The wages of spin: Behind the scenes at an election

What do a tailor from Dewsbury, a hairdresser in Mayfair and a fancy dress shop in Sussex have in common? They all took their cut of the £40m spent by political parties during the 2005 campaign. Terry Kirby and Rebekah Curtis pay tribute to the unsung heroes of the hustings
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Indy Politics

Prescott's 'Battle Bus' dealer

Founded by Paul Ward and two partners in 1990 to provide tour buses for bands on the road, Silver Gray Carriage Company, based in Rye, East Sussex, have a fleet of around 12 coaches which have been used by artists as diverse as Crosby Stills and Nash, the Black Eyed Peas and the Hollies. Mr Ward said the company first provided two buses for the Labour Party during the 2001 election. Last year it sent out two mini- buses for the media as well as converting a coach into a travelling lounge for the Deputy Prime Minister during the campaign (£75,000 alone). They also supplied the bus used by Tony Blair, although this was converted by security specialists. The company said although some buses used by rock stars came back bearing the inevitable hallmarks of life on the road, the Prescott bus was returned "in very good condition".

Charles Kennedy's tailor

Tailoring is in Dale Rhodes' blood. His father started the business in Huddersfield, near the woollen mills, in the 1950s. Mr Rhodes, 45, was trained by his father and employs 12 people in Dewsbury. He has a number of MPs, lawyers and celebrities on his books, who pay between £700 and £1,500 for a hand-made suit. He spends about three days a week in London, measuring and fitting.

Mr Kennedy received six suits and one jacket and trousers for £4,800 for the election campaign, including lightweight ones for the television studios.

Mr Rhodes met Mr Kennedy eight years ago through a lawyer client who worked for the Lib Dems. "I introduced myself to Charles and said he could do with a decent suit. He said he thought I would be too expensive for him, but I've done about 10 suits for him now. I'm sure he'll be back and he'll still be wearing my suits. They're made from Huddersfield cloth, which is the best in the world. And they never wear out."

Sandra Howard's hairdressers

Sandra Howard, wife of Michael, has been using the Hugh and Stephen salon near Sloane Square, Chelsea, for 15 years. Although Hugh Green, one of the owners, has been her regular stylist for most of that time, it was Sophie, one of their other hairdressers, who cut Mrs Howard's hair during the election, for the regulation price of £65. Sophie declined to talk yesterday, but Mr Green, who also did Camilla Parker Bowles' hair on her wedding day, described Mrs Howard, a former model, as a "good and loyal customer". He added: "She's a great client with great hair."

Cherie Blair's hairdresser

Andre Suard, the hairdresser responsible for Cherie Blair's £275-a-day election hairdos, is a senior stylist at the Michaeljohn salon in Mayfair. He has previously worked for the likes of the late Princess of Wales, Bill Clinton, Mrs Thatcher, Norma Major, as well as Mr Blair himself. As well as being No. 10's No. 1 stylist, Mr Suard is also said to be a personal confidant and adviser to the Blairs, accompanying the couple on a visit to Washington, where he stayed at the British Ambassador's residence, and on their trip to New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia last month. Described by clients as "charming," he was reluctant to talk yesterday, but Michaeljohn's owner, Frank Warner, said: "Like most French people, Andre has conserved, and plays on, his "allo 'allo' French accent."

Labour's fancy dress costume supplier

April Smart started Mad World fancy dress suppliers in Crawley in Sussex after spotting what she believed was a gap in the market. Mrs Smart, a former dancer with a troupe in London's hotels and nightspots, also ran an entertainment agency supplying acts to the cabaret circuit before giving up work to raise a family, and thought she knew a thing or two about costumes. She was right. Fifteen years later, the company claims to be the biggest costume supplier in London, with a choice of 35,000 outfits at its shops in Crawley and on Tabernacle Street, in the City, where the shop assistant Eleni Cook, above, works. It was at this store where six Mr Spock from Star Trek costumes, complete with ears, were hired by the Labour Party press office a year ago for £299.93.

They have supplied costumes for Elton John's parties, the Venice carnival and the comedian Dom Joly's Trigger Happy TV programme, and have a separate business supplying "fun" casinos to parties and charity events.

"We've been very successful. Most of the costumes in the London marathon on Sunday seemed to come from us," said Mrs Smart's husband, Nick, 60, who helps to run the business. His wife, also 60, was away in Spain looking for new costumes yesterday, but Mr Smart said the couple was very happy with the publicity: "It can't do any harm, can it?"

Labour's furniture supplier

Peter Donovan, 60, who has spent 46 years in the furniture trade, founded his furniture hire company Exoplan 27 years ago to capitalise on trade generated by the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. He employs nine people. He supplied the Labour Party with chairs and tables for a two-hour event in Gloucester on 3 May, charging the party £3,525.01 - one of many such jobs for Labour during the campaign. The company has also done some work for the Tories. "Basically, we'll just ship furniture for them anywhere they want."

Tories' merchandise supplier

Jon Morgan and his wife, Denise, run Just What You Want, a family business that supplied the Conservative Party with thousands of items bearing the Tories' logo during the campaign, including pens, T-shirts, carrier bags, pens, umbrellas, sweatshirts, clipboards, mugs, beer mats, keyrings, polo shirts and mouse mats, all emblazoned with the Conservative flag. Total cost, £1,715.50. "The Conservatives are very sensible with their money," Mr Morgan said.

Lib Dems' make-up artist

Make-up artist Jacqui Shreeve was in charge of pampering and powdering Charles Kennedy. She charged £1,580 for his campaign-time make-up, as well as £273 for his travel make-up kit, useful "for emergencies on the road". Mrs Shreeve has worked with politicians including Tony Blair, and Lady Thatcher. Every morning during the campaign she made up Mr Kennedy, as well as up to six other senior party figures. She said his previous make-up artist had used concealer which irritated his skin. "It really reacted. A red head can be very sensitive." The Liberal Democrats leader was friendly, she said: "They're very vulnerable before they go in front of the camera." She added that Mr Kennedy "did need some powdering down, so as not to break out in a hot sweat as Blair did".

Tories' caterer

James Evans, a former City worker, set up Darwins Catering 12 years ago with his last £100. He began sending baskets of bespoke sandwiches around London's offices. Today, his company employs around 200 people, has his own manufacturing plant and a corporate catering arm that supplies sandwiches to the Houses of Parliament. Mr Evans' company furnished Conservative central office with assorted croissants, Danish pastries, muffins and fruit juices for a breakfast event in April last year, at a cost of £388.64. "Funnily enough, I voted Labour last time, but I quite like Cameron, so I might for them in the future," he said.

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