First ladies' club: the powers behind G8 thrones

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Veronica Berlusconi

Age: 48

Married: Second wife. 26 years

Children: Three; Barbera, 21, Eleonora, 19, and Luigi, 16.

Background: Actress in Dario Argento's 1982 thriller, Tenebre. Denies affair with Massimo Cacciari, the left-wing philosopher and former Venice mayor.

Fashion: Quietly elegant, with understated suits, minimal jewellery and natural hair and make-up.

Hobbies: Bemoans her husband not sharing her interests in theatre and cinema. Enjoys organic gardening and longs to travel the world incognito.

Causes: Broke ranks with husband to oppose war in Iraq and again to support liberalisation of fertility treatment in Italy's recent referendum.

Influence: Very little.

Cherie Blair

Age: 50

Married: 24 years

Children: Four; Euan, 21, Nicky, 20, Kathryn, 17, and Leo, five.

Background: Staunch working-class Catholic. Highly intelligent, first in her law class at LSE, met Tony Blair in chambers. Leading employment and human rights barrister, and part-time judge.

Hobbies: Wrote book on prime minister's wives, entitled Life in the Goldfish Bowl. Criticised for lucrative US speaking engagements.

Fashion: Hit and miss.

Lampooned by her critics.

Causes: Anti-poverty,

education, human rights.

Influence: Direct influence over husband but badly damaged by bad publicity, particularly over her adviser Carole Caplin.

Could persuade her husband to stand down for health or family reasons.

Laura Bush

Age: 58

Married: 28 years

Children: Twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, 23.

Background: Degree in education and masters in library science. Worked as a teacher and librarian before starting family.

Hobbies: Watching Desperate Housewives while her husband dozes. Oatmeal chocolate-chunk cookies easily outclassed Teresa Heinz Kerry's pumpkin spice recipe in the presidential wives' cook-off in November.

Fashion: Motherhood and apple pie.

Causes: Traditional "safe" areas of education and literacy. But she will visit South Africa,

Tanzania and Rwanda this year.

Influence: After years as husband's smiling cheerleader, she now has a more high-profile role to exploit her natural charm and popularity with voters.

Bernadette Chirac

Age: 72

Children: Two daughters, Laurence, 47, and Claude, 43.

Background: Born to upper-class Parisian family. Devout Catholic, held in reverence by the French nation as the embodiment of loyalty and honesty, unlike her husband. Couple live separate lives.

Causes: Charity campaigner, and an unlikely champion of the feminist movement.She has spoken movingly about her daughter's severe anorexia.

Hobbies: Has written a best-selling book of her life entitled Conversation.

Fashion: Blonde, smart, with classic clothes.

Influence: Devotee of Hillary Clinton. Despite his public put-downs, she is considered the brains behind the Chirac brand.

Sheila Martin

Age: 61

Married: 40 years

Children: Three; Paul 39, James, 36, David 31.

Background: The girl next door. She lived across the street from her husband as they grew up in Windsor, Ontario, and their fathers were partners in the same law firm. Family shipping company, Canada Steamships Lines, now run by the sons. She never worked outside the home.

Hobbies: Family.

Causes: Went with husband to tsunami zone and to meet Canadian war veterans in Europe.

Fashion: Even in a country not renowned for its cutting-edge fashion, she is not considered a style icon.

Influence: Said to be husband's closest confidante; they speak several times a day on the phone. But unlikely to have any real influence.

Ludmilla Putin

Age: 47

Married: 22 years

Children: Two; Maria, 20, and Yekaterina, 19.

Background: Degree in philology and romance languages from Leningrad university. Fluent in German, Spanish and French. Former air hostess.

Hobbies: Theatre, music and downhill skiing.

Fashion: Considered a style icon in Russia but would rather wear jumpers than jewels.

Causes: Normally media-shy but went to Italy to promote cultural exchange programme.

Influence: Never discusses politics with her husband and says he works too hard. But she did give recent interview to bolster President Putin's tarnished image, lamenting gender imbalance in Russian politics. She said: "Power belongs only to men."

Doris Schröder-Kopf

Age: 41

Married: Fourth wife. Eight years

Children: Two; Klara, 14, and Viktoria, four

Background : Educated at a Catholic convent, worked for years as a political correspondent for radio and newspapers. Married the year before husband became Chancellor. Nineteen years younger than him.

Fashion: Neat blonde bob, red lipstick and tailored suits.

Hobbies: Markets her own brand of charity dog products. Real passion is politics.

Causes: Russian charities, particularly orphanages. The couple's youngest child was adopted from St Petersburg.

Influence: With her own office in the Chancellery, she is the most powerful political spouse in Europe.

Margarida Sousa Uva (Mrs Barroso*)

(*So not technically a G8 wife, but since Japan's Junichiro Koizumi divorced in 1982, and Mr Barroso attends G8, she makes the grade)

Age: 48

Married: 24 years

Children: Luis, Guilherme and Francisco, aged 21, 18 and 16.

Background: She was a literature student when she met Jose Manuel Barroso.

Hobbies: She read a poem about a trout, praising her husband, that drew public mirth.

Fashion: She avoids fashion magazines and photographers.

Causes: She sits on the advisory board of the European Network on Street Children Worldwide.

Influence: A passionate supporter of her husband's politics.