Worn down by 16-hour days in the eye of a storm

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Indy Politics

He works out several times a week, plays tennis regularly and enjoys swimming while staying at Chequers. He has been known to join in the odd game of football with his sons.

Despite the inevitable pressures of running the country, Tony Blair has long demonstrated a determined effort to remain fit while in office.

Surviving on as little as five hours' sleep a night, he works out early in the morning or late in the evening and is frequently found pounding the treadmill upstairs in No 10. At little more than 13 stone, he weighs less than he did a decade ago and his lean physique can be attributed to a watchful eye as to what he eats.

But all his good intentions appear to have been undermined by the punishing demands of high office in the modern era. Long gone are the days when the Prime Minister could vanish for months when laid low by ill health, as Winston Churchill was able to do.

For 16 hours a day, for five, six or even seven days a week, Mr Blair's daily diary is fully accounted for. It is taken up by a relentless round of meetings, visits, media events, receptions and Commons appearances and votes.

On top of his professional commitments, he is devoted to his paternal duties. As father of a three-year-old son and husband of a working barrister, the Prime Minister has had to share parental responsibility for dealing with late-night nightmares and teething troubles.

In an attempt to prioritise his family, Mr Blair tries ­ but does not always succeed, depending on the political issues of the day ­ in keeping breakfast time reserved for the family. His daily schedule demonstrates his attempts to combine work and family life in as healthy a way as possible. He rises every morning at around 6.30am in order to sort out paperwork before breakfast, often having worked until at 1am the night before on his red boxes.

"These days I do need less sleep and the job gives you a certain amount of adrenaline," he once said. "I can get by on five hours a night for quite a long period of time."

During "family hour" between 7.30 and 8.30 am, the Blairs gather for breakfast. Mr Blair drinks PG Tips ­ milk and no sugar ­ before eating toast and maybe a banana or grapefruit. The family reportedly doses itself with cod-liver oil against colds. In the evening, he again attempts to spend quality time with the children, putting the youngest to bed and watching television with the teenagers. They also regularly worship on Sundays as a family.

"One advantage of living above the shop is that I do spend time with the family and we are very close," he said in an interview last year. "Touch wood, they are growing up very normally and nicely."

Most weekends are spent at Chequers, the official country residence of Prime Ministers, where Mr Blair enjoys staying in shape by swimming in the newly-heated swimming pool.

Tennis, however, is his favourite sport, and he frequently enjoys a game on the new tennis courts at Chequers while he is also to be found playing competitive football matches with the children in the garden.

In terms of staying on top of his workload, he traditionally depends on drinking vast quantities of tea - at times up to ten a day - as well as the admission to the odd caffeine pill, in times of pressure.

Apart from an emergency visit to a dentist at Guy's hospital and a twisted ankle playing football with detectives, Mr Blair has not been associated with ill health until now.

Last week, he resumed attempts to break the political deadlock in Northern Ireland, holding a series of meetings with the province's political leaders.

His family history is littered with medical problems.

Mr Blair's elderly father Leo ­ after whom he named his fourth child ­ was left frail after a second stroke two years ago. He was only 39 when he suffered his first stroke, and took three years to recover his speech.

Blair Senior returned to work and became chairman of an industrial tribunal, but was forced to abandon his political ambitions.

Mr Blair's mother, Hazel, died in 1975 after suffering thyroid cancer for five years.