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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 June 2007, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Farewell to the 'First Lady'
By Mark Sanders
BBC political correspondent

Cherie Blair
Cherie Blair has been a colourful figure as the prime minister's wife

Cherie Blair believes that being the other half in Number 10 means you have to live in "the goldfish bowl".

And ever since that picture, with that hair, on the morning her husband took power in 1997, she's attracted more attention than any other prime minister's wife.

The media devour any story that involves Cherie, and often they've dined on her reputation. She was like no other Downing Street spouse.

As her half sister Lauren Booth told me: "You didn't have a middle class, 'let me heat your peas John' type woman here.

"There was a great deal of snobbery about Cherie from the beginning.

"Here was a successful woman, not willing to be put into a pinny, told to be quiet and sit in the corner."

She's always had an uneasy relationship with the media, at its most strained when there was the scent of scandal.

Caplin affair

In 2002 Cherie Blair used Peter Foster, a well known con man, to get a discount on two flats she bought in Bristol where her son was studying.

Foster was the boyfriend of her then lifestyle coach Carole Caplin and although the prime minister's wife did nothing illegal, Number 10 at first denied Foster was involved.

At least I don't have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door....
Tony Blair

When they did acknowledge that he had been in on the deal, Cherie Blair made a tearful apology claiming she had "dropped the ball" because she was juggling many different roles; prime minister's wife, barrister and mother.

Cherie's enemies have accused her of cashing in on her status, there was her book about prime minister's wives, the lucrative speaking tours and the press lapped up tales of her love of freebies.

There have also been plenty of barbs in print about her appearance, as Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun puts it.

"Nature has not been entirely kind to her, that's not to say she's an unattractive woman, but there's something about her mouth which doesn't really work in a picture and there's nothing the press like more than knowing that when they put the old stiletto in, it gets a reaction.

"She gets very, very upset."

Cherie's friends insist she's been a great support to her husband and done much for charity.

Controversial comments

Cate Haste, who co-wrote the book on Downing Street spouses with Cherie, says: "I think that she added a lot to that premiership.

"I know she got criticised, I know that people were out to get her and getting at the prime minister's wife is sometimes thought of as getting at the prime minister."

Cherie Blair's always been a political figure; she once had ambitions to be an MP.

Sometimes her comments have stirred up trouble. She apologised for suggesting young Palestinian suicide bombers were a symptom of the despair they faced.

And there have been stories about her urging her husband to sack Gordon Brown during the worst of the rows, the TB-GBs, between the two men.

I know that people were out to get her and getting at the prime minister's wife is sometimes thought of as getting at the prime minister
Cate Haste

At the last Labour conference she was overheard referring to Mr Brown as a liar.

She denied this and her husband tried to make light of it in his conference speech: "At least I don't have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door...."

So as we wave goodbye to Mrs Blair we say hello to Mrs Brown.

Although a former PR executive, Sarah Macaulay shies away from publicity and she's acutely aware from Cherie's experience that that what she says and what she wears will be picked over endlessly in the press.

Number 10 may squirm whenever Cherie Blair's been called the "First Lady".

But given her profile, her influence and the strong emotions she provokes, she's the closest thing to a "First Lady" Downing Street has ever had.

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