ID: After I wrote a review of your autobiography on my blog, you wrote me a note which effectively said I was the only person who understood you.
CB [Laughs]: Well maybe its true...You were an unusual person to write a review and enjoy the book.
How did you find the whole experience of writing a book?
I think you may have even said this in your review, that I felt a lot of people were expecting me to write a certain kind of book. I didn't write that kind of book because I didn't want to write a political book. The political story isn't mine to tell, it's Tony's story to tell. So I wanted to write much more of a woman's book, which I'm unapologetic about. I wanted to write about the human side. There were lots of people who said ‘oh she's going to write this sort of book' and so they wrote a review about that sort of book even if I hadn't written it.
In retrospect did you think that you put in a little too much about certain things?
[Laughs] I don't think so. I don't mind talking about my pregnancies and talking about Leo and where he was born. I thought it was quite a nice story actually. I still do. All those experiences of going to Balmoral - who would have thought that a girl like me would ever get to meet the Queen - and she was always so kind to me, she really was. You know I can remember going to the White House and hearing Stevie Wonder and Elton John perform, I mean, this was kind of surreal.
Were you conscious that when you went abroad you were always representing the country? Did you ever fear letting the side down?
Very much so. And that's partly about why I wanted to make sure I looked my best; I don't claim to be a fashion model, and never have done. I have always been a clever girl, a girl who makes her living by what she says and her brain rather than by her wonderful face and body, so when you are suddenly representing your country it's a big challenge for everybody as none of us are perfect. I think even models find it difficult. I am so glad I don't have to stand next to Carla Bruni; nobody's going to win that competition are they? That's why I paid to take Andre, my hairdresser, with me because I wanted to make sure I looked my best. It's OK for men. They just have to have their suits pressed.
What a sexist thing to say!
[Laughs] No, it's true, they don't have a problem with their hair. Anyone who goes on a plane knows that your hair goes flat. You come off and all the photographers are waiting. You are representing your country and you have to try and look your best.
Did you ever go on any trips where you met a foreign leader and you just thought, ‘I really don't want to meet this person' and afterwards you just wanted to have a shower?
No, not really, I think I was much more curious. The strange thing about meeting foreign leaders is that there's always something you've got in common. If nothing else, you can always talk about the press [laughs], or you can always talk about your children. It's just fascinating to meet some of these people.
What about the Bushes? You had a really close relationship with the Clintons. It must have been a bit of an odd feeling, the first visit to the Bushes. I got the feeling any preconceptions that you had were shot fairly quickly.
I was apprehensive because we'd known the Clintons so well. We'd obviously known them before Tony became Prime Minister, and Hillary was very much a mentor to me. When we first met the Bushes, it was they who were the new ones on the block. Anyone who meets Laura Bush will say what a lovely person she is. I'd been around for several years by then, so she and I had a more equal relationship than I had with Hillary, because with Hillary I was always the one who was learning from her.
So if Hillary was a mentor, you don't have any desire to follow her into elected politics?
It's so different in our system, isn't it?
Well, it is, but you stood for Parliament in 1983, and you're clearly a political person.
Well I, like you, enjoy politics but I also enjoy the freedom I have of not being in party politics.
But when Tony finished being Prime Minister did the thought never cross your mind ‘well actually I could do something now if I wanted to'?
In elected politics, no. When your husband has played the political game and reached the top, there are so many other things you could do. Why would I want to repeat his journey? We've both been there and we've done that.
Do you think that since you left Downing Street your reputation has changed and that you have had a rehabilitation in the public eye?
I think that's probably the case. Sometimes when you have been such a successful politician like Tony was - he's the consummate politician, and someone who has won three election victories - it's often quite hard for his political opponents in the press to attack him because, after all, the public have voted for him, so it's easier if they want to attack him to attack me.
And was there a stage in Downing Street where you just thought ‘if that's the way it's going to be, I just have to accept it'?
Absolutely, and I think there comes apoint when you just have to realise it's not about you at all really. You can't take it personally and you try not to read a lot of the stuff. The truth is, even if you don't read it people tend to tell you about it, so you can't pretend it's not there. You have to understand that it's not really personal. Because I'm a political animal myself, I can look back and think I had views about what Mary Wilson was like - the first Prime Minister's wife I ever knew. But I also had views about Norma Major which reflected the sort of image she had in the press and I'm sure you probably know Norma Major...
...and the image she had is not actually the same as the reality of someone who is a considerable woman in her own right, does a lot of work for charity and has her own views. I got to realise that just as I had these views about people, so lots of people who absolutely don't know me, haven't seen me, have views about me. It's just the way it is.
Do you mind being described as a Marmite person, you either love them or you hate them? I put on my Twitter this morning that I was going to interview Cherie Blair and I had lots of responses, half of which were ‘oh my God, how could you' and half of which were ‘she's an absolute idol to me'. A friend of mine said ‘I read her book and am now absolutely besotted with her'.
[Laughs] Is he tall, dark and handsome?
He is actually.
Do you mind that stark contrast or would you really quite like to be one of these people who actually everybody quite likes but nobody had any strong views about?
It's very difficult for me to choose because it does appear that opinion is divided and that it's partly just because if you say nothing and do nothing then no-one's going to criticise you, but once you start doing something - and some things I do believe in; I feel very strongly about making sure that women get a fair deal, and talking about that. Because of my legal career I feel very strongly about making sure the law is open to everybody, not just so that people can get their rights in court but also so that the legal profession itself is open to everybody. If you start expressing views on these things, and people are going to have different views, then that's why I say it's not about you the person, it's about your views inspiring either criticism or approval.
Do you think your public profile has harmed your legal career or helped it?
It's one of those imponderables. When Tony became Prime Minister I couldn't do government work any more, but ironically I used to do some government work for the Tory government before. That obviously didn't stop me being able to take cases against the government. When I was pregnant with Leo I had the case about parental rights which was quite funny really in one sense.
What's your ambition in the legal world?
That's, to some extent, not up to me. When it comes down to it I'm a lawyer and I'm good at law, I do the law, I understand the law. It's my world. A lot of the book is about the law and trying to explain a little about what it's like, so who knows where my legal career will take me next.
You've evaded that question. Everyone in every field has an ultimate goal they'd really like to achieve. Most people in politics say they'd like to be Prime Minister. There must be something in the law that you would ultimately like to do?
The great thing about the law is it's a big challenger. You are only as good as your last case and so you're always competing about the next case, performing the next challenge, but I also like law as an academic discipline - the way you can shape what happens in the law. There's still a lot of work to be done in that field. I am enjoying what I have been doing. At the moment I have been doing a lot more international arbitration and that's interesting, that's a new world. It's a good challenge and I enjoy it. I'm quite interested in arbitration and mediation, and how you can solve legal problems not necessarily by the traditional court system. We absolutely believe we have the Rolls-Royce system but it is of course expensive and time consuming so things, alternatives, like mediation and arbitration are also worth exploring.
You talk quite a lot in the book about the fact that you didn't want Tony to go when he was originally planning to?
No, he never originally planned to go at that stage. There may have been talk about whether he should go but I felt very strongly he did the right thing over the Iraq war, I still do. I also felt that the British public would sense that and by winning the election, if he'd stepped down before that election he would never have had the chance to take his case to the electorate.
Do you miss it all?
I don't really miss the big events but I do miss some things. It was a privilege. What a fantastic opportunity, especially for someone coming from my background. You make friendships not just with world leaders but with the people, the staff who were around in Number 10. We still keep contact with the staff that were there and the staff at Chequers and a lot of those people became part of our extended family, and leaving them was sad.
Everyone makes contrasts between one Prime Minister and another, and I'm not going to try to get you to slag off Gordon Brown at all...
Would a person who's been a member of the Labour Party for so many years do such a thing? No way! [Laughs].
You were quite clear that you weren't 100 per cent sure he should succeed Tony. How do you draw the contrast between the two? What do you think he's brought to the job that maybe Tony hadn't?
Well, one thing of course is experience. When Tony came in in 1997, he was very unusual as he was probably one of the few Prime Ministers who, in recent times, had had no ministerial, let alone cabinet, experience. Not only didn't Tony have any experience, but most of his cabinet didn't either. Now Gordon of course has had the strength of being 10 years in the cabinet and there's a vast wealth of experience that we need now.
But do you think in retrospect Tony was right to give him complete control of the economy?
Well, [laughs] I think that Tony might disagree with that.
Well that's the impression given in all the books. It was part of the deal.
Tony is writing his own book and will no doubt give the definitive account of that, but Tony and Gordon had a very strong relationship along with a group of people that made New Labour the success it was. Tony and Gordon were pivotal in that and no relationship is black and white. It's a lot more complicated than that.
But there were huge rows, weren't there?
But again, I didn't witness many of them but in so far as we are talking about Tony's character, Tony is very much a conciliator, that's for sure. It's one of his strengths. It's more likely me who's the one who's likely to put her foot in it [laughs].
But when he does lose his temper, how do you calm him?
He tends to only do that at home [laughs].
I can't think why.
He has been known to lose his temper with me.
Surely not? Was there a point when he first became Prime Minister when it became obvious to you that life had changed; you wanted to do something and you thought ‘actually I can't do that anymore'?
Well there was the famous time for a start when I opened the door in my nightie [laughs].
Yes we all remember that one...
And that was a lesson. I was still at that time thinking ‘shall we move into Number 10?', ‘won't it be easier for the kids to stay at home?'. Actually they were the ones who said ‘no let's move now'. And when I opened the door that morning, I realised we needed to have some distance, some protection so we could have some privacy.
Describe the feeling as you drove out of Downing Street for the last time.
There was a sense of sadness. Definitely. Partly because we had to say goodbye to some people that had been so kind to us. A great sense of achievement. That last Prime Minister's Question Time was an extraordinary thing and the House was very generous to Tony when they gave him that genuine tribute. So few Prime Ministers get that opportunity.
Were you there?
Oh yes we were there, me and three of my four children. We got dispensation from the Speaker for Leo to go. It really did mark the end of an era. I knew also that Myrabella [the Blairs' constituency home] had been the one stable home my children had known - all of these things were coming to an end. But at the same time there was this feeling that now we were moving on to this new phase, that there would be a new challenge, something to look forward to. From my point of view the best thing now is that I am able to speak for myself, although I am always conscious, because I am Tony's wife, what I say isn't just about me. There are consequences for him too, but I can talk about things a lot more than I was able to when I was the Prime Minister's wife.
If one of your kids came to you and said ‘mum I think I want to go into politics'?
I'd say go for it. Politics is a noble thing and I think one of the worst things we have these days is a cynicism about politics - about all these politicians only being in it for themselves. I am not saying that every single one of them is a saint, but people who do go into politics do so because they want to make a difference and they have a sense of public service. My husband had it, and I like to think through my law that I also have it. If my children feel it too, then I would think that that's a job well done.
You are more tribal than Tony, aren't you?
I'm probably more political with a big P, or more Labour with a big L than perhaps Tony is. But Tony is an amazing politician. I always say that I'm the better lawyer but he's definitely the better politician.
Paddy Ashdown told me recently that he had you both over for dinner at his flat just before John Smith died, and Tony was expressing great frustration with the way things were going and was almost at the point of quitting politics. Did you play a role in persuading him to stick at it?
I think that may have been the impression Paddy got from that but it's not actually where Tony was at that time. He was frustrated because he genuinely believed that the Labour Party had to fundamentally change. John, however, thought that we could still sort of finesse our way back into power. I don't think there was any question that he was going to give up on that. The question was: how was he going to push forward the agenda for change that he felt mattered at that time - and it really did matter! I personally believe that that change made all the difference between Labour not only winning but sustaining power as we have done now for these last 12 years.
When Gordon Brown took over did you give Sarah Brown advice on the role at all?
I didn't give her advice, but obviously knowing Gordon and Sarah and them living in the Number 10 flat already, there wasn't a lot I needed to tell her. I certainly offered to show her around the flat and in fact when I first left, Sue, who works for me, stayed for a month to help the transition between the two offices. And we left them gifts as John Major had very kindly left us a gift so we left a gift for Sarah, a gift for Gordon and a gift for the two boys.
If Samantha Cameron rang you up and said ‘Cherie, I need to know what do I do', what would be the two things that you would say to her, on the premise that she might possibly get there?
I think that the first thing is - and I think Sarah Brown does this very well - you've got to hold the family together, especially when you have children. Number 10 is two separate journeys; there's the political journey and what the Prime Minister does, and then of course there's a personal journey and for that you know the family is very important. Number 10 is a strange place. Tony and I are like most modern married couples. It's an even-stevens relationship.
People make compromises, but when suddenly your husband becomes leader of the government then little things have to give. I used to cook and still do, and Tony would come home from work and I'd be told ‘he's coming up to the fl at for his dinner'. Tony liked his dinner ready. He's very traditional and he liked to come and put Leo to bed so we'd get ourselves geared up so that he could put Leo to bed, and then suddenly he wouldn't come and half an hour or an hour would go by.
And his dinner was in the dog...
When we were in Richmond Crescent the dinner would have been in the dog, but once you're in Downing Street you can't do that. He'd come up and say: ‘I'm sorry I had to take a quick phone call or a long phone call from George Bush' or ‘some crisis has come up'. You've got to accept that that's going to happen.
Does it frustrate you that people don't understand that you don't have a lot of help in Downing Street and also have to pay your own way?
We don't pay rent but we are taxed on the benefits, so basically on top of the salary they assess the value of the fl at and then you pay the 40 per cent tax of the value of living in the flat. The cost of the cleaner and the cost of the electricity and all of that is taxed.
One of the themes throughout the book is the importance of your faith, which I think a lot of people would have been slightly surprised by. You recently said that Christians were being marginalised in the UK, what do you really mean by that?
Well, so I'm told.
No, I don't think so. What I learnt when I was in the Young Christian Socialists in my teenage years, was that it's about what you do. The church needs to be there when people need it. It needs to be there among the homeless. It needs to be there among the people who are finding things tough at the moment, and it is. That's what I believe and I said that if they don't do that then you become marginalised. I also said that you have to engage with women, particularly at a time now when society is much more about groping towards equality between men and women.
Some say that for 2,000 years you men have had control, so now we're going to spend 2,000 years controlling you. That's not what it's about. It's actually about men and women with equal respect for each other doing things better together. The church needs to think about that. I guess what I meant was I think a lot of Christians feel that, I mean bearing in mind that Britain is in effect a Christian country, that other religions are getting priority from government in a way. It's understandable that government has to engage with Muslims but we are actually a Christian country. Do you agree that there's that sort of feeling out there?
It's not something that I am conscious of myself, but I think it's important that we reach out, not just among Christians themselves but also between religions because I think what people in faith share is much more important than what divides us. I don't think that means we should agree on everything, because obviously we don't agree on everything, but it's actually more important to highlight what we agree on than what we disagree on.
How much of a role should religion play in politics? In America it plays a huge role and here I think it is beginning to play a bigger role, but I'm not sure that that's a very good thing.
Personally, I am a huge believer in the secular state and I think it's really important that the state is a place where everyone comes as equals and there is no sort favoured, whether it's class, whether it's sex or whether it's indeed religion. Because of that the common meeting place, which is the state, has to be secular but to pretend that people ‘don't do God'... When I come into the secular space I come in with all the baggage I bring with me and that includes my beliefs, as it does with everybody else, because if you are a believer then these things matter to you.
Tony's role in the Middle East is effective all about religion isn't it? Isn't that proof that religion has played such a divisive role in politics?
Where religion meets politics they aren't always happy bedfellows. The challenge is to try and make sure that you respect each other. In a secular state, it's important that we don't oppress any religions and we allow people to have their beliefs but we don't allow anyone to say that only people who share this religious belief are the right people.
Do you worry when Tony is in the Middle East that he is a target, or is that something you have learned to accept?
Yes, to some extent that is true. Tony has a lot to offer in the Middle East. I think both sides respect the fact that he is a person of belief himself. Because of what he did in Northern Ireland, and because he's very persistent and persuasive, I really think he can make a difference there and that's very important.
Worst present you have ever given Tony?
Shoe polishing kit [laughs]. Actually he loves polishing shoes. I get him to do mine.
Most hated food?
I love food, I was brought up by a grandmother who would make me eat everything on my plate, but I remember we went to one state banquet where we were served sheep's eyes and I couldn't do that. No thank you!
Favourite Cliff song?
He's such a nice man. Living Doll.
The most romantic thing you have ever done?
I can't think of anything. I'm sure I have done something. That's ridiculous. Obviously I have done romantic things.
This will really date me but I still really like Morecambe and Wise.
Favourite holiday destination?
I like a bit of variety in my holiday destinations, so I like to try new places.
Favourite foreign leader?
Well, I have a big soft spot for Bill Clinton actually.
What are you reading at the moment?
I have just finished a book called The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday. It wasn't what I expected at all.
Jack Bauer or James Bond?
Who's Jack Bauer? I don't watch TV.
Gordon or Alastair?
Gordon or Alastair who? I'd really rather not choose [laughs]. Well, what would you rather me do with either of them?
Speaking for Myself: The Autobiography by Cherie Blair, published by Little Brown Book Group, £7.99, is out nowin paperback