Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

Cherie Blair

When Cherie Blair’s memoir was first published in May last year, she braced herself for a gale of hostility. “I rather expected it,” she says. “I don’t claim to be superhuman, and not hurt by some of the things that are written about me, but I am used to people having this image of me when they have never met me, let alone spoken to me. The book was my attempt to redress that.”



Speaking For Myself, which netted her a reported £1million advance, is in turn funny, touching and wildly indiscreet. In it, she accuses Gordon Brown of “dangling the keys” in an attempt to force her husband out of office; her account of Leo’s conception, whilst the Blairs were staying at Balmoral as guests of the Queen, has caused much hilarity. “That was an open secret with the family,” she insists. “There was lots of speculation in the press over whether it was an Italian baby too. It was very funny.”

She reveals that she was dutifully scrubbing Tony’s loo when he proposed to her – his domestic standards left much to be desired, apparently – and that he was “useless” whilst she was in labour with Euan. “The way I see it,” she says, “is an account of my journey in an authentic voice. I wanted to write about our ten years at Number 10, where Tony had an all-embracing job – the place we’d spent longest as a family – in the context of a fifty-year life. And if certain people were going to attack me for that, then so be it.”

No ghost-writer was hired, although she admits to having guidance from her editors. Was it a daunting project? “Well, I’d already written The Goldfish Bowl [an earlier memoir] and a legal textbook – although I doubt if many people at the Festival would want to read that.” She chuckles. “When Tony was elected I took a vow of silence – it was all about his voice and I never interfered with that. With the book, I wanted it to be personal. A lot of people still assume that the wife of a Prime Minister must come from a rich background, not a single-parent family like mine.” Did she feel like an outsider? “I think what happened was, because Tony was incredibly successful, it was difficult to attack him. So the press tended to attack me. But when you’ve had a famous actor as a father then you see the effect that can have on a family, and you can sort of prepare for it.”

Her memoir skims over her early years growing up in Crosby in Liverpool. Born in 1954, her childhood was far from settled: Gale, her RADA-trained mother, was largely absent during her first two years, and her father Tony Booth, the actor best know for his role in Till Death Us Do Part, was a drinker and notorious philanderer (she and her mother learnt of the birth of her half-sister, Jenia, in the Crosby Herald). She grew up tough and determined, with the nous to not only forge a highly successful career as a barrister, but maintain it while her husband was in office. “My professional life as a QC is the very opposite of talking about me,” she explains. “It’s all carefully crafted and absolutely about the client.” Is this why she’s been prone to gaffes in her personal life? “I suppose I just wasn’t used to talking about me. I have always been take-me-as-you-find-me.”

She talks about the scant “structure” that Norma Major had in place to support her as a Prime Minister’s wife; how she herself had a “slightly improved structure” that she likes to think has been passed onto Sarah Brown. Yet it’s her lack of polish that we’ll remember her for – summed up by “that” photo when she opened her door in her nightie, with the mother of all bad hair days, the morning after the 1997 election. “Well,” she scoffs, “you don’t expect to open the door in an Islington Street and have the world’s media there, do you?”

She says her children have all read her book and are wholly supportive. Do they ever roll their eyes at her? “You have to remember that Euan is twenty-five and a little past the eye-rolling stage.” She quickly corrects herself. “Actually, maybe you never get past that stage. I still roll my eyes about my mother.” I ask about finishing the book – whether she experienced a rush of fear after it had gone to press, horrified about any further gaffes she may have made. “No, it was just a relief to put it to bed, quite honestly.” She denies that it was rushed out, five months early, to capitalise on Labour’s turmoil: “Completely untrue. It was always scheduled for May. I’d had a deadline and worked to it. I’ll tell you something, though,” she adds. “My husband’s writing his memoirs and he’s had to have his deadline extended.” She chuckles. “So for now, I’ve got the moral high ground.”

Speaking For Myself by Cherie Blair is out now (Little Brown, £7.99)

Cherie Blair Charlotte Square X August X.xxpm From £x 0845 373 5888

If you like this, try Xxxx Xxxx at Charlotte Square, Xx August