Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Sunday, 21 September 2008 17:02 UK

PM's wife is a hit on the fringe

By Emma Griffiths
BBC News, Labour conference, Manchester

Sarah Brown and stall holder
Mrs Brown was whisked between stalls at speed

How very different from the Blair years.

Cherie Blair's annual tour of the conference stalls used to be one of the minor highlights of the Labour conference - a must-attend event for journalists looking for a wacky picture and a salty quote.

She revelled in this once-a-year chance to bask in the spotlight - giving full rein to her theatrical tendencies and love of a good natter.

Sarah Brown has always kept a lower profile than Mr Blair's wife, but she has decided to keep up the tradition of touring the dozens of stalls at the conference centre to chat to the charities, lobbyists and campaigners manning them.

But while Mrs Blair verbally jousted with reporters, Mrs Brown quietly repeated "nice to meet you" to each stallholder, as she was shuttled between them at speed.

One steward outside had no idea she had arrived and without the entourage of photographers and cameramen surging behind, she may well have passed unnoticed.

'Genuine'

But those who met Mrs Brown seemed to like her. On the Visit Brighton stand, she spoke to Judith Sturges and Anja Vipan about next year's conference - to be held in Brighton - and both thought her a "lovely lady".

"She's beautiful, I was really taken aback, she's just so elegant," said Anja.

It was nice to see her and I think it's nice she's making the effort
Stallholder

"It was over in a flash. There was enough time to shake hands, stand, the photographer says 'do this, do that' and it was all over. But she was a very lovely lady."

Knowsley Council's noisy video display - fronted by an 18-year-old college student - caught Mrs Brown's attention.

Lisa Harris appreciated her stopping, if only for a minute: "She's got a hard job on her hands at the moment," she said. "She was really nice ... it's a good opportunity for her to met other delegates." Her colleagues echoed Visit Brighton's impression of Mrs Brown as "genuinely lovely".

Flying visit

Karen Jones didn't think it mattered that she wasn't as flamboyant as her predecessor: "You don't have to be to show how genuine you are."

Mrs Brown stayed just long enough at each stall to ask a couple of questions and be sandwiched, smiling, between stall holders for a photograph.

Some had met her - and Mrs Blair - at previous conferences. Sukey Cameron on the Falklands Islands stall had been at every conference for the past 21 years was grateful for the support, even if the visit was a flying one: "They have got a lot of people to see," she said.

Emma Williams at the Shaw Trust stall - a charity which helps find jobs for disabled and disadvantaged people - gave Mrs Brown a booklet explaining their work, but she handed it back to them.

While she said she knew she would not want to carry it around, she had hoped Mrs Brown would pass it to a colleague.

But she added: "It was nice to see her and I think it's nice she's making the effort."




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