Pulling power: Wendi Deng reportedly wrote a letter praising Tony Blair's body - but she'd hardly be the first to go weak at the knees


Wendi Deng would not be the first woman to go weak at the knees on catching sight of Tony Blair. Nor even the second, for we can assume that Cherie Booth was equally smitten when she and Tony were pupil barristers together in the 1970s.

Whether anyone else has gone so far as to write down his finest attributes, as Ms Deng allegedly did in her imperfect English, according to a story in the new edition of Vanity Fair – "good body, really good legs, butt, slim tall and good skin, pierce blue eyes…." – history has not yet recorded, but there are other women who have sized him up and liked what they saw.

Your average anti-Blairite may find that hard to comprehend. In fiction and in satire, Blair was portrayed as a shallow, ridiculous man, barely able to distinguish truth from lies, and under the thumb of his spin doctors. One fictionalised version of his life delved back into his university days, when he was lead singer in a student rock band called Ugly Rumours, and depicted him as an ineffective wimp even then.

The public has seen almost nothing of the man himself in more than six years, while these fictionalised images of him linger on old DVDs and in the memory.

Quite how this image of Tony Blair seeped into the consciousness is a mystery. It takes only a cursory look at his career to see that this is someone who knew how to get what he wanted. It took single-minded ruthlessness to shove his friend and mentor Gordon Brown aside, to dominate the political landscape for 10 years, then head off to make vast sums of money.

Despite the commonly uttered cliché that famous people look smaller in real life than on television, images of Tony Blair seldom did justice to how tall and well built he is. He is at least 6ft, and very fit for a 60-year-old, as the eulogy supposedly written by Wendi Deng implies.

He also has an eye for attractive women. In his memoirs, Blair recalled his first girlfriend, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart – "that incredible outpouring of desire, the overwhelming sense of something unique, inexpressible, inexplicable and even, at points, incomprehensible, but so thrilling, uplifting, your heart pumping and soaring…"

He also paid tribute to his long-serving aide, Anji Hunter, whom he first met when he was 16: "I had tried climbing inside her sleeping bag at a party in the north of Scotland (without success!). She had looked after me at university, turned up in my life again when I was an MP … She was sexy and exuberant and used both attributes to devastating effect."

And even if Tony Blair had been short, ugly, in bad health, and not that interested in women, there is still the allure of fame, which seems to work for every prime minister. A bewildering number of men found Margaret Thatcher irresistible. Even Sir John Major, that greyest of grey prime ministers, had charisma enough for a three-year affair with Edwina Currie. Whatever prime ministers have, Tony Blair had in spades, to judge by what the former GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips told Now magazine in 2008. "Tony Blair is very sexy," she said. "I mean charming. When he comes in to the studio, even the models getting ready for Lorraine Kelly's show go into paroxysms of delight and treat him like a pop star. He just has that aura about him."

A multi-millionaire in good physical shape, who likes the company of women, who jets around the world advising heads of state on how to run their governments, with tales to tell of his own 10 years in Downing Street – it is not so mysterious that the wife of an octogenarian might find his company pleasantly distracting.

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