Say `Hello!' to Downing Street's purple-sequinned living dolls

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR has the most carefully contrived image in British political history, but there are some things that not even he can control - like the wild young things of British art, and their unlikely partners in subversion at Hello! magazine.

Downing Street spin-doctors who orchestrated a photo-shoot in a national paper yesterday showing the Prime Minister full of gravitas will be alarmed by The Independent on Sunday's own picture exclusive today, which shows Tony and Cherie half-naked in purple sequins as those legendary plastic lovers Ken and Barbie.

As if appearing as living dolls was not bad enough, the Blairs are also shown in each other's arms wearing cheesy grins on the cover of the latest edition of Hello! magazine. Looking like a poor man's Posh and Becks is not the ideal image for an international statesman - quite apart from the risk of being struck by the infamous curse of Hello! which has brought heartbreak to a series of celebrities, major and minor, soon after their declarations of undying love on its pages.

Our image is by the British artist Alison Jackson, who provoked outrage over the summer with a piece that showed Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed cooing over a new-born baby with the Queen looking on. Her latest piece was commissioned by the Elton John Aids Foundation and Mattel UK, which makes Barbie dolls.

Jackson, 35, is one of many well-known artists, photographers and fashion designers who have made free contributions to The Art of Barbie, an exhibition held to celebrate the doll's 40th anniversary and raise awareness of World Aids Day on Wednesday. Other contributors include Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and David Bailey.

Their variations on the theme of Barbie will be displayed in a London gallery from February, before being auctioned at Christie's. The project is expected to raise up to pounds 300,000 to help children and families suffering because of Aids. Sir Elton's charity has been the largest single recipient of money from the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, it emerged yesterday, receiving pounds 1.1m of the pounds 21m distributed to good causes across the world so far.

The artwork submitted by Rachel Whiteread, former winner of the Turner Prize, looks like nothing more than a concrete block. A spokeswoman for Mattel said: "She says Barbie is incarcerated in the concrete, and we have to take her word for it."

We must also take the word of Harold Evans, elder statesman of journalism, who said in yesterday's Times that the Prime Minister had sometimes become so relaxed in the presence of the photographer Anthony Crickmay that he would jump at the sound of the camera shutter.

The Times spread of grainy black-and-white images allegedly presented "an unprecedented glimpse" of the Prime Minister in private moments, captured by a photographer who had spent a year following him around. But it bore the hallmarks of a Downing Street attempt to portray Tony Blair as a serious, thoughtful and classy kind of guy.

There were no shots of Mr Blair engaged in a shouting match with Gordon Brown. Tony and Cherie were not shown slumped in front of Have I Got News For You? with a Friday night Chinese. They were elegant and carefully groomed, with no sign of the embarrassing but comfy old clothes many of us wear round the house. And the Blair children were not shown at all.

Instead we were presented with a carefully judged series of pictures of a man in control: the hunky PM in tennis whites executing a forearm smash; the thoughtful leader at his desk; the visionary pacing the room as he prepared to speak out against the forces of conservatism; and the loving husband sitting with Cherie in the window at Downing Street.

That portrait, shot in tasteful shadows, showed a pair of Blairs a cut above the couple who appear on the cover of Hello! magazine in celebration of their pregnancy. If Downing Street had placed the piece it would have been playing a very risky game, in view of the infamous curse. In June 1989 the magazine devoted 14 pages to the "fairytale wedding" of the 52- year-old Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith, a model aged 19. Three years later they were divorced.

The Duke and Duchess of York gushed about their love for each other and their children in August 1990, selling half a million copies. Their formal separation was announced two years later. Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley celebrated their first anniversary with a Hello! photo-shoot in 1994, and split up eight months later. Paul and Sheryl Gascoigne lasted 17 months after being paid more than pounds 100,000 for the picture rights to their wedding in 1996.

But the curse only seems to strike those who accept payment in return for exclusive pictures. Close examination reveals that the images of Tony and Cherie were acquired from photo agencies, and the text was assembled from the cuttings file. This time, it seems, the loving couple are safe.

For details of tickets for the "Art of Barbie" dinner to mark World Aids Day on 1 December, phone 0171-370 7440.