Andre Suard: Crimp passionnel

Cherie's ever-present hair stylist boosts her self-esteem as much as he does her barnet
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In Sir Christopher Meyer's controversial memoirs published last year, the former UK ambassador to the United States recalls a rather extraordinary event. On one occasion after the Blairs had left Camp David and arrived to board their waiting Concorde at Andrews Air Force base in Washington, the VIPs and the red carpet were all in place for the brief farewell ceremony. "Suddenly," says Meyer, "the cry went up: Cherie's hairdresser is missing! Her French stylist had accompanied us on our mission ... He had been left behind at Camp David. A US marines helicopter brought him post-haste to Andrews as the rest of us kicked our heels."

So who was this man of mystery, the "flamboyant French crimper who never leaves her side", as the Daily Mail calls him? In fact very little is known about Cherie's hairdresser, André Suard. But, as was revealed last week, he cost the Labour Party £7,700 (that's £275 a day) for tending Cherie's locks during the four-week 2005 general election campaign.

Suard, who persuaded Cherie to ditch her dated shoulder-length hairstyle for a shorter, classic cut, can claim almost as much credit for her image over the years as Carole Caplin.

"André has really helped boost Cherie's confidence," a source explains. "She doesn't find public scrutiny easy to deal with and André helps her feel more relaxed."

A senior stylist at the Michaeljohn salon in Mayfair, Suard accompanied the Blairs on last month's trip to Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia - at an estimated cost of £10,000 for his first-class flights and accommodation in the Blair's five star hotel (Cherie met the bill). Twice a day on state visits, he washes and blow-dries her fine, flyaway hair, applying hairspray to ensure that her look remains immaculate outdoors.

What makes a grown-up professional woman spend so much money on something so frivolous? Many would argue Cherie is following in the footsteps of every self-respecting 21st-century celebrity by ensuring that her hairstylist is her constant companion, almost a source of emotional support. Today, hairstylists have been elevated from mere crimpers to major power-wielding players on the celebrity circuit. Modern-day social workers for Hollywood actors and international sports stars alike, hairdressers provide a winning formula of style guru, confidante and escort all in one.

Hair has always been part of a woman's sexual equipment, a signifier of health and fertility. No wonder Cherie blossoms under Suard's tutelage. According to an insider, "He tells her she's got the best skin in London and when the make-up artists gives her a smoky look around her eyes, he says she's got bedroom eyes." Thanks to Suard, Cherie has experimented with a long bob, a neatly styled urchin crop with delicate lowlights and even a chignon. The flamboyant bachelor also cuts Mr Blair's hair - occasionally adding a tint of raisin brown to hide the emerging grey.

Such is his intimacy with the family circle that he sometimes stands in as an impromptu babysitter. In New York in 2000, he held 17-week-old Leo while Cherie gave a speech to a gathering of American lawyers.

According to friends, French-born Suard, who has lived in London for 20 years, dreamed of becoming a celebrity hairdresser. Instead he has become a friend, confidant and advisers to the Blairs. Some say he holds an almost Svengali-like hold. He first became involved with the Blairs a decade ago when he was introduced by a family friend. At the time, Cherie was sporting a mullet-inspired hairdo with a zig-zag fringe, which, rumour suggests, almost made Suard faint with shock.

But soon the man they dub Lord of the Lowlights began cutting the whole family's hair. Initially, he observed, Cherie was not particularly concerned about how she looked. "She's very clever, she's beyond that sort of thing," he said. Friends say the hairdresser thought she looked "frumpy" but she appeared not to mind.

As Downing Street beckoned for her husband, however, she took more interest in her image. Suard brought in a "make-over team" of a fashion stylist to advise on clothing and a make-up expert to advise on cosmetics. His ambition, he observed, was to create an image for Cherie like that of Jackie Onassis, the wife of John F Kennedy, the former American president.

On state visits, Suard is expected to be on 24-hour call for Cherie. At the EU summit in St Petersburg a few years ago, he was given a suite alongside the Blairs at a former royal palace, while disgruntled lesser members of the entourage were shunted off to a Soviet-era hotel.

In 2001, when Hillary Clinton addressed a graduating class at Yale, an audience of America's most brilliant young women, she remarked with weary irony: "The most important thing I have to say today is that hair matters... Pay attention to your hair. Because everyone else will."

Victoria Beckham would doubtless agree. She turns to her hairstylist Ben Cooke as party escort when her husband is away. Jennifer Aniston cried on the shoulder of her hairdresser following the breakdown of her marriage.

Michaeljohn, where Suard works is a very solid old school establishment that's been around for a long time. It's hardly the place you'd choose for a cutting-edge snip. But according to Adee Phelan, who gave us the Beckham Mohican, "Choosing a stylist from the salon was a safe choice for Cherie Blair, and their relationship has obviously worked out well. The golden rule in this business is trust."

In many cases, hairstylists are emerging as celebrities in their own right. From Nicky Clarke to Trevor Sorbie, the names of a growing number of stylists are becoming as recognisable as their clients. A celebrity hair cut could range in price from £250 to £7,000 according to Phelan, depending on whether it is in the salon or on location. "Time is money when you're in this business," he adds. "It is going to cost a lot more for a haircut if you have to travel and leave you salon... In Cherie's case, I'm just surprised André Suard didn't charge more, particularly when you look at Cherie's hair."

Of course many Labour MPs will be furious about picking up a hefty bill as the "cash for honours" row still rages. Especially when Sandra Howard, wife of the former Tory leader, proudly points out that she only charged the party £65 pounds throughout the whole campaign.

Arguably, it was relentless criticism about Cherie's weight and wardrobe that drove her towards crystal-wielders such as Carole Caplin. Who can forget that fateful morning after the 1997 election, when she was snapped on the Downing Street doorstep wearing a skimpy old night-dress with startlingly dishevelled bed-hair. That photograph went round the world. It became open season for Cherie-baiting. The paparazzi rushed to photograph her from below the chin, with her mouth open. Newspaper picture desks routinely doctored images to make her look worse. That's where André Suard comes in.