New Labour, old headbanger: castaway Tony lets his hair down

Clare Garner listens in as Tony Blair picks his `Desert Island' discs and longs for life as an axe hero
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The Independent Online
If Tony Blair were washed up on a desert island, he would be as happy as a sandboy provided he had a guitar and a stash of rock and roll records - but only for a few days.

The Labour leader tells Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs this lunchtime that it would not be long before the novelty wore off. "For a few days it would be absolutely great then I'd get a bit fed up," he says. "I'd start to miss the family and I hope that my party would miss me. The Labour Party National Executive would pass a resolution by 20 votes to five asking me to return!" Mr Blair stopped short of naming the dissenting five.

The castaway's choice of eight pieces of music includes Bruce Springsteen's "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)", a song which takes him back to his early days with Cherie Booth. "I had this grotty flat in St John's Wood just round the corner from where she [Cherie] used to live and the only bit of it that I enjoyed at all was a record player and we used to play this song."

Other rock and roll numbers which Mr Blair would play when he wasn't strumming on his luxury item - a guitar - include "Wishing Well" by Free and "Cancel Today" by Ezio, a band he says "no-one will have heard of". Of the Ezio song, which meant a lot to Mr Blair when he first became leader, he said: "[It's] about wanting today to go away which is usually how I feel every Tuesday and Thursday when Prime Minister's questions comes along."

He also confesses that had he been able to sing like Paul Rodgers, the lead singer of Free, he would have pursued a career as a rock musician. "I love rock music and I think that within everyone in my generation there's an aspiring lead singer waiting to get out," he said.

But his performance as lead singer in the Oxford University band Ugly Rumours was, by his own admission, unremarkable. When tackled about whether he could sing well, he admitted: "If I was to be completely truthful - not very well, no."

Another choice, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, opus 11, first impressed Mr Blair when he was writing a conference speech earlier this year. "I was staying at a friend's house and suddenly the music came on and I think it's a wonderful and inspirational piece of music," he said.

The rest of Mr Blair's Desert Island Discs - understood to include one Beatles song, another hit from the Sixties or Seventies and a classical piece - will be revealed at 12.15pm today on the BBC Radio 4 programme which is known to provide unintentional insights into politicians' plights. Mr Blair is following in the footsteps of his shadow chancellor, Gordon Brown, who was questioned about his marital status when he laid bare his musical soul on the programme in March.

In the course of the interview with Sue Lawley, Mr Blair speaks of his family, politics and the press - which he describes as "a tiger [which] whether you like it or not in politics you're put astride it and it's a pretty fearsome beast".

The fact that people are more interested in him as a private person than in his public capacity "comes with the territory" he said, adding: "Sometimes the levels of intrusion are difficult."

He attacks the recent press interest in his hair, condemning it as: "The most extraordinary and gratuitous insult to women" to suggest that they would vote on the basis of his hair-style. "People can like me or not as they fit," he added. "I'm not going to change; people should make up their minds on more serious topics."

He defends his decision to send his son to an opted-out school and says his second son will probably follow suit. "I couldn't have got up and looked myself in the mirror if I hadn't," he said.

Of his father's switch last year from the Tory to the Labour party he said: "I didn't really dragoon him. He offered to join it, though I have to say I think it was a case of blood being thicker than water."

Mr Blair, the proud owner of a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, makes plain on the programme his desire to return to his rock-band roots. But the absence of any Rolling Stones or David Bowie songs has prompted comment. Leo Abse, the long-standing Labour MP and self-taught psychoanalyst who devoted a whole chapter of his book, The Man Behind the Smile - Tony Blair and the Politics of Perversion, to Mr Blair's infatuation with rock and identification with Mick Jagger, takes the omissions as evidence of a "groomed presentation".

"It's the spin doctors putting out a sanitised version in order to ward off any suggestion he could be identified with such androgynous, drug taking characters," he said. "He's chosen nostalgic ones from the past. Why isn't he acknowledging the Bowie brigade?"

Mr Abse will be repeating his controversial analysis of the Blair personality to an invited audience of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists and family therapists later this week at a seminar in Hampstead entitled "A Psychoanalytical Perspective on Modern Politics."

Well, you would ask...

Ezio? Ezio? They are a backwater band rather than a mainstream one and consist of songwriter Ezio Lunedei and his partner Booga, who plays the guitar, hailing from Cambridge and well known at the Cambridge folk festival. Critics have compared Lunedei's vocal talents with the better known Sting and Paul Simon and dubbed Booga "a flamenco version of Mark Knopfler".

Mr Blair's track "Cancel Today" is from Ezio's debut album Black Boot On Latin Feet, aimed at the "adult contemporary market".

The Labour leader would probably be familiar with another track that features on the album. About mid-life crisis, it is called "Thirty And Confused".