'He was just so charismatic': Blair's return provokes a bout of nostalgia

The man with the Golden Tan flew to Gordon Brown's aid yesterday.

The former Prime Minister exudes the sheen of the super rich these days. He has lost a lot of weight since leaving office in 2007. He is now model thin, the kind of sleek look that costs a fortune in expensive salad leaves.

The smile is still there, but the tan is the most noticeable thing, set off by a blue suit. It has provoked jokes on the internet. David Cameron wisecracked that the Blair orange hue would be "very good for the sales of Tango", but it is a gentler, more expensive glow than anything from the inside of a bottle. It is more Miami with a touch of the Middle East, where he had spent the past two weeks grounded by volcano dust.

Girls hung over a parapet near the roof of the West London NHS polyclinic to catch a glimpse of Mr Blair as he trotted into the family centre which is part of his NHS legacy and boasts on its doors: "Open 8am-8pm, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

In the health centre, he chatted to nurses, doctors and patients in the easy manner that saw him through three General Election victories. Staff spoke about his star quality. "He was just so charismatic," said Dr Mark Bonar, a GP at the polyclinic, a new form of health centre that is being rolled out across London.

If Gordon Brown had that quality, he would be home and dry. It was like seeing Margaret Thatcher returning to support John Major. There was an intense feeling of nostalgia, and as the press shouted questions, a Labour supporter said: "Bring him back."

The clinic provides multi-GP services and minor surgery under one roof, but specialises in sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and HIV tests. "Don't tell the Daily Mail," whispered a Labour aide.

After spending an hour touring the clinic, Mr Blair offered his support to Mr Brown, but the words did not matter. It was his presence that counted. He is the secret weapon to reach wavering voters in the marginal seats in the south and the north west, whom Mr Brown knows he cannot reach.

Putting their past strains behind him, Blair denied that Mr Brown had been a "failure" as Prime Minister. "No I don't think he's failed at all."

Asked about the prospect that Labour could come third in the share of the vote on 6 May, the former PM replied: "I don't believe that will happen. Labour has every chance of succeeding. When you start in an election campaign, particularly when you have got a new thing, which is the debates, then it will all revolve around a bit of who's up, who's down.

"But once you get into the final days, I think people will really focus their minds on who has the answers for the future, who has the energy, the drive to take the country forward."

Mr Blair called Mr Brown "completely honest" and said he had the "energy and drive" to take Britain forward.

Mr Blair had his blood pressure taken and joked: "The question will be, is it better or worse than it used to be?"

An ITN reporter said: "Or is it better or worse than Gordon's?"

Mr Blair responded: "It's a tough job being Prime Minister – I know."

One doctor confided that Mr Blair's "blood pressure was high. We told him to have it rechecked as soon as he can. But he looks very fit."

As he left the building, more staff leant out to glimpse the celebrity ex-PM, who swept off in a bomb-proof BMW. If he loses, at least Mr Brown will know life is not so bad for an ex-prime minister in global demand.