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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Rory Bremner: Finding his own voice
Rory Bremner
The Unofficial Leader of the Opposition - the impressionist, Rory Bremner - has long been a thorn in Labour's side. Behind the biting satire is a sensitive soul struggling with his own identity, writes Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit.

Rory Bremner has mastered every nuance of Tony Blair - the voice, the turn of phrase, the mannerisms.

Bremner as Blair expounding his message
Striking the PM pose
But developing a convincing portrayal of Rory Bremner, happy man, has been more difficult.

Until, that is, he met and married sculptor Tessa Campbell Fraser, in September 1999. Together they conceived another winning character, a baby, due at any moment.

Before they met, Bremner's personal life did not match the success of his career.

Early gift

His talents were displayed first in the guise of the Scottish singer, Moira Anderson, who he would "do" at his Edinburgh home at dinner parties given by his father, a career soldier, and his mother, a gifted musician.

Bremner impersonating Douglas Hurd
As Douglas Hurd
Later, at Wellington College, he says he "got to keep my trousers on" by mimicking sports commentators Bill McLaren and Richie Benaud on the coach trip to school cricket matches.

His first impression in public was of his modern languages teacher, Derek Swift. "He was one of the biggest influences on my life," says Bremner. "He inspired me and my love of languages and satire."

After graduating in French and German from King's College, London, and working on the cabaret circuit, Bremner made his first appearance on national television on The Tube in 1984.

He was 25 and had been signed up for his own show on BBC Two when he married his first wife, Susie, a teacher and artist.

Not easy being me

But already the strain of having a public and private life was beginning to show. Susie helped him to deal with anorexia, but the couple split after seven years, blaming his workload.

Bride and groom
Rory and Tessa on the big day
Nor did his romances with TV presenter Penny Smith and investment banker Zoe Appleyard work out.

In Who's Who, along with cricket, tennis and opera, Rory Bremner lists one of his recreations as "stress".

He says that, "by and large I can cope with most things", but has sought counselling when he could not cope with being himself.

Bremner says he has felt like "a freak" and come close to crying when people stared at him in a queue at a delicatessen.


I was a bit of a chameleon - I didn't know properly who I was

And he was once overcome with emotion at a children's performance of Peter and the Wolf. "I was worried whether I would ever be part of my own family - then I felt my eyes fill up and I secretly cried."

Bremner's life changed when he proposed to Tessa on a mountain-top in Portugal, just two months after they'd been brought together by their mutual support for a charity, Tusk Force, founded by Bremner's close friend, Charles Mayhew.

Man of many talents

Spending time in Africa has been one of Bremner's few relaxations.

Blair aka Bremner
Spot the difference: Bremner as Blair
But even some of his leisure pursuits seem taxing, such as translating Bizet's opera, Carmen, into English, a work performed in London in the past week.

"It's a wonderful hobby, like doing a crossword puzzle," he says.

But if he retains his love for opera and languages, his disenchantment with New Labour is acute - and not just because they barred him from their election battlebus.

"When I first met Tony Blair in 1996, he was open and idealistic, keen to bring a breath of fresh air to government," he says.

"But something happened - was it just the arrogance of power? - that narrowed Labour's vision from purposeful reform and investment, to peevish and petulant pragmatism."

Not that Bremner is turning to the Tories: "How dare they look at the railways, the schools, the hospitals, and say the priority is tax cuts?"

And for my next trick...

Bremner as Blair and actress playing Queen
Strolling with "The Queen" in My Government and I
The impressionist who once got laughs from Ian McAskill has won a clutch of awards at Channel Four with his spoof documentaries, Blair Did It All Go Wrong?, and My Government and I; and acclaim for his series with the veteran satirists, John Bird and John Fortune.

New Labour's sensitivity about the potency of his attacks suggests that Bremner is increasingly viewed not just as a commentator, but a player in politics.

He himself is content with his next role, as family man. Now, the man who once told a counsellor he was "a bit of a chameleon - I didn't know properly who I was", may have learned to live with Rory Bremner.


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