Troublesome relatives: The Shameless Booths

Whatever else he's guilty of, you can't blame Tony Blair for his in-laws. The Booths are the scally Gallaghers of politics, and Cherie, Lauren and Tony all but stole the show in Manchester last week. By Julia Stuart
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Even ahead of the Labour Party conference, the Booths were in full swing. Last Saturday, Lauren Booth declared at an anti-war rally that Tony Blair - her brother-in-law - was a "moral coward", and that he should be "deeply ashamed" of the Government's roles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. "I have got a message for you, Tony Blair: Yo Blair, time to go!" she told the cheering crowd.

And then, of course, there was her sister. As gaffes go, Cherie's was delicious beyond measure. There was Gordon Brown doing his best to lavish praise on Tony Blair during his keynote conference speech. He would have got away with it, had he not strutted beyond the bounds of credibility and spoken about the "privilege" he felt at having worked with Mr Blair. The Prime Minister's wife snorted: "Well, that's a lie", as she walked past a TV monitor outside the main conference hall in Manchester. Happily for the rest of us, it was in earshot of a journalist.

The Booth bandwagon kept on rolling. Next up was Cherie and Lauren's father, Tony Booth, insulting the nation's womenfolk as he defended his daughter. "There is not a wife in the country who has not embarrassed her husband at some point. My daughter does not lie. She is right to speak her mind. This is a democracy."

When, back in 1980, Tony Blair plighted his troth to Cherie, could he have known what he was letting himself in for? His background is sturdily middle-class and flawlessly respectable. His father, Leo, was a tax inspector, but spent his evenings and weekends studying for a law degree to become a barrister and lecturer. Tony's mother, Hazel, died in 1975 while he was at university: Leo remarried and lives with his second wife, Olwen. Tony has two siblings - an elder brother, Bill, and his younger sister, Sarah. Both are lawyers.

Cherie's family just aren't like that. Tony Booth - an actor best-known professionally as Alf Garnett's son-in-law in Till Death Us Do Part - is currently on his fourth marriage and has a total of eight children. Cherie is the eldest, the product of his first marriage to Gale. Gale stayed in Liverpool when her second daughter was born while Tony, an actor, went to London and worked in repertory. He had an affair with a scriptwriter, and left Gale when Cherie was seven and her sister, Lyndsey was five. The girls were raised in a single-parent family when these were rare, her mother working overtime in a fish and chip shop to make ends meet.

Embarrassing Tony Blair seems to be a Booth family affliction, and Cherie appears to have inherited the gene, with a back catalogue of gaffes that would take up a shelf in the British Library. The unique collection is laudable not only for quantity, but sheer range, delighting and appalling the British public in equal measure.

In June 2002 she had to apologise, following what appeared to be a defence of Palestinian suicide bombers, just hours after 19 Israelis died in a suicide bomb attack. "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress," she said.

Then there was the astonishing "Cheriegate" property deal - she bought two flats in Bristol with the help of the convicted fraudster Peter Foster, partner of Carole Caplin, Cherie's close friend, a former topless model-turned-lifestyle guru. In a tearful statement, Cherie blamed the pressures of running a family while holding down a job.

Hands were thrown up in horror when she signed a copy of the Hutton report for auction at a Labour fundraising event. Eyes rolled when it came out that her election hairdressing bill totalled £7,700. And heads hung when she accepted £17,000 to speak at a charity dinner in Australia.

We gasped with horror when on a visit to Australia she was invited by a Melbourne supermarket to take away a few goodies, and swept out with five boxes of 68 items. And we gasped with delight when on her first day as a criminal judge she was fined £10 for not having a train ticket.

Lauren doesn't help. It is not the first time this year that Cherie's half-sister has publicly protested against Blair's policies. Lauren Booth is Tony's sixth daughter, and 14 years younger than Cherie. Her mother, Pamela Smith, is known by her modelling name, Susie Ripley. She never married Booth, although they had two daughters.

Lauren is happy to publicise her own political leanings - in May last year she wrote that she would be voting Lib Dem in the local elections - and makes a good living from being Tony Blair's sister-in-law. She never shies from taking a swipe at him in her newspaper column, clearly understanding why she has been given such a platform.

"If a picture can paint a thousand words, then Cherie Blair's face was a portrait of very poorly concealed anxiety and disappointment," she wrote last year, after the May local elections. "This was the first definite hint at the rout to follow. The Blairs looked as if they ... had glimpsed the hellish political death awaiting the PM in the next few months - or days. As I watched their very public suffering on Thursday night, for a while I forgot my loathing for New Labour, and any fury about the war, the lies, faded."

Her highly paid treachery also includes turning over her sister. "The way her public and private roles continue to collide makes It's A Royal Knockout seem a masterclass in deportment," she wrote in March. "From freebies abroad via New Age therapists to large appearance fees, Cherie seems uncomfortable being a political wife."

Nor does her public linen-washing stop at Mr and Mrs Blair. Her father - the Prime Minister's father- in-law - also gets a thorough drenching. "I remember my childhood home in Hampstead with all the fondness of the Bates Motel," she wrote last November. "When times were bad, there were bloody fights between my parents. My gran told me many times that 'the Big I Am', as she called him [Tony Booth], had punched my mum's teeth out. Another time, apparently, he held her head down the lavatory and flushed it."

Not, of course, that Ms Booth's own comportment is beyond question. For six months, she worked as a sex agony aunt for Front magazine, which she has since admitted peddled the idea that "women were tarts to be got drunk and shagged".

It is anybody's guess as to why Lauren Booth makes her displeasure about her brother-in-law so public. Perhaps she is jealous of the attention given to her her half-sister. With a different mother, she may feel a lesser sense of loyalty. But it is a relationship that has worked very much to her advantage.

This year's conference was far from the first time that Tony Booth has waded into the bunfight, pockets bulging. In an interview in February 2004, he suggested that Gordon Brown should not succeed Mr Blair as Prime Minister. "Tony and Gordon have been joined at the hip. He's always been with Tony. If the Labour Party wants a new leader, they are going to have to look somewhere else. We should skip a generation."

Last year the reformed alcoholic wrote that the Government's plan to liberalise the licensing laws was "wrong, muddleheaded and terribly dangerous", and denounced the war with Iraq as "all about oil".

As well as having been seen naked by the public - Booth bared all in Ken Tynan's notorious Oh! Calcutta!, and played Sid Noggett in an erotic series of films that included Confessions of a Window Cleaner - his sexual antics are legendary. In addition to his four wives, he has had two long-term partners and countless liaisons. His 2002 autobiography, What's Left?, helpfully includes a diagram of some of them. The existence of his eighth daughter, Lucy, only came out publicly five years ago, in a tabloid.

Tony is also open about enjoying cannabis - "I have never smoked cannabis in any of my kids' houses. I would go outside and do it," he says. Once when asked by a police officer for his address having been charged with drink-driving, the actor replied: "The Palace of Westminster." When asked to give details of his next-of-kin, he said: "The Prime Minister."

So what's to be done if you're famous and saddled with awful relatives? The answer, it seems, is to follow Mr Blair's example - he humours his relatives while keeping them at a respectable distance. The Prime Minister has never returned any of the arrows cast at him from the Booths' toybox. Last week's blunder - Cherie denies having said it - was admirably batted away with the joke: "At least I don't have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door". Quite what he says to his wife in the privacy of Downing Street is, of course, another matter.

Nightmare Families: The gaffes, the shame, the embarrassment

Prince Philip The bumbling grandad

Like many cantankerous 85-year-old men with a penchant for unfortunate one-liners, Philip has caused no end of trouble. At a WWF meeting in 1986 (he was international president), he said: "If it has got four legs and it's not a chair... the Cantonese will eat it." During a visit to China that year, he told a group of British students: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed." He asked an Australian Aborigine during a visit in 2002: "Still throwing spears?"

Terry Major-Ball The publicity-hungry brother

John Major's brother turned Middle England mediocrity into an art form - garden gnomes and all. In 1994 his autobiography, Major: Memories of an Older Brother, meant that while John ran the country, Terry was a guest atmedia lunches and on chat shows, where he revealed with glee that he'd never stayed in a hotel. He once said: "If I won the pools, I'd like a tutor to help improve my spelling."

Nancy Dow The loud-mouthed mother

The big, indiscreet blot on Jennifer Aniston's golden girl image is Mom. With a history in soft porn (The Ice House), Nancy Dow celebrated her daughter's ascension to the premier league with a "warts and all" autobiography and a comment on national TV about Jen's hair. Last year, she horrified her family by making a soft-core skin-flick in Thailand.

Damir Dokic The pushy father

Damir Dokic's tantrums have plagued his daughter's tennis career. His finest moments include accusing members of the Edgbaston Priory Club of being "Nazis who supported the bombing of Yugoslavia" and being arrested when he lay down in the road. At the Australian Open he fought with a camera crew. Of Jelena's decision to play for Australia, he said: "They can expect my revenge."

Barbara and Jenna Bush The tearaway teens

Forget the "war on terror" - the President has enough problems with twinsJenna and Barbara - or "Jen and Tonic" - who have made a career out of high-profile embarrassments. At university, Jenna was repeatedly caught with fake ID and prosecuted twice for underage drinking. At Yale, Barbara studied humanities and the art of eluding bodyguards in favour of lbars and parties, reportedly in the nude for at least one of these. After claims they had cleaned up their act, Babs was allegedly seen vomiting outside a Manhattan club.

Sarah Harris