Downing Street reveals Britain's worst-kept secret: where Tony Blair has gone on holiday

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The waiting political reporters were solemnly told the restricted information, which hitherto had spawned pages of speculation, minor intrigue and even a spot-the-ball style quiz. The Prime Minister and his family are sunning themselves on the Caribbean island of Barbados.

A No 10 spokeswoman ended the suspense a fortnight after Mr Blair triggered a wave of criticism by flying off on holiday during security alerts in the aftermath of attacks on the London transport network.

Last month David Hill, the Prime Minister's director of communications, wrote to editors requesting that details of the Blairs' holiday arrangements not be published until his return to Britain, because of security fears.

But Mr Hill lifted his request on Sunday evening, after Mr Blair accepted an invitation from Second World War veterans on the island to attend a commemoration service marking the islanders' contribution to the war.

Mr Hill wrote: "The Prime Minister has accepted the invitation and will attend along with the Prime Minister of Barbados and representatives of the US, Canadian and French governments. As this will be a public event, his protection team accept the location of the holiday will be reported."

The Downing Street spokeswoman added that she did not know how the veterans twigged that Mr Blair was in town. She said: "I don't know how the Barbados Legion knew he was there, but you can imagine it is a small place and obviously people got to know that he's there."

Yesterday, a sober-suited Mr Blair was pictured with his wife, Cherie, at the VJ Day service, before taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony.

Downing Street has refused to confirm where Mr Blair is staying on the island, despite hints in newspapers that his host was a "confirmed bachelor boy". The spokeswoman said No 10 continued "to request restraint in publicising the exact location of the Prime Minister's holiday".

In the past the Blairs have stayed at the six-bedroom Barbados home of the singer Sir Cliff Richard.

Mr Blair's absence from Britain has been criticised, first as ministers departed amid Britain's biggest police operation in the wake of the London bomb attacks, and then when he declined to fly home for the funeral of the former foreign secretary Robin Cook and the VJ Day commemoration on Sunday.

But in the meantime, the mystery of his whereabouts has become a minor national game, and the secrecy has failed to prevent a stream of stories about his weight, choice of swimwear and holiday wardrobe.

Newspaper readers have been treated to front-page pictures of the Prime Minister and his wife swimming in unspecified exotic seas. Mr Blair was even shown sporting a Hawaiian shirt with a knotted handkerchief on his head, prompting Madame Tussauds to dress their waxwork of Mr Blair in holiday garb to suit.

During his trip away, Fleet Street has been speculating about the holiday location. Two days after Mr Blair departed for his vacation, The Daily Telegraph published a "Postcard from Tony in Chiantishire", while Sky News angered No 10 by blurting out his holiday destination on air.

The Daily Mail ran two pages of possible locations for the trip, ranging from Afghanistan to Ibiza. The Sun reported that Mr Blair, who visited Barbados last year, was in the Caribbean, then published a "Spot the Blair" competition, offering a free holiday to the reader who correctly guessed where the Blairs were staying.

Downing Street declined to say when the Prime Minister would return to Britain from his holiday. But the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who had a short break in Majorca earlier this summer, has said that Mr Blair is expected back by the end of the month.