- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2000

LONDON

Before her death, it was Princess Diana who beguiled the nation, indeed the world.

But now another British woman is moving precariously close to filling the much-beloved princess' shoes: Cherie Blair, wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Blairs' domestic life has long appealed to the public. Britain was captivated, for example, by photographs of a scruffy Cherie Blair bringing in the milk in her wrinkled nightshirt the morning after her husband's election. But interest in the pair soared to new heights last November when it was announced that Cherie Blair, age 45, was pregnant with her fourth child.

Since then, the Blair baby has become the most talked about pregnancy since those of Princess Di. It also has many celebrities here enthusiastically reciting the virtues of late motherhood in the British press. Iman, the 44-year-old model wife of singer David Bowie, himself age 53, recently gushed that she is to be a mother again.

Unlike Princess Di, though, Cherie Blair finds herself cast not as an archetype of a charitable, yet jet-setting, young beauty, but that of an older mother struggling to juggle career and family pressures.

Many women are able to identify with Mrs. Blair, already well known around the world as a working mother, as she embarks on another round of breast-feeding and sleepless nights, while still working toward her longtime goal of becoming a judge.

"The pregnancy is going to bring a new challenge," Maggie Rea, a lawyer and family friend, told the Daily Telegraph. "But I am sure she will handle it fantastically well. She is very fit and well, and has already proved she can cope with motherhood, a career and supporting her husband, too."

Mrs. Blair seems to have fared better than her friend, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who often has expressed regret in public over having had only one child.

The Blairs already have three children: Euan, 15, Nicholas, 14, and Kathryn, 11.

But the expected birth in May of the first child in 150 years fathered by a sitting British prime minister is sure to drastically change the public and private lives of Britain's first couple.

For its part, the New Labor Party machine is not unaware of the kick it will give Tony Blair's "family man" image with a general election still more than a year away.

Mrs. Blair, whose own actor father, Tony Booth, abandoned the family for another woman when she was 21 months old, is likely to become even more protective of her own family. Mrs. Blair, who already does not give press interviews, goes to great lengths to shield her children from the spotlight.

Indeed, the Blairs seem to have adopted an almost royal-like attitude to being left alone.

Recently, Mr. Blair vowed to do "whatever it takes" to protect the privacy of his family and prevent intrusion into the lives of his children. Even so, interest in the Blairs and their soon-to-be-expanded brood is not likely to wane anytime soon.

Cherie Blair has come to epitomize the successful woman of the 21st century with her seemingly tranquil home life, glamorous social life and career as a barrister focusing on employment law.

Only last June she was made a recorder a junior part-time judge. Within three years, she could be eligible for a full-time post.

"She certainly seems to have it all, and she's become a powerful role model for little girls across the country," said Sue Holmes, a secretary and mother of two.

Like Princess Di, Mrs. Blair receives hundreds of letters a week. At the same time, she promotes the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Care for Children, one of the princess' favorite charities.

And, like the princess, Mrs. Blair's wardrobe is heavily scrutinized. Over the past year many pundits here have referred to her as "an excellent ambassador for British fashion."

For sure, experience has taught her to look her best.

Last year, attention was distracted from the purpose of her husband's visit to South Africa when the press criticized her on the front pages as looking "dowdy" in a green floral dress.

Unlike the princess, though, Mrs. Blair seems to have trained her husband well. Tony Blair calls himself a "nappy-changing new man" who doesn't mind staying up at night with a new baby. A government spokesman said he will take paternity leave when his fourth child is born though it likely will be less than the maximum three months' unpaid leave now allowed under government guidelines.

It's not known how long Mrs. Blair will take off, although in typical superwoman fashion she was back at work within two days after the birth of her youngest, Kathryn.

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