The irresistible pull of a fading star enjoying his comeback show
The view from the gallery
Saturday 30 January 2010
In 2007 I played Tony Blair in a satirical musical about his time as Prime Minister. I hold my hands up now and say that I am an admirer of the man and always have been.
You can imagine my excitement therefore at securing a ticket for his appearance at the Iraq Inquiry. Outside the conference centre was buzzing and I took my place as his number one groupie in the queue. It was fascinating to eavesdrop on the musings of my fellow audience members. A couple of middle-aged women told me they weren't really political but had nothing planned for today so thought; "Well it's a day out, isn't it?"
Once inside and through the airport style security we took our places in the additional viewing facility – a huge conference room with over a thousand seats. A huge screen showed the Iraq Inquiry logo and pop music started playing. The first big audience reaction, if you don't count the one after the announcement that there was nowhere in the building to get a cup of coffee, came during a recorded emergency exit briefing that ended with the words "Please enjoy the rest of your event". This produced a big laugh in the hall, by now about three-quarters full.
There was a great sense of expectation about seeing Blair on the big screen and I suspect even those who opposed Iraq have secretly missed the charm and elegance that Blair brings to his public appearances. I was surprised at his physical appearance – still handsome but leaner, older and with a higher hairline. The young girls behind me didn't look like typical politics students and neither did they sound it;
"Wow, look at his tan."
"Well he works in the Middle East nowadays."
Once the questioning began the hall fell silent. Everyone was transfixed and it was fascinating to see our old leader back up there on the big screen – nervous at first, but growing more relaxed, even beginning to enjoy his comeback, or as another faded star, Norma Desmond, would say, his 'return'. The crowd were listening intently and were most unappreciative of the sudden outburst by a shaggy- haired hippie who unexpectedly leapt up from his seat in the middle of the room and cried out: "I can't stomach any more of this. This man is a serial liar..."
Unfortunately for him nobody was interested in his ranting and he was told with a huge, collective shout to "shut up", which he did, sitting down sheepishly.
The audience was made up mostly of anti-Blairites and I wanted to leap to his defence when people scoffed at an answer or tittered at the return of the irregular, Pinter-esqe pauses and elegant hand gestures. None of his responses produced major reactions apart from one. When he announced that it was beyond doubt Iraq had weapons-making technology, one of the interviewers interjected with: "Beyond your doubt, but not everyone else's." This produced a huge round of applause.
Once the session ended I felt saddened. Politicians who make it to the top job riding high in opinion polls rarely leave office enjoying the same levels of popularity, and Blair's journey from 1997 to this morning is the story of a spectacular fall from grace to an almost universal loathing by the British public. As I listened to my iPod on my way out through the masses of media I smiled as a Stephen Sondheim song began. A line in the song summed up the crux of Blair's responses to criticism over his decision to take this country to war: 'I chose and my world was shaken, so what? The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not.'
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