The constant scrutiny of Cherie Blair began on day one of husband Tony’s leadership, says Liz Jones.
On 3 May 1997, I was working for a national newspaper. I remember the euphoria in the office at the Labour landslide and return to power after 18 years – a young, sexy, photogenic couple! – despite everyone having a hangover. We gathered in the editor’s office to talk through coverage. I’d seen the paparazzi that morning as I drove past the Blairs’ house in Islington from my Hackney home (I lived on the Blairs’ old street, which had the highest rate of knife crime in Europe. No wonder they moved).
Suddenly, this photo was slapped on the editor’s desk. At around 8am, after three hours’ sleep, Cherie had opened the door to a delivery of flowers sent by local schoolchildren. She was in a Next cotton nightie, hair a bird’s nest. She was suddenly no longer Superwoman, but Everywoman: fallible. I remember the glee in the office: a fissure! Bad news always sells better than good. We discussed headlines, ways to humiliate her further; we even sent a pretty intern round with another bouquet. It was mooted I write a spoof Bridget Jones-esque column in the voice of Cherie, wailing about how much she’d drunk, when in fact Cherie later said they hadn’t had time to touch a drop.
The British tendency to pick away at female celebrities – be they lawyers or princesses – began in earnest that morning. ‘Look at her fat knees,’ the men in the office were saying. We couldn’t be thrilled for the Blairs for even 24 hours. I drove home that night, rubbernecking again. This time flowers were laid by railings, too many to take in perhaps. I was reminded of those flowers a few months later, at Kensington Palace after Diana died. I will never forget Cherie’s expression: this was just the beginning and they would never, ever let up…
Also that month…
- Katrina and the Waves won the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK with ‘Love Shine
- Poet, novelist and screenwriter Laurie Lee died.
- Actor Matthew Broderick wed Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker in New York.
- The first all-female team of amateur explorers (20 British women) reached the North Pole.
- Donald Trump and Marla Maples announced they were separating.
- Michael Jackson and the Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.