two teenagers, their boisterous friends and the woman who displaced their mother in his affections.

Tit-bits are to sure to emerge from a party on a yacht owned by a Greek shipping tycoon with a guest list including a film producer, an author and a clutch of eligible young women - the most notable being Davina Duckworth- Chad, a 21-year-old art student known as "The Deb on the Web" after she modelled on the internet. The Blairs will be keeping more sedate company, visiting the stately homes of various Italian aristocrats.

It is no secret that the Queen disapproves of the relationship between Camilla Parker Bowles and her son. Their decision to share a holiday for the first time against her wishes has already provoked memories of a yachting holiday by Edward and Mrs Simpson - and Charles must surely have realised that the Prince of Wales cruised the same waters in 1936 with a divorcee his family never allowed to become Queen.

While Her Majesty lives in dread of some tabloid printing a saucy postcard from Greece, and the constitutional aftershock that may be her only souvenir of the holiday, Tony Blair's only worry is what John Prescott will do with Britain in his absence. As if to highlight the differences with the quarrelling royals, he has even taken his mother-in-law Gale Booth along to the magnificent Villa del Gombo, which is owned by the Tuscan regional president Vannino Chiti.

The irony is that while Tony Blair does not need an ideal family to keep his position - Mrs Thatcher managed to survive for years with Mark, after all - Prince Charles knows that the future of the monarchy depends on public affection.

However, as the Prime Minister coaxes his kids away from their Gameboys for yet another kickabout - "I'll be Keegan" - he might ponder one lesson to be learned from the House of Windsor. Part of the reason Charles and his siblings have had such disastrous marriages is their upbringing, which removed them from normal society and made it difficult to make friends.

If Tony Blair forces Euan and Nicky to spend their holidays playing beach football with nobody but their dad and a couple of secret policemen, he may have to watch royal history repeat itself.