Page last updated at 10:29 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 11:29 UK

Ten gems from Blair era memoirs

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

The official history might focus on the Iraq war or school and hospital reforms, but, thanks to John Prescott, Cherie Blair and Lord Levy's memoirs of the Tony Blair years, we now know:

Blair era memoirs on bookshelf
  • John Prescott had bulimia and would wash down whole M&S trifles with a tin of Carnation milk
  • Cherie Blair conceived Leo at Balmoral after neglecting to pack her "contraceptive equipment"
  • Tony Blair, in between betraying promises to stand down, told Lord Levy he did not think Gordon Brown could beat David Cameron
Newspaper serialisations revealed much, much more, but having read all three books in 24 hours here are 10 insights into the Blair years you may have missed.

1. CHERIE'S HAIRDRESSER

Hairdresser Andre Suard looms large over Cherie Blair's memoirs.

Her long battle to have him included in the official entourage - rather than trailing behind on a separate plane - is a recurring theme.

At one point, she says Andre should be included because Mr Blair felt comfortable writing speeches in his underpants in front of him.

When an "unknown chambermaid or hairdresser" entered their hotel room Mr Blair would "freeze".

Andre also stands in as an emergency nanny for Leo and is a trusted confidante throughout.

When Cherie is banned from speaking to fitness guru Carole Caplin during the Bristol flats debacle, it is Andre who provides the venue, his flat in Soho's Berwick Street, for a secret meeting.

Cherie also takes refuge in his room on foreign trips, to avoid "displaying my fleshier parts to senior members of the Foreign Office".

But on one trip to China, Andre takes refuge in the Blairs' room, waking them in "near hysteria" after finding someone in his room going through his things.

Fearing he is being watched, he is later unnerved to discover a rectangular clear patch on his bathroom mirror, which refuses to mist over....

2. CHERIE'S FEAR OF THE PRESS

Cherie Blair's hatred of the Daily Mail was such that she developed an irrational fear that one of its photographers would burst into the delivery room as she was giving birth to Leo.

"He was by far the longest of my four births and I think part of me was holding on because I was still terrified of being photographed."

Although, she adds, she could easily have given birth at Euan's school, having gone into labour before a meeting with the headmaster to discuss how to keep his GCSE results from the press.

3. TONY'S TEMPER

Cherie Blair paints a picture of Tony as a devoted husband - he used to serenade her with My Cherie Amour apparently - and doting father to their four children.

But she is also frank about a less well known side of his character - his quick temper.

He never gets angry in public but it could be a different story behind closed doors.

"The one place where he could release his frustration and anxiety was at home. Even the children understood and learnt not to take it personally."

4. WHY JACK STRAW WAS SACKED

According to Lord Levy, Jack Straw was not dumped as foreign secretary after pressure from Washington as was reported by some newspapers, but because he had begun to cosy up to Mr Brown in cabinet meetings when it became clear that he would be the next leader.

This account is partially confirmed by Mr Prescott, who describes Mr Straw "taking advantage of the situation to keep in with Gordon".

5. CHERIE USED FOCUS GROUPS

It was Cherie's assistant Fiona Millar - partner of Alastair Campbell - who came up with the idea of slipping a few questions about her into Philip Gould's focus groups.

They told her she needed to project a "softer image, to show that I was an ordinary mum".

Another little known fact is that she tried to import some ideas from the Clinton White House into the "feudal" Downing Street - including employing interns and setting up a charitable fund to pay for redecoration of the family's living quarters, an idea rejected by No 10.

She also had a "Blue Peter" moment when she guest-edited Prima magazine, one of the features was built around a pattern for a cable-knitted jumper.

"I hadn't actually knitted it - I would have enjoyed the challenge - but there wasn't enough time.

Instead it was my Blue Peter moment - here's one somebody else did earlier."

6. BLAIR V BROWN

We learn from John Prescott's book that Tony Blair constantly promised Gordon Brown he would quit as prime minister by a certain date, only to go back on his word.

Mr Prescott also describes how Mrs Blair was "very unkind" on occasions to Mr Brown's wife Sarah.

In her tome, Cherie Blair launches a searing attack on Mr Brown - Gordon's aide Nick Brown, that is. She describes him as a "bit of a political thug".

7. BLAIR AVOIDS CONFRONTATION

It seems Tony Blair would go to almost any lengths to avoid showdowns with colleagues.

"Tony Blair hated personal confrontation. So much so that he would sometimes shirk difficult political decisions in order to avoid it, and end up misleading, even betraying, long-time friends and allies rather than being straight with them," writes Lord Levy.

Mr Prescott tells a similar tale: "Tony has a habit of saying things people want to hear".

Cherie Blair recalls Anji Hunter taking over the running of his office: "Tony can't bring himself to be nasty, so Anji's first job was telling Tony's secretary she was about to take early retirement."

PRESCOTT AND 'THE MEKONS'

John Prescott's suspicion of New Labour types is a running theme in his book.

He initially dubs Blair and Brown "the beautiful people" and suspects Blair may be a closet SDP man.

When David Miliband joins the environment department he recalls Mr Prescott introducing him to senior civil servants by saying "The Mekons have landed".

Mr Prescott writes: "I don't remember that, but I probably did."

9. ROCK AND ROLL

Tony Blair was a little awe-struck by Lord Levy's rock music connections. The peer recalls Mr Blair rushing upstairs to change into jeans and a T-shirt when he was told Chris Rea had dropped by.

He was transformed from "Tony the New Labour Leader to Tony with street cred". "He stayed for hours."

Peter Mandelson also badgered Lord Levy to add him to the guest list for a dinner when he learned George Michael was to be there - but "George Michael to his visible dismay, seemed much more interested in talking to Tony than to Peter".

10. PREZZA'S PIZZA ANGER

Mr Prescott says very little about his affair with Tracey Temple, to avoid causing any more hurt.

He even avoids the TV drama chronicling their romance and tells wife Pauline to do the same, although she ignores his request.

But he still takes issue with the way the story is presented in the programme - and in particular the suggestion that he made Tracey cook a meal for Blair and Brown.

In fact, she had gone out into Whitehall to buy two pizzas for him and Gordon - Tony had not been present, Mr Prescott notes.

Have you spotted anything in the three books that everyone else has missed? Or do you have a favourite story that should have been included? Add your comments using the form below.

Please stop giving these very poor books so much airtime on television and radio. Mrs Blair's 43 mentions in her first interview should have been enough. Oh and by the way, stop politicians filling in gaps in their speech with "ye know" If I did know, what do we need the blithering idiots for!!!
Colin McCulloch, EDINBURGH Scotland

Cherie - fear of the press - rubbish. Play the press more like it. She has nothing to say and says it too loud!
Richard, Colchester

Meeting Chris Rea = street cred ... erm I don't think so.
Mark, Bristol

I love the bit in all three books where Tony Blair admits, "My anagram is right. I'm Tory Plan B" and that he betrayed everybody who voted for him in 1997. Or did I dream that?
Alastair, Brighton, UK

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SEE ALSO
Prescott tells of bulimia battle
20 Apr 08 |  UK Politics
Cherie defends publishing memoirs
24 May 08 |  Mid Wales
I will not quit as judge - Cherie
15 May 08 |  UK Politics
Levy's timing unpleasant for Brown
11 May 08 |  UK Politics
Blair scared of Brown - Prescott
11 May 08 |  UK Politics
Levy attacks Brown's leadership
28 Apr 08 |  UK Politics


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