Coming soon: the Blair Baby Project

Never mind global warming, the state of English cricket, interest rates and house prices - all attention in the next two weeks will be turned to one solitary albeit life-affirming event.

On 24 May (the favoured date) or thereabouts - all being well - Cherie Blair will give birth by Caesarean section to her fourth child and the first born to a resident prime minister for 152 years. The birth will prompt the first great, British media circus of the 21st century. So forget everything else that day and let the coverage wash over you. And remember - you read it here first.

As Downing Street (ie Tony Blair and his press secretary Alastair Campbell) see it, the scenario will go like this. Mrs Blair will be admitted to hospital on that Wednesday for a Caesarian section. This has nothing to do with news management and everything to do with the fact that Mrs Blair, at 45 years of age, stands to benefit from a carefully regulated procedure.

But, at Control Freak Central, as No 10 is sometimes known, the fact that the day and hour of the birth are (for the moment at least) fixed, confers the sort of tactical advantage that Montgomery enjoyed prior to the battle of El Alamein.

The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, in Fulham Road in south-west London, has only one public entrance, guarded by vast revolving doors. A few well-placed police officers and security guards should easily control the press.

There will be no formal photo-call and no tolerance of a media scrum outside the hospital. Editors have been advised to keep photographers on a firm leash.

The Prime Minister has let it be known that he will take a dim view of any intrusion. His quid pro quo is that, at a later date, either at Downing Street or Chequers, a pool photographer, probably from the Press Association, will be allowed to take pictures of mother and baby for worldwide distribution.

Po-faced officials at Downing Street are hoping for a quiet, private birth. "The Prime Minister and Mrs Blair hope the birth will be accompanied by as little publicity as possible," a press official said. "There are no plans for anything out of the ordinary. It is to be a private, family event."

We shall see. The PM, consciously or unconsciously, regularly brings his children into the great debate about Britain's future. Only this month, in the women's magazine Red, he complained of the difficulties that his two sons, Euan and Nicholas, and daughter, Kathryn, faced in growing up.

One postnatal interview with the Prime Minister that can safely be predicted will be on the Today programme, on Radio 4, where the presenter John Humphrys (57), an old sparring partner, is also an expectant father. During an appearance on the programme earlier this year, Mr Blair joked that Mr Humphrys would be among the first to know how things had gone.

Over the next two weeks, various other efforts will no doubt be made to strike an interview and pictures deal, though none has a realistic chance of success.

Lindsay Nicholson, editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping and its infant progeny She's Having a Baby, was reported last week as saying that, as a close friend of the Blairs, she had been inundated with calls from foreign media representatives looking for interviews and insights into the birth - all of which she had rejected.

But it won't just be the newspapers and TV stations looking for a slice of the action. So will big business. But then, babies are big business and no baby will be bigger business than the Blair Baby Project.

Manufacturers will cash in with an advertising blitz to take advantage of a child and baby industry worth an estimated £6.3bn a year. While children's and baby wear make up £3.2bn of that, and toys and games sell another £2.6bn, it is a staggering thought that £496m worth of nappies alone were sold last year in the UK.

What the sums add up to is unprecedented scrutiny, analysis and exploitation of every Blair baby outfit, buggy and rattle. Vivienne Pringle, managing director of Blooming Marvellous, a mail-order catalogue selling children's and maternity wear, is one who will be watching with interest.

"If the baby was to wear clothes bought from Blooming Marvellous, it will really help sales. The kind of push-chair Cherie Blair is pushing will make a difference. Whoever gets the push-chair contract will be very pleased," she said.

Saatchi and Saatchi, the advertising agency, whose clients include Pampers, is planning a series of "tactical" ad campaigns for a number of its clients, although who they are is being kept under wraps.

"Several of our clients are examining this particular opportunity," said Marcus Brown, Saatchi's new business director. "It adds an extra dimension to your brand to show you're swift on your feet."

Miriam Stoppard, the Mirror columnist and doyenne of baby care, said she did not expect the Blairs to set new trends because their lifestyle is "unique". Dr Stoppard said: "For the average mum and dad, the Blair's lifestyle has very little significance."

But the Blairs' celebrity, almost royal, status is enough to make most editors - let alone Baby Blair - drool. Take Maggie Koumi, the editor of Hello! magazine, for example. She is in no doubt about the importance of the story. "I can tell you, I would LOVE to have the exclusive and go big with it. But it's a bit like the Queen posing at home. I mean, they just wouldn't, would they?"

So there you have it. Wall-to-wall, worldwide media coverage, saturation advertising, and the odd debate thrown in about bringing up baby. You have been warned.

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