Blair on his hols: the Don returns to his spiritual home

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Indy Politics

The holiday style of Don Blaireone is by now well known. The Don and his family don't take a scheduled flight, they take the Queen's Flight. They don't book, they don't pay, they don't stay with no one who ain't rich and well connected. Most of all, they don't see the people they don't want to see. Capisce?

The holiday style of Don Blaireone is by now well known. The Don and his family don't take a scheduled flight, they take the Queen's Flight. They don't book, they don't pay, they don't stay with no one who ain't rich and well connected. Most of all, they don't see the people they don't want to see. Capisce?

At the Villa Cusona, the magnificent Tuscan estate of Prince Girolamo and Princess Irina Strozzi, the Don's wishes are respected. It would be pleasing to him if the press would learn some respect. But without consigliare Campbell to take care of things, the task is not an easy one.

And so there is the official photograph of the Don with his familia to be endured with gritted teeth. He chooses dark trousers, a white shirt and polished shoes for the occasion. Ungrateful people may say that he looks like he has just been awarded three points on his driving licence for speeding. But what do they know?

After the arrival and the installation, observed by the carabinieri in gratifying numbers, comes the benediction. A long-lost mass by the 17th-century composer Marco da Gagliano from Firenze, sung in the estate chapel, followed by a blessing "for little Leo".

The rest of the first day is spent relaxing. Perhaps the high point, apart from the mass, is when the Don's "breakfast baker" - one of a staff of 12 placed at his disposal by the Prince - produces a baptismal cake for Leo. The baker, 57-year-old Luigi Papa, had to get up at 2am to prepare the strawberry and cream sponge, and Papa's effort is much appreciated.

Next day begins a series of audiences, in which Don Blaireone receives local dignitaries. He asks a favour, he grants a favour. This - as Chancellori Brown would no doubt remind him - is "prudent" in these parts. Signor Marco Lisi, the mayor of San Gimignano, who last year was "snubbed" by the Don, is received this time with warmth and civility - and dutifully relays his high opinion of his host to the leading Tuscan daily La Nazione.

The mayor of Siena, Signor Pierluigi, comes also to pay his respects. No doubt it was he who confirmed an invitation to the Don and his family to attend the Palio, Siena's colourful if controversial horse race.

His Eminence, the Cardinal Archbishop of Siena Gaetano Bonicelli, is yet another visitor to the Villa Cusona. The two leaders talk at length and it is difficult to believe that the Cardinal does not also confer his blessing on the infant Leo.

But too much business can make you tired and irritable, and a tired and irritable man can make bad decisions. Remember the WI. The Don needs to relax. So does Signora who, having so recently given birth, must have yearned for some quiet time in the country. The fact that she, as a leading QC, has recently had to endure opprobrium from the Don's opponents for daring to divulge her views on the reform of legal aid, can only add to that yearning.

And what of the bambini? Euan, aged 16 (such a difficult age); his brother Nicholas, 14, and their sister Kathryn, 12, to say nothing of little Leo. They become bored with sitting around. They need to go out, see people, swim in the ocean. And so it is that the family goes for two days to San Rossore.

San Rossore is not a resort. It is an historic Pisan villa owned by the Italian government, which last year was done up in a hurry at a cost that even Lord Irvine might have blanched at, to be ready in time for the Don and his family. Would the public beach be closed this year, like before? Don Blaireone does not say. It is not his decision. No doubt his friends will do the right thing.

And then back to Cusona. Duty calls. The Italian foreign minister, Signor Lamberto Dini, and his glamorous wife are invited to dinner. There are things to be discussed. After the dinner, before they rejoin the ladies, the Don and Signor Dini relax convivially in the shade, smoking cigars, it is said, discussing a range of matters, from the crisis in the Balkans to Europe's relationship with the US. Do they discuss the euro? We do not know.

The local press, including Il Corriere di Siena, owned by Prince Girolamo, are understandably more excited by a night at the opera. They note with approval the presence of the Don and his family at La Traviata in Siena.

The main event, of course, is yet to come: a tennis match between Don Blaireone and the Italian prime minister, Signor Giuliano Amato. The press, always unrestrained in such matters, has already begun taking bets on this sporting highlight to take place this Friday on the Cusano estate. Il Messaggero recalls that the Don had sought extra coaching from the nearby tennis school last year. But it notes also that Amato, though 15 years older than his opponent, is a respected amateur. The paper also notices that each leader's on-court approach echoes his political style. "Tony, who is a fan of law and order, prefers a highly physical game. Giuliano has a preference for cutting volleys," it says.

Spurred on, one imagines, by Tim Henman's fine win last week over Pete Sampras, Don Blaireone may yet emerge victorious. But if he does not, there will be other times and other opponents. From Tuscany, the Don and his family transfer to a château in France. The photographers will be waiting.

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