Privacy row on little Leo's big day

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The Independent Online

Yesterday a child was christened in County Durham. Normally, a family would want to share such a joyful moment with the world - but not this time. The proud father has never been shy of publicity, but the short life of Leo Blair has been notable for the passion with which dad, the Prime Minister, has guarded the baby's privacy.

Yesterday a child was christened in County Durham. Normally, a family would want to share such a joyful moment with the world - but not this time. The proud father has never been shy of publicity, but the short life of Leo Blair has been notable for the passion with which dad, the Prime Minister, has guarded the baby's privacy.

Even Downing Street had stopped spinning for the day - its only comments being a request for reporters to keep away and a refusal to say when the service was taking place. Any photographs taken of the baby by the press would be regarded as an infringement of privacy - even if they showed the baby on a public street and could have been taken (as many were) by a member of the watching crowds. There were no objections, however, to pictures of the proud parents.

Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, chose to have Leo christened in the Catholic church of St John Fisher, in the PM's constituency of Sedgefield.

Only 24 per cent of infants are christened today, compared with 65 per cent in the days of Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson. The British people, whose approval is Mr Blair's obsession, are sliding into a benign secularism, and no longer regard the reception of their children into the church as a key rite of passage.

The Blairs disagree. So at tea-time yesterday, in bright sunshine under the fond, but respectful gaze of the people of Sedgefield, young Leo became an apprentice member of the Most Holy and Apostolic Church.

Although Mr Blair remains nominally Anglican, his wife is Catholic. Leo was the fourth Blair child to be christened in the tiny redbrick church. The private ceremony was attended only by family, close friends and a few selected political colleagues.

Outside an enthusiastic crowd, made up almost exclusively of locals, waved and cheered - and as Leo made his appearance wrapped in a christening shawl, there was a discernible "Aaahh". The suited Prime Minister smiled for the cameras, followed by Cherie in a broad-brimmed hat and long lavender coat.

The couple's three other children were led into the building by 16-year-old Euan, sporting a button-hole on the lapel of his black suit.

Afterwards, several newspapers were approached with photographs that showed baby Leo in his father's arms. In a statement to the Press Association the Prime Minister made it clear he believed there could be no justification for their publication. The Independent on Sunday has chosen to respect that view.

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