Editor-At-Large: I love Cherie (and you should, too)

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The Independent Online

Last night I was at my third birthday party in a week - sadly not discussing exercise regimes or the blood group diet with Carole Caplin at Cherie's Blair's "low-key" bash to celebrate her 50th at Chequers, but a more entertaining affair, the surprise party for war correspondent John Simpson's 60th in the ballroom of the Dorchester.

Last night I was at my third birthday party in a week - sadly not discussing exercise regimes or the blood group diet with Carole Caplin at Cherie's Blair's "low-key" bash to celebrate her 50th at Chequers, but a more entertaining affair, the surprise party for war correspondent John Simpson's 60th in the ballroom of the Dorchester.

I'm not upset Cherie didn't count me one of her closest friends (even though I'm an admirer) because, frankly, celebrating your 50th birthday "in a non-glitzy" way with family out in the Chilterns sounds bloody grim. By contrast, the invite for Mr Simpson's shindig described the dress code as "bling and Manolos" - hoorah!

Recently I've been to some brilliant 50th birthdays, one of which required me to dress in the Andy Warhol style and dance to a Velvet Underground tribute band; I was still in the silver wig and dress at 10am the next day. Last week there was another when Dave Dorrell, the DJ legend, took to the turntables and my knees have been wrecked for days. Last Tuesday Chris Wright, founder of Chrysalis, celebrated his birthday at Sketch with music, comedy and terrific food.

For us baby boomers, there are a lot more reasons for having a party at 50 or 60 than there ever was at 21. We've earned the right to behave badly, and couldn't care less what the family thinks. Today's 21-year-olds have nothing to celebrate: they're far too busy paying off student loans or reworking their CVs. And if you've been taking drugs and clubbing from the age of 16, there's little point in having a special celebration at 21. The old idea that you got "the key to the door" at 21 and entered adulthood now seems arcane. Today, kids are condemned to live at home for decades, unable to afford a bedsit the size of a broom cupboard.

Poor baby boomer Cherie Blair, on the other hand, is cursed when it comes to following the birthday trend. The woman is under the media microscope 24/7, and when it comes to a knees-up, has sensibly opted to base her festivities at a venue with maximum security in a non-lavish manner. No chance of Cherie opting for an Elton-style fancy dress escapade. That would surely send the wrong messages out at a time when her spouse has been under attack on all fronts.

The publication of The Goldfish Bowl, Cherie's book about prime ministers' spouses - written with Cate Haste - is imminent. To publicise it, she agreed to be interviewed by The Daily Telegraph yesterday, and to appear on Richard and Judy this coming Thursday. All of this must have seemed extremely difficult, for Cherie is savvy to the fact that she is in a no-win position as far as a large section of the press is concerned. Because she is not donating her earnings from the book to charity, she has been criticised by her "sisters" in journalism, with a snotty piece by Zoe Williams in The Guardian. Sarah Sands in the Telegraph seemed mystified by the fact that Cherie greeted her by holding both hands, seemed to invade her personal space, and ended the chat by kissing her on both cheeks - and implied this was all the result of "media grooming". Four years ago, Cherie did the same to me - since when has it been a crime to be tactile?

I am ashamed at the pleasure people in my business take in this drivel. Why the hell should Cherie Blair (who is hosting a charity event on her actual birthday, 23 September) not keep this money? What proportion of her salary does Ms Williams donate to the sisterhood each week? The way that Cherie is criticised demonstrates why women in Britain are not making much progress in seizing power.

We have an underlying malaise in our society, which is the desperate need to belittle high-profile females who do not conform to some Little Englander idea of perfection. If successful women such as Cherie Blair have everything picked over in public, why would any ordinary woman want to aim for that seat on the board? I wasn't surprised by the report last week which said that when women do get appointed to top jobs, it is generally with failing companies. In other words, there isn't a glass ceiling, but a glass cliff. Educated, intelligent women remain Britain's most underused resource, and Cherie is a martyr to their cause.

She combines work, motherhood and the role of consort in a way that women should find inspirational. Her father is a ghastly embarrassment, but she has never said a word against him. Lauren, her stepsister, is a nightmare harpy, who leaps into print before her brain has reached first gear. Cherie's own career as a successful barrister has been put on hold while she supports her husband and children. So, when I was raising my glass to gorgeous Mr Simpson last night, I also drank a toast to Cherie. One day she'll be able to let her hair down and have fun, but that day is probably a decade away, at her 60th.

A world gone batty

If I told you I'd written a musical about a boy who grows up in a cave and thinks he's a bat, and is looked after by a vet in a midwestern town full of evangelists, you'd probably think I'd been on the bottle. But last week I sat through a theatrical event so gruesome I'm still recovering. Bat Boy is supposed to be weirdly ironic, high camp bad taste, a frothy piece of fun in the Rocky Horror mode. Sadly, on the opening night at the Shaftesbury Theatre I sat next to Richard O'Brien, creator of Dr Frank-N- Furter and inspiration for a thousand rip-offs. Our mouths fell open as we were invited to sing along with a cripple, a leading character with pointy teeth, pigeon toes and a secret addiction to rat blood for supper. I couldn't work out whether we were supposed to sympathise with Bat Boy or laugh at his misfortunes. We left at the interval, feeling slightly sick.

A couple of days later at the Proms I encountered an audience even weirder than the hicks Bat Boy had to deal with on stage. I have long suspected that obscure baroque music brings the nutters out of the woodwork. Last Thursday's evening of religious work by the 17th-century French composer Charpentier performed by the wonderful Les Arts Florissants, conducted by William Christie, was no exception. Eighty-year-olds in shorts and rucksacks, Norman Rosenthal from the Royal Academy (standing in the arena), Ian Hislop (presumably honing a bit of baroque badinage for Have I Got News For You) and former BBC big cheese Will Wyatt. Not to mention Professor Asa Briggs, assorted eastern European anorexics, and young women who looked like they spent their spare time hacking at their hair and their arms with nail scissors. Something about this spare, intensely mournful cerebral music attracts the suicidal, the tortured and the driven.

Talking of the single-minded, Tracey Emin's room at Tate Britain has predictably been pilloried by the establishment. There's something wonderfully engrossing about Project Tracey, with her daily text messages on everything from the missing cat to her knee injury. Her quilt about Maggie Thatcher and the Falklands is highly impressive, spelling mistakes included. Tracey has a giant ego; she's like a record that's stuck in a groove - but there's no doubt that her work touches people in a way few contemporary artists achieve.