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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
The house that Tony bought
By Joe Boyle
BBC News Online

It's a wealthy, quiet, residential, exclusive and desirable area in the heart of London - Tony Blair and his family will fit in perfectly, according to his new neighbours.

Connaught Square, W2, where Tony Blair and family have bought a house
Connaught Square is described as a desirable area by estate agents
Connaught Square, W2, a stone's throw from Hyde Park, Mayfair and Oxford Street, is where the Blairs intend to settle when the prime minister steps down.

It has cost the family around 3.5m to secure a house in the neighbourhood.

Money well spent? According to the locals, they couldn't get much better.

"We get a lot of famous people in here, it's a very rich area," says Tahir Qurban, who runs a grocery shop nearby.

"Royals from Brunei, ministers from Pakistan, we have served them all, and Mr Blair is no more than them."

Mr Qurban says he will treat Mr Blair like any other customer who comes to his shop, Marble Arch Food and Wine.

"We just treat them all the same because then they feel comfortable. If you go chasing them around, they don't come back," he adds.

Tahir Qurban in his shop on Edgware Road
Tahir Qurban says he will welcome Mr Blair to his shop
As well as being home to wealthy Arabs, the neighbourhood is quiet - enforced by law.

Westminster Council only permits necessary services to open for business on a weekend, local shopkeepers say.

Dance music DJs Paul Oakenfold and William Orbit provide show-business connections - both live on the square, according to residents.

The political connections are less auspicious - disgraced politician Jonathan Aitken is reputed to have lived there in the past.

'Important people'

So, what kind of people buy houses in the area now?

"Rich people," says Carlos Riveros, a sales negotiator with Chesterton Estate Agents.

"You don't really get young couples here. The area is already full with important people, many from overseas."

Hammad Nasar, who runs an art gallery on Connaught Place
Hammad Nasar believes Tony Blair has made an "interesting choice"
Mr Riveros says houses on Connaught Square sell for around 3m.

If you were thinking of renting, think of 3,000 per week, he says.

"It is very secure, very quiet and very residential."

Yet a thriving Middle Eastern community bustles around Edgware Road, less than 100m away.

Lined with restaurants, shops, bureaux de change and hookah cafes, many people wile away the hours smoking on shisha pipes on outside tables.

'Dissent'

So won't this cause a problem for the prime minister who took Britain to war in Iraq?

"It's certainly a very interesting choice of areas," says Hammad Nasar, who runs an art gallery around the corner from the Blair's new house.

"People in general are very disappointed by the way Britain has behaved in Iraq, but obviously around here there are so many Arab shops and restaurants, so feelings are strong."

Edgware Road, central London
Edgware Road has a thriving Arab community
Mr Nasar's gallery, Hosains, is opening an exhibition by two politically active Pakistani artists on Thursday.

Both artists use images of US President George W Bush and Tony Blair in their paintings.

He says: "They are critical of Bush and Blair, but I think Mr Blair would welcome the fact that Muslim people can find creative ways to express their dissent.

"I will certainly be inviting the Blairs to the opening."

Whether or not the prime minister accepts the invitation is another matter.

But, certainly, it seems the future ex-prime minister will receive a warm welcome from this small community when, or if, he steps down.




SEE ALSO:
Blair undergoing heart treatment
01 Oct 04  |  Politics
First UK Islamic bank opens doors
22 Sep 04  |  Business
Italy on alert as Blair flies in
16 Aug 04  |  Europe


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