The British press lays into Cherie Blair's memoirs.

The British scene.
May 22 2008 1:20 PM

No Cherie Amour

The British press lays into Cherie Blair's memoirs.

Cherie Blair. Click image to expand.
Cherie Blair

We've all known occasions when someone does something she or he thinks endearing and is then dumbstruck by a quite unforeseen hostile reaction, but never has it been witnessed on this scale.

Cherie Blair, the wife of the former prime minister, has just published a memoir under the cute title Speaking for Myself. Anyone who writes an autobiography does so from some degree of self-love, hoping to win readers' hearts and minds and to become better liked as well as better known. In which case, this author must now be reeling.

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It's hard to recall such a torrent of abuse, contempt, and sheer loathing, followed by the numb moment when "the nation tries to heal itself after the horror of the real Cherie," in the sardonic words of Gill Hornby. Other epithets about Cherie and her book culled at random from reviews, columns, and editorials include "grubby," "pathetic," "coy rubbish," "nadirs of tastelessness," "masterclass in utter hypocrisy," "meretricious, cynical, tawdry and horrible." No, they don't seem to like her very much.

As with the deadliest assaults on Hillary Clinton, which came from female stiletto heels, the most brutal denunciations of Cherie were from women. In the right-wing tabloid Daily Mail, Amanda Platell called her "a greedy, self-serving opportunist" whose "greatest betrayal is to her own sex." It's quite true that there is an absurd contradiction, with Cherie as with Hillary. Cherie calls herself a feminist, and she was admired by many of us when Blair became prime minister and she chose to continue her career at the Bar.

But just as, without her husband's name, Hillary might be a candidate for president of Vassar but not president of the United States (to borrow Maureen Dowd's phrase), so too a little-known barrister named Cherie Booth might be invited to address legal conferences for what's called an honorarium (Latin for "not much") or to write books for modest sums, but she would not pick up $150,000 for three U.S. speaking engagements or pocket $2 million for her memoir. As columnist Catherine Bennett has said, what Cherie likes to think of as her "enlightened self-assertion" always "rested on a very traditional foundation: her husband's career."

If Cherie expected some relief from the torrid tabs, she was disabused last Sunday, when the sisters laid into her all over again in the pages of the liberal Observer. Barbara Ellen began by saying that she had always found Cherie "flawed, shrill, a charm-free zone" and took it from there. On another page of the same paper, Bennett continued the demolition derby, wondering, "What can explain the obsession with gynaecological matters, and, even more so, with money?"

"Too much information" is an understatement with Cherie, and "gynaecological matters" refers to one episode in particular that has left the whole country cringing. The prime minister and his wife are asked to stay with the queen from time to time, sometimes at Balmoral, Queen Victoria's beloved castle in the highlands of Scotland. As happens at a diminishing number of august country houses, visitors' luggage is unpacked and things put away or laid out by footmen and maids. This has led to many an anecdote about what one wished one hadn't packed. In Cherie's case, that included the sponge bag containing her "unmentionables," as she calls her contraceptive equipment while mentioning it.

And so on their next trip to Balmoral, she was too shy to pack these aforementioned unmentionables, lest the royal servants gazed on them again. (Our own worldly ladies of the press, venturing where a man may not, have sarcastically wondered what on earth this kit could have been that she couldn't fit it into her purse.) As a result, little Leo was conceived in a royal bedroom, and Blair became the first prime minister in office when his wife had a baby since Lord John Russell a century and a half before. (That historical footnote is added to raise the tone.) All this is told us by a woman who for years never ceased to complain about media invasion of her own and her children's privacy. ...

Most people have difficulty seeing themselves as others see them, but there is something almost psychopathic about Cherie Blair in this respect: She has reached absolute zero when it comes to self-irony or self-knowledge. She tells us that she's "a good Catholic girl" while detailing her premarital as well as postmarital sex life. She retails offensive tittle-tattle about the queen and other members of the royal family, calling Princess Margaret "a stuck-up old slapper." (I shall one day provide Slate with a trans-Atlantic colloquial glossary, but slapper is roughly tramp.)

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