`Sun' takes a shine to the top legal toff

DERRY IRVINE, the Lord Chancellor, has long been in need of an image makeover. Yesterday he emerged transformed as the People's Hero: a Hello!-style interview appeared on the day of the publication of the White Paper on legal reform.

The Sun gushed over the man who "aims to bring justice back to the people". There were soft-soap references to his affair with Donald Dewar's ex-wife Alison (now Lady Irvine).

Lord Irvine declared: "If a marriage breaks down with someone who is not at fault, you would be a very unthinking person if you didn't feel a strong sense of guilt. Time is a great healer and Alison and I have had a very happy marriage." He explained the absence of his first wife from his Who's Who entry: "My Who's Who entry was six years after my divorce ... " The interview is the latest example of a strategy to rehabilitate what The Sun itself called "one of the most reviled men in government ... seen as a blunt, arrogant toff".

He seems likely to remain best known for sneering at DIY wallpaper when defending the fact that his own cost pounds 60,000, or pounds 300 a roll. The overall cost of refurbishing his apartments was pounds 600,000, including pounds 3,000 for a lavatory. For Lord Irvine this was "a noble cause".

He has an uncomfortable habit of seeming to insist he is right even when everybody else differs. Certainly Downing Street has sometimes been less than enthusiastic about his views, including his call for the press to be muzzled on the relationship between Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and Gaynor Regan, now the new Mrs Cook. Lord Irvine was accused by officials of "stepping out of line" and was himself muzzled by the minders.

But now we are seeing a new Lord Irvine. Last month he got rid of his traditional tights, breeches, buckled shoes and wig. "The wig weighs an absolute ton," he complained. "It is very uncomfortable."

With yesterday's White Paper he hopes to re-emerge as Lord Statesman and Mr Accessible rolled into one. Judging by yesterday's interview, he might succeed. "Face to face, he lacks malice and appears more like a stern, prickly professor than a cold, callous, ruthless man," The Sun argued. "The problem is that he says what he thinks and he says it straight. And in these days of po-faced political correctness the bald truth is often unacceptable."

Lord Irvine and the spin-doctors hope he will be remembered not just as Lord Wallpaper but also for his reforms.

It still seems a daunting challenge, but stranger things have happened.

Perhaps he even deserves it. As an acquaintance said yesterday: "He has little democratic sensibility. But he really is a liberal, as regards the law - and he is a force for good."