Cherie Blair: Unaccustomed as she is

She says she is no Superwoman. She dreads publicity. But to her roles as wife, barrister, mother and campaigner can now be added after-dinner speaker, book author and chat show sofa-surfer

We are told that Tony Blair has laid no plans for life after Downing Street - no memoirs drafted, no prestigious world statesman job lined up - because he is utterly focused on the next five years in government. Once again, he is a step behind his talented wife.

We shall see several new sides to Cherie Blair this autumn. The top-drawer barrister, supportive wife, mother of four, charity worker, civil rights campaigner and unofficial ambassador to the International Olympics Committee will be adding more items to her CV - book author, TV chat-show guest, and star of the US lecture circuit.

Long ago, Cherie was the first Blair to put herself forward for a career in politics. People who knew the couple in the early 1980s may have thought that Tony's destiny was to be an MP's husband and an actor's son-in-law, until he suddenly moved ahead. Now, Cherie is the first to organise an after-politics career for herself.

Last week, she was on parade for the opening of the Olympics. In the afternoon, she turned up in a flowery Greek-style top and white flares, alongside her husband, in an adidas sports shirt, to chat amicably to the British sailing team. A few hours later, she re-emerged in a smart white suit, with her husband in a dark suit, for a reception held by Greece's President Costis Stephanopoulos. Her husband kept his suit for the evening's great opening ceremony, while she changed into a light blue chiffon outfit. Yesterday morning she was watching the sculls team, in a loose linen shirt, with her husband sporting another of his collection of adidas tops.

Mrs Blair's trip to Athens had been given hyperbolic build-up by the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, who claimed that Cherie's "formidable" knowledge of athletics could help to clinch London's bid to host the 2012 games. "There are few things more compelling for international bodies than for members to discover the Prime Minister's wife truly loves the sport," Mrs Jowell told the London Evening Standard.

That was Mrs Blair's only planned appearance in the news last week. The other came accidentally, through the leak of a breathless email from the world's leading speaking agency, Harry Walker, who hires out top-of-the-range after-dinner speakers such as Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger and U2 front man Bono, for enormous fees.

The email broke the "exciting news" that Cherie Blair, "noted British attorney, human rights advocate and the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair", was available to make after-dinner speeches on three evenings at the end of October. Her fee is expected to be around £30,000 per speech.

The lectures will also, no doubt, help her to break into the US market with her first book, The Goldfish Bowl, a social study of prime ministers' spouses to be published on 23 September. They are a contrasting range of personalities. Mrs Major kept right out of the political game, never looked upon Downing Street as home. Clarissa Eden was closer in temperament to Mrs Blair, a political force who thought nothing of seeking to exercise a veto over the date of a general election.

While most of the research and writing will probably have fallen to her co-author Cate Haste, wife of the Labour peer Melvyn Bragg, who has other serious historical works to her credit, Cherie will have supplied the first-hand insight into the peculiar life of a prime minister's wife.

Downing Street is much more a "goldfish bowl" now than it used to be. One of the subjects of the book, Dorothy Macmillan, was able to conduct a long, semi-public affair with the degenerate Tory peer Robert Boothby, who was reputedly the biological father of Sarah Macmillan. The newspapers of the time kept quiet about it, even after Sarah's suicide.

By contrast, Cherie has spent 10 years in a pressure cooker of relentless public exposure, with almost no detail of her private life unexposed. Her fourth pregnancy, for example, attracted the publicity associated with a royal birth. It inspired one of the most packed press conferences ever held in Downing Street, filled to capacity with journalists trying to calculate where the parents were when little Leo got started. One journalist made a formal request for a photograph of the foetal scan.

Before she was exposed to all this, Cherie Booth lived a busy, sociable life. Her Islington home was constantly open to visitors from the worlds of politics, the law, television, newspapers and other professions dropping in to be sociable. But since 1997 no one has"dropped in". Callers must have appointments; they must present themselves at a locked gate, guarded by heavily armed police, pass through scanning and be escorted upstairs.

In such circumstances, old friends inevitably drop away - perhaps thinking to themselves that their friendship is not really that important to the prime minister's wife as to be worth putting so many people to so much inconvenience. When real friends stay away, there is a gap to be filled by the unscrupulous.

Those who saw the television documentary about Carole Caplin were left bemused by how someone so shallow and manipulative could gain a hold over anyone as intelligent as Cherie Blair. The stock answer is that she is uneasy in her own physical self, and needed the reassurance of a "style guru". Another explanation may simply be that Caplin was always available and always ready to put up with the hassle of keeping in touch across the Downing Street security barrier.

To promote her book, published under her maiden name of Cherie Booth, she has undergone an interview with the US magazine Harper's Bazaar, as yet unpublished, and she has agreed to be a guest on Channel 4's Richard and Judy show. This prospect so daunted her that she put herself through a one-day intensive course in media awareness in preparation.

The resulting fees and royalties will make up some of the profit the Blair family missed out on by selling their Islington house in 1997, before the latest London property boom. Cherie Blair does not have the easy attitude to money of those born into wealth. Her mother was abandoned by her feckless father, the actor Tony Booth, and raised two girls on her own, in Liverpool. She is prepared to give generously to charity, but she has no intention of going without.

Her first attempt to make up for the loss of the Islington home, by buying two flats in Bristol, must count as the worst decision she ever made. It brought the Australian fraudster Peter Foster, Carole Caplin's lover, into her life. It wrecked her working relationship with Fiona Millar, Alastair Campbell's partner, who had been her adviser for years, and culminated in her tearful, public mea culpa, in which she confessed that she was not "superwoman".

The publicity has prevented her from using one of the flats for its intended purpose, as somewhere for her son Euan to live while he is at university. Whatever the autumn relaunch of Cherie Booth does for the household finances, it will inevitably mean more of the publicity which she both invites and dreads.

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