Cherie Booth takes Diana's old job as head of Barnardo's

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Cherie Booth QC was appointed president of Britain's biggest children's charity yesterday – a position last occupied by Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Prime Minister's wife pledged to be "active and involved" in the work of Barnardo's, which has not had a president since Princess Diana stood down in 1996.

Ms Booth's appointment is regarded as a coup by Barnardo's executives because she is certain to raise the profile of its work with 50,000 disadvantaged young people each year. Making her first public appearance as president, Ms Booth said she was "delighted" to be approached by the charity to help efforts to overcome the alienation and poverty experienced by deprived children.

"Of course, we all recognise that no child should grow up in poverty or in fear of abuse. No young person should feel alienated from our society. That is why I recognise and welcome the crucial role which Barnardo's plays," she said.

Ms Booth, who recently spoke about being brought up by a single mother, added: "Obviously, as a mother, I know only too well how difficult it can be to bring up children, and I've got so much support and help.

"I know that for many families bringing up children is a really hard task and children are our future. So, anything I can do to help other families, I will do."

Ms Booth was visiting a school in Wokingham, Berkshire, which Barnardo's runs for pupils excluded from mainstream education because of emotional and behavioural problems.

Despite being considered some of the most difficult children to educate, 90 per cent of the school's pupils achieved the Government's goal of passing at least one GCSE subject last year.

Ms Booth denied there was a potential conflict of interests in her position as wife of Tony Blair, saying the Government supported the charity's work. She added: "I was a great fan of the Princess of Wales and am honoured to follow in her footsteps."

During her 12 years in the post, Princess Diana was highly committed to the charity, attending more than 110 events. She died in 1997, one year after she had reduced her public engagements and stepped down from the post.

Barnardo's, which runs more than 300 projects for needy children, was founded in 1870 by Dr Thomas Barnardo, an Irishman who had travelled to London to study medicine. He was so appalled at the poverty suffered by children he set up his first home for boys in Stepney Causeway.

Famous names among the charity's "old boys" include the designer Bruce Oldfield, the author Leslie Thomas and the former footballer John Fashanu, who went on to host Gladiators on television.

Roger Singleton, the chief executive of Barnardo's, said Ms Booth would give the charity a great boost. "She has already demonstrated her deep concern for the needs of troubled and vulnerable children and a commitment to positive action to ensure them a better future. That is what Barnardo's is all about."