One of the most vilified wives in the history of modern Britain, Cherie Blair decided to take matters into her own hands and fight back against the press slaughtering she endured while her husband, Tony Blair, governed England.
During her husband’s tenure, Blair seemed constantly at odds with the press who lambasted her for, among many other things, associating with a topless model, getting wrapped up in a shady real estate deal, later dubbed “Cheriegate”, and engaging in a weight loss programme, based on the angles of her face.
Cherie Blair-Speaking for Myself: Little, Brown, 405 pages, Rs495.
In the book, Blair attempts to set the record straight: She took money for speaking engagements because her husband’s salary couldn’t cover the mortgage on their $8 million (around Rs40 crore) home. She didn’t know her close friend and style adviser had once been a topless model, and even if she had been, who cares? She needed to lose weight and she tried a variety of methods.
At times, the lady doth protest a bit too often—even the title of her book is an assertion: Now she finally gets to tell her side of the story, so you better listen.
So, it’s of little surprise that the British media’s reaction to the book has been anything but warm and fuzzy. Max Hastings writes in the Daily Mail that “Conceit pervades her book”. Libby Purves in The Times of London skips the book and heads straight to the woman: “She is shameless, hypocritical, vain, arrogant and grasping.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But as an outsider, I find her candour delightful and the book highly entertaining. Where else will you get to hear about getting a little nooky on the top floor of a double-decker bus while on a first date with the future prime minister? Blair not only gives us that juicy titbit, she happily speeds along to recount that she then spent that first night with Tony Blair—all the while still juggling two other beaux. She also teases her readers with the story of her youngest son’s conception, born during their residency at No. 10 Downing Street, and—now we learn—conceived while on vacation at the Queen’s estate Balmoral.
And, how can you dismiss the entertainment value of the following scene in which Blair purposefully pushes the supposedly stuffy Princess Margaret:
“‘Have you met Chris Smith, our Culture Secretary, Ma’am?’ I asked.
She peered at him.
‘And this is his partner,’ I continued.
‘Partner for what?’
I took a breath. ‘Sex, Ma’am.’”
Even the less salacious titbits are fascinating inside looks at a prime minister’s life. She recounts finding her husband and former US president Bill Clinton on their hands and knees studying maps of Iraq, debating where weapons of mass destruction could possibly be. She holds little back about the no love lost between her and the current prime minister, Gordon Brown, who she thought was pushing her husband out from the day Tony Blair took office. She also provides a candid and sympathy-inducing look at the tight rule of a press master, Alastair Campbell, who was one of the first British press officers to really pander to the tabloid culture, which meant nothing—including her miscarriage—was sacred.
Whether you love Blair or love to hate her, this book proves one thing: If you’re ever invited to a stuffy political dinner, Cherie Blair is definitely the one you’d want to be sitting next to.