Cherie – My Struggle, a one-woman play about Cherie Blair written by Spectator parliamentary sketch writer Lloyd Evans, returns to London’s White Bear Theatre in February. Evans told us why he wanted to write about the former prime minister’s wife and why he finds her so inspiring. Time to get booking!
It started with a joke. I was watching a play, A View From the Foothills, adapted from the diaries of Chris Mullin MP, which featured a scene at a reception in Downing Street. Cherie was asked what Tony Blair would do when he left politics. ‘I married an idealist,’ she said, ‘when Tony resigns he’s going to teach in Africa.’ That got the biggest laugh of the night.
And I started to wonder if could write a play full of jokes and gossip which would tell the story of the New Labour years from an insider’s perspective. But which insider? Cherie seemed the ideal figure. She was an eye-witness to Tony’s early career and to his ten years in office. She had never been portrayed onstage before so I would be free to create her personality from scratch. And because her treatment by the press had been relentlessly hostile, I would have the opportunity to correct people’s misconceptions and show her in a sympathetic light.
She belongs to an elite group of people known by a single name – Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Elvis, Liberace and Cherie
There was an additional advantage to the Cherie ‘brand’. She belongs to an elite group of people known by a single name – Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Elvis, Liberace and Cherie. The word ‘Blair’ doesn’t appear in our publicity material.
As I investigated her childhood, I uncovered a wealth of dramatic material. Her dad, Tony Booth, was a sitcom star who had abandoned his family and gone off in search of fame and fun. ‘Crumpeteering’, he called it.
Cherie’s mother, Gale Booth, had studied at Rada and she might have had a successful stage career, but her husband’s philandering left her as a single parent with sole responsibility for Cherie and her younger sister, Lindsay. Rather than starring in the West End, Cherie’s mum was condemned to working in a fish-and-chip shop to make ends meet.
Cherie excelled at school. She got straight As in her O-levels (now GCSEs). She matched that achievement in her four A-levels. She studied law at the London School of Economics and won the top degree in her year. When she took her bar exams, she came top again.
Her attraction to Tony Blair, a fellow barrister, was influenced by their shared passion for left-wing politics. But he was a recent convert to the cause. Cherie was a lifelong Labour supporter. At the age of 14, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said, ‘prime minister.’ When Tony Blair was asked that question at 14, he said, ‘Mick Jagger.’
After they married, they both stood for parliament in the 1983 General Election. Tony won. Cherie failed to get a seat. Some say this early end to her political career still rankles with her.
They both stood for parliament in the 1983 General Election. Tony won. Cherie failed to get a seat
Today Cherie is an international human rights lawyer who gives lectures about women’s issues all over the world. And as a barrister, she’s entitled to be concerned about her reputation. Before the show opened at the White Bear, in July 2019, I asked a friend who practises at the bar to take a look at the script. He found nothing in it that Cherie might object to, not even the section (based on Cherie’s memoirs), where she admits to having had two boyfriends at once while she was a student.
During the Edinburgh run, I met colleagues of Cherie who asked me if she had helped with the script. One of her friends thought that Cherie was the executive producer.
I would love her to see the show because I’m sure she would relish every minute of it. Her life has involved her in countless battles – with her dad, with the press, with Gordon Brown, with Alistair Campbell, and occasionally with Tony himself – and in this show we see her defeating her opponents and coming out on top. Cherie is a survivor.
Three fun facts I wasn’t able to get into the script.
- Tony Blair’s pet name for his guitar is ‘Clarence’.
- Cherie was dubbed ‘Lady Macbeth’ in August 2000 by the future Speaker, John Bercow.
- Cherie is not called Cherie. She was baptised ‘Cara Booth’ because Catholics are required to take a saint’s name and the Vatican has never canonised anyone called Cherie.
My favourite fact of all, (included in the script): the pen-name used by Alistair Campbell when he was a writer of erotic fiction. To find out his nom-de-plume, come and see the show.
Cherie – My Struggle runs from 12 to 15 February 2020 at the White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4DJ, with performances at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £10-£15. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!