Blair in celebrity trade mission to China

Darcey Bussell, the ballet dancer, Colin Jackson, the 110-metres hurdles world record holder, Richard Curtis, the director of films including Four Weddings and A Funeral, and Lord Foster of Thames Bank, the architect, will hold master classes in China.

Former England manager Sir Bobby Robson and David Davies, the executive director of the Football Association, will host a football master class and Mr Blair is expected to pose for photographs with Chinese footballers. Among 40 leading business figures also on the flight were the CBI director general, Sir Digby Jones, Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of advertising giant WPP, Jan du Plessis, the chairman of British American Tobacco, JCB magnate Sir Anthony Bamford and the Kingfisher chief executive, Gerry Murphy.

On the return leg of the journey, the BA Boeing 747 carrying the Blairs and ministers, including Alan Johnson, the Trade Secretary, and Lord Powell of Bayswater, a former foreign policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher and now president of the China-Britain Business Council, will stop off in India.

The Blairs will be taken by helicopter to one of the world's most exotic hotels, Wildflower Hall, on the site of the former home of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, high in the mountains of Shimla, the hill station that served as summer capital during the days of the Raj.

The Prime Minister boarded the plane at Edinburgh after visiting the Queen in Balmoral.

His office defended Mr Blair's decision to leave Britain with his wife only four days after returning from a month-long holiday in Barbados. His official spokesman denied he was neglecting domestic issues such as crime and the threat of terrorism.

"He is not spending his first week back from his holidays on foreign travel. He was out and about last Friday and he has been fully briefed.

"If you are fulfilling your role as the EU presidency, it is important to have good relations with these two countries which are important players in the world. It is also in our national interest that we have good relations with these countries. It is in our national interest to recognise the changing dynamic in the world."

Downing Street tried to stop the trade mission becoming bogged down in the on-going textiles dispute with the EU which has caused millions of pounds worth of clothes made in China to be held up at EU ports.

Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner at the centre of the row, is already in Beijing trying to resolve the dispute. The Prime Minister's spokesman, in a clear attempt to distance Mr Blair from the row, said: "I suspect in general terms they will have discussions but the detailed negotiations continue to be a matter for the commission."

Britain's instinct was for free trade but as the current holder of the EU presidency, the UK also had to reflect the overall view of the commission, he said.

COLIN JACKSON, 38

The former sprinter and hurdler is Britain's most bemedalled athlete. He is now a commentator and TV presenter

DARCEY BUSSELL, 36

Joined the Royal Ballet in 1988 and became a principal in 1989. She is known for her faultless performances

SIR MARTIN SORRELL, 61

The chief executive of WPP since he started the advertising company in 1986. WPP is valued at £7.5bn

LORD FOSTER, 70

The architect's projects have included the Millennium Bridge, the 'Gherkin' and the Millau Viaduct in France

JAN DU PLESSIS, 51

The chairman of British American Tobacco since July 2004. He is also non-executive chairman of RHM

SIR BOBBY ROBSON, 72

Former footballer and manager of the England team. Now retired after being sacked by Newcastle United

RICHARD CURTIS, 56

The comedy scriptwriter is best known for the television series Blackadder and the film Four Weddings and a Funeral

SIR ANTHONY BAMFORD, 59

Retired as managing director of the construction group JCB last year, but still chairs the Staffordshire firm

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture