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The BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti
Their smiles spoke volumes
 real 28k

Friday, 19 November, 1999, 22:28 GMT
Blairs' surprise over baby
Smiles all round as Cherie Blair leaves number 10 on Friday

Tony and Cherie Blair have spoken of their shock and surprise at discovering they are expecting their fourth child in May.

Messages of congratulation have been pouring in to Downing Street since the news broke - with one of the first coming from the American First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Mrs Blair's short walk from the steps of number 10 to her car, on Friday lunchtime, was her first public appearance since the news broke.

She told waiting reporters that she was very well, but had been very surprised to discover she was pregnant again.

Both Mrs Blair, 45, and her husband, 46, are said to be delighted by the news, although it came as a "total shock".

The couple already have two sons, Euan, 15, and Nicky, 14 and a daughter, Kathryn, 11.

Happy holidaymakers - the Blairs in August
According to House of Commons sources, the last prime minister to father a child while in office was Lord John Russell, whose fourth son George Gilbert William Russell was born in 1848.

News of the pregnancy generated a warm reponse from politicians, friends and constituents.

Opposition leader William Hague and his wife Ffion said: "It is wonderful news. We are delighted for the whole family."

Home Secretary Jack Straw said he did not expect that a new arrival at No 10 would disrupt government business.

He said: "Obviously having a fourth baby, particularly when the father is 46 and the mother is 45, is a diverting prospect.

"But Tony is a highly professional politician and prime minister and I cannot think of a single partner who has given more support to their spouse than Cherie has given to Tony."

Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, added: "Great news. My warmest personal congratulations and good wishes to both Tony and Cherie."

Mr Blair's constituency agent for Sedgefield, John Burton, said: "The whole constituency will be thrilled. The first thing my wife said when she found out was that it explained why Cherie looked under the weather when we saw her last."

Tony Booth: Looking forward to being a grandfather again
Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam also welcomed the news.

Speaking on BBC One's Question Time, she said: "Can I just say to Tony and Cherie, if you are watching, I am terribly happy for you both and for the rest of the family. I didn't know."

It is thought Mr Blair had been hoping to keep the impending arrival secret until after Christmas, but the news leaked out.

The prime minister has always said his family are the most important thing in his life.

In July, shortly before the holiday on which the baby is thought to have been conceived, he told BBC's Newsround he would have liked to have more children.

He said: "We would have had five if, well, if we had carried on, I suppose. I think big families are great."

Mrs Blair has also always stressed the importance of the family in their lives and lists "Keeping fit and enjoying my children" as her recreations:

Millennium baby

Mrs Blair's father, the actor Tony Booth, is also looking forward becoming a grandfather again.

Speaking outside his home at Broadbottom, Greater Manchester, he said: "It is fantastic news. We are all delighted. She is very happy, we are all very happy.

"We hope it will be an easy time and a happy birth. It is a millennium baby, which is beautiful - a hell of a way to start the millennium."

Mr Booth, 64, currently starring in Prizenight at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, said every pregnancy was a worry for parents and grandparents, but he did not have any particular concerns.

"She is my daughter, to me she is a kid. I don't think of her as a 45-year-old judge."

The prime minister's wife discovered she was two months pregnant five weeks ago and told her husband on the eve of the Labour party conference.

Risk of miscarriage increased

Statistically, because of Mrs Blair's age, the risk of miscarriage and complications is increased.

That is thought to be the reason why the couple wanted to leave it as long as possible before telling friends.

The pregnancy could mean Mrs Blair has to cut down on her workload.

As a leading barrister, Mrs Blair earned up to 250,000 a year before the election.

Although that figure is far less since the election because she has cut down on her work, she still regularly appears in the courts and at charity functions.

The last celebrated occasion when a baby belonging to a prime ministerial family entered Downing Street was in 1989 when Margaret Thatcher, as she then was, greeted her grandson, Michael, for the first time.

When the baby, the child of her son Mark, was born a few weeks earlier, Mrs Thatcher famously said: "We are a grandmother."

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See also:
19 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Baby cynics question timing
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Top dad Homer 'icon for Blair'
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Bringing up baby, Downing Street style
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Cherie: Lawyer, wife and mum
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Pregnancy risks increase with age
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Cherie: My family cancer tragedy

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