From the Bar to a seat on the Renault board: how Cherie Booth’s earnings have accelerated

Ms Booth has her own business interests

Cherie Blair at the launch of the Vodafone Connected Women report in Delhi in July last year
Cherie Blair at the launch of the Vodafone Connected Women report in Delhi in July last year

Cherie Booth’s probable appointment as a director on the board of Renault, the French motor company, tells the world that she is not to be overshadowed by her jet-setting, high-earning husband.

When you add in her interests in strategic consultancy to blue chip companies, her role as a fund-raiser for a private healthcare company, her involvement as a property developer and buyer, you realise that Ms Booth has moved a long way from the days when she was making waves as a leading barrister in human rights. It was even mooted at the time that she would become a judge when her husband left power in 2007. Those days are long gone. Ms Booth, like her husband Tony Blair, has moved away from her roots.

Today, she wants to be taking her fair share of the family’s onerous mortgage obligations. Ms Booth has spoken of her contempt for “yummy mummies” who concentrate on their families instead of working. Her public statements have tended to stress the importance of a woman making her own money and being independent. Now she is making money in very large quantities. The legacy of social conscience can be found in her charitable activities, which include her Foundation for Women, which runs programmes for female entrepreneurs in the developing world, Breast Cancer Care and Refuge.

Cherie Booth set up the corporate legal consultancy, Omnia Strategy in 2011, intending to make money from the private sector

Her position on the board of Renault is perplexing at first blush. Ms Booth is not known to be familiar with the French motor industry. But, as I discovered in my forthcoming book on the Blairs, Blair Inc, The Man behind the Mask, the family are close to French business through their links to Bernard Arnault, the billionaire owner of LVMH, France’s biggest company. The Blairs’ two oldest sons have worked for Mr Arnault’s companies and the family have stayed at his Paris mansion. Renault’s chief, Carlos Ghoshn, was looking to raise the number of women on his 28-strong board of largely French, grey motor industry men in suits and Mr Arnault pointed him in Ms Booth’s direction. It fitted her career plans for sure.

Another name on Ms Booth’s corporate Rolodex is the little-known Mee Healthcare. This is the company of Dr Gail Lese, who runs a private equity fund, called Allele Funds based in the Cayman Islands and Delaware, in the US. These are two notorious tax havens. Dr Lese is an American with a career in fund management and Ms Booth was involved in the company as “non-executive director and founder”. Lese was seeking $100m of funds to build a chain of health clinics. Allele Funds describes itself as “investment funds which invest in high growth healthcare and technology companies worldwide”. Mee Healthcare’s high street centres offer mental, dental and (according to its website), “pampering services”.

Ms Booth told the Financial Times: “While this venture is a commercial one, it is not about replacing the NHS or profiteering, but complementing the services it already offers.” The fund appears to have failed to reach its target so far.

Ms Booth underlined her determination to make money from the private sector when she set up the corporate legal consultancy, Omnia Strategy in 2011. Her pre-eminence in the legal field was established with the launch of Matrix Chambers and this became a leading human rights house. Ms Booth argued the rights of Gurkhas to receive equal pay with other soldiers and accused the Ministry of Defence of “irrational and discriminatory treatment”. She also defended the rights of a Muslim to wear a burka.

Omnia’s pitch is quite different to the high-profile lawyers’ chambers. It says it provides strategic counsel to governments, corporates and private clients, but seems to move through the shadows of government, business and intelligence, following in the footsteps of highly politically connected American firms McKinsey and Bain. They offer discreet consultancy and market information – call it intelligence if you will – to governments and company directors. Omnia’s website tell us it “provides a bespoke service. We carefully select a tailored project team which may include solicitors, barristers, corporate general counsel, former CEOs, strategy consultants, diplomats, economists, investment bankers and communications experts”.

Tony and Cherie Blair on the day he was elected

Omnia clients are governments with problems of legitimacy and governance, such as Bahrain, whose leader resorted to armed repression to save his skin in the Arab Spring, though Omnia was said to be advising on legal reforms intended to strengthen human rights, as well as countries such as Albania and Kazakhstan. It is also rumoured that Omnia advises companies like the Egyptian Orascom, which was trying to defeat a takeover, it is said with Omnia’s assistance.

Cherie Blair has known President Nazarbayev, the old post-Soviet Kazakh President, since 2000, when she handed over to him the infant Leo, six months old at the time, for a photocall. Today, the country provides Tony Blair Associates with a good living of an estimated £8m a year. It is a happy coincidence that last August the Kazakh ministry of justice gave a £120,000 contract to Omnia to review “bilateral investment treaties”. This is expected to rise substantially. It has been widely rumoured that Ms Booth can command £1,100 an hour. There is no evidence of a connection between the TBA contract and the award of the legal services contract to Ms Booth’s Omnia.

Omnia’s apparent secrecy starts with its location; the address is omitted from its website although a post box and postcode is provided. In fact, One Great Cumberland Place, near Marble Arch in central London, is a large and undistinguished office block, whose one distinguishing feature is a fine view across Hyde Park. The plaque at the door carries a roll call of lawyers and accountants, with two exceptions. The capital letters CBO tell the initiated that this is the abode of the Cherie Blair Organisation, while CBFW stands for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

The Blairs’ two oldest sons, Nicky and Euan, have both worked for Bernard Arnault, the billionaire owner of LVMH, France’s biggest company

Ms Booth works in these offices with Sofia Wellesley, a blue-blooded descendant of the Duke of Wellington, Julia Yun Hulme, a lawyer and a bevy of young products of top British universities.

She shares her offices with her oldest son Euan, who is described as acting chief executive of Sarina Russo Job Access, which subcontracts itself out to local authorities for training and education support. Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation occupies a different floor of the block. Mother and son have also set up companies to buy property in Manchester and Stockport.

Mischievous voices suggest another explanation for Ms Booth’s burgeoning corporate career. This is a speculated rift in her relationship with Tony Blair. This is not helped by widespread rumours, which are strongly denied, that Tony Blair has had close friendships with some high-profile women.

In the course of our research for Blair Inc, we have learnt from family friends that the Blairs are moving apart. As their work commitments grow, the importance of their relationship may be waning but the sources also dismiss suggestions that the marriage may end in a public divorce. They say that neither party would wish the public intrusion let alone the stigma they would attract as practising Catholics.

By increasing the number of positions on corporate boards and by spending more time investing and reinvesting her millions, Cherie Blair will cement her position as a wealthy woman with enough charitable activities to answer critics that she has sold out the ideals she once espoused.

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