How did she seduce the Blairs?

According to insiders it was an “epic showdown” between a husband and wife who rarely quarrelled, let alone staged raging rows.

The normally happy couple were Tony and Cherie Blair and the subject of the disagreement – Carole Caplin.

But this argument did not take place last week when news emerged that Ms Caplinís Downing Street pass was withdrawn, nor last year when the lifestyle guru brought upon the Blair household their worst publicity since coming to power, but in 1994 at the Labour Party conference in Blackpool.

In an eerie warning of the trouble Ms Caplin would later cause the Prime Minister and his wife, the press had a field day when it was discovered Mrs Blairís “lifestyle adviser” had for a brief time been a topless model who graced the pages of Men Only and the Daily Star.

Mr Blair was furious that his first conference as leader, now better remembered for another epic showdown over Clause Four, threatened to be derailed because of his wifeís dubious choice of companions.

The result of the argument is not known (one of the few people to witness it, Ros Marks, the Blairsí former nanny was prevented from publishing her account after the Blairs took out an injunction) but Mr Blair clearly failed to convince his wife that her friend was a major liability.

Ms Caplin would have to generate far more damaging headlines before Mrs Blair finally agreed that her spiritual guru, fitness instructor and close personal friend should be kept at a distance.

By then the charismatic and persuasive Ms Caplin had even wormed her way into Mr Blairís affections, becoming so close that he reportedly rings her mobile for late-night conversations.

Although some of the claims about Ms Caplinís relationship with the Blairs have been far-fetched – there was, for instance, no sharing of the showers with Cherie for a “toxic rubdown” – she became sufficiently intimate to advise the Prime Minister on his wardrobe.

The Blairs were her “special friends”. In a revealing article for the Mail on Sunday earlier this year she described how she desperately wanted her new partner, the con man Peter Foster, to meet them. Foster, of course, did meet Cherie with devastating consequences.

Mrs Blair was first introduced to Ms Caplin in 1989. At the time Ms Caplin was a 27-year-old trying to establish a health and fitness business. A former dancer with a troupe called Shock, she had appeared in music videos and on Top of the Pops.

Mrs Blairís life was somewhat different. A busy working mother married to an ambitious politician it was hardly surprising she turned to Ms Caplin – already a client to stars such as Felicity Kendall and Gemma Craven – for a spot of pampering.

The friendship was to develop as Mr Blairís career began to take off. Being the spouse of a Prime Minister can be a lonely and demoralising experience. The press are frequently unpleasant about your appearance and snide about your political influence but the one person you normally rely on for moral support in such circumstances – your husband – is too busy to provide the necessary comfort. Into this vacuum stepped Ms Caplin.

Writing in the Guardian, the author Kate Figes has offered perhaps the most plausible insight into why Mrs Blair fell under the influence of Ms Caplin. She wrote: “I can understand how this charismatic and self-assured woman managed to seduce Cherie Booth with her charms. As a busy working mother never out of the public eye, with a complete lack of interest in clothes, she was easy prey. What I find harder to understand is how such an intelligent woman could have let someone who earns a living feeding off the inadequacies of others anywhere near her home.”

After the 1994 debacle it was decided by both sides that Ms Caplin should take a lower profile but the friendship persisted.

Ms Caplin later described how her first brush with the tabloid press caused her to go into retreat. “The first thing you do is get very frightened,” she told the Mail on Sunday. “It was a whirlwind, I didnít have time to put my feet down on the floor. I didnít know about the Press Complaints Commission then, and libel laws, all that sort of stuff. And when I did eventually find out about it I thought: ĎJesus Christ, Iíve barely got the money to build an MDF cupboard. I donít want to get involved in this.í

“So I stopped doing radio and television and I stopped doing articles about diet, fitness and lifestyle issues.”

Gradually, Ms Caplin was ushered back into Mrs Blairís inner circle. In the summer of 2002 it became obvious the pair were the closest of friends again when a photograph taken at the Chelsea Flower Show showed them wearing identical white ankle boots.

A few months later “Cherie-gate” struck. It emerged that Mrs Blair had enlisted the help of Foster to purchase two luxury flats in Bristol. At first Mrs Blair tried to deny the extent of Fosterís involvement, causing Downing Street press officers to inadvertently mislead the press. With the scandal refusing to die down, The Scotsman then exclusively revealed that Mrs Blair had had legal papers concerning Fosterís extradition case faxed to her private office in Downing Street. Again the fact was initially denied by No 10 before it became apparent this paperís report was based on solid evidence.

The row was to have serious repercussions, damaging the reputation of the Blairs and prompting deep and lasting divisions among the Prime Ministerís closest retinue. Unlike in 1994, Mr Blair this time turned against the advice of his closest advisers – Alastair Campbell and his partner Fiona Millar – to support Cherie.

As has been well documented Mr Campbell and Ms Millar decided to leave No 10 – a decision which prompted Ms Caplin to announce at a dinner party: “Iíve won.”

It was a short-lived victory. Just as Mr Campbell had predicted, it was soon proved that Mrs Blairís association with Ms Caplin was a disaster waiting to happen. Two weeks ago it was made known that Ms Caplinís security pass for Downing Street had been withdrawn.

“How can I possibly continue to be the Blairsí lifestyle guru when I am no longer a part of their lives?” she reportedly asked her friends. How can I style the Prime Ministerís clothes when I am no longer allowed anywhere near him? And how can I realistically continue to work for people who allow their staff to brief journalists against me?”

Carole Caplinís banishment from the court of the Blairs can be traced to a single, damning photograph – the notorious image, published around the world, showed Cherie Blair sitting on the bed in the Downing Street flat while Ms Caplin applied her lipstick.

There was no caption but if there had been one it should have read: Mrs Blair undertakes a public relations disaster. It was not just that she and Ms Caplin were wearing near identical white clothes giving the impression Mrs Blair had become a disciple to some New Age weirdo, nor that the Prime Ministerís wife was prepared to violate her own privacy but that she had become so out of touch she saw nothing wrong in paying someone around £1,000 a week to apply her lipstick.

The mutterings had been around for sometime: why would an intelligent woman such as Mrs Blair wish to employ someone as wacky as Ms Caplin? But only when this picture was published on the front page of publications around the world did it apparently register with the Blairs, supposedly the most media-wise couple ever to have occupied No 10, that the presence of Ms Caplin in their entourage was political suicide.

That the former topless model, new age guru and former partner of a convicted con man would eventually be evicted from the inner circle was hardly surprising. What was astonishing was that the Blairs had taken so long to comprehend the appalling damage Ms Caplin was doing to his political career.

As one veteran Downing Street staff worker was to remark at the height of the Cherie-gate saga: “They should get rid of Caplin not because of the damage she is inflicting on their reputations but because of the damage she is doing to Labour.”

What is not clear is whether Ms Caplin has been permanently frozen out or, as in 1994, been asked to adopt a profile so low as to be horizontal. What is clear is that her “departure” coincided with the arrival at No 10 of David Hill who replaces Mr Campbell as the Prime Ministerís director of communications. Mr Hill is reported to have made it a condition of his employment that Ms Caplinís access to the Blairs was curtailed.

Questions have also been asked about the motives of Ms Caplin. Shortly after it was made known she had been “dropped” by the Blairs she parted company with the publicist Ian Monk. His resignation letter was terse and filled with ill-feeling.

“‘I no longer feel able to represent you in any of the roles you have asked me to fulfil over the last ten months.

“We have discussed over the last weeks the number of people you appear to be employing to brief newspapers on your behalf, and presumably in line with your changing personal and professional agenda. This has made what has always been a difficult job for me impossible,” he wrote. Despite the many stresses, I have enjoyed much of our working relationship -in particular creating and exploiting the various media and commercial opportunities which you requested.”

Then came the rumours – hastily denied – that Ms Caplin was examining a £1 million book deal on life with the Blairs – a publication the Prime Minister would relish seeing on the bookstands about as much as Alastair Campbellís diaries.

Through her solicitors, Schillings, Ms Caplin put out an unequivocal denial, saying she had “no intention of writing a book or newspaper article” about her relationship with the Blairs, nor would she disclose any confidential information about the Blairsí private or political life.

Schillings may have silenced speculation about a book deal but they have increased talk that far from being cut adrift, Ms Caplin remains close to the Blairs.

Talk of her departure looks increasingly like a piece of Downing Street spin. And the questions remain.

Is she still employed by the Blairs? Does she have a contract? And why do they continue to stand by someone who has brought nothing but negative publicity?

What is clear is that the coupleís decision to give her such an exalted role in their lives has brought little but trouble, and more is on the way.

The sayings of Carole Caplin

“A consistently clean and tidy home is essential if you are to feel motivated to achieve your goals.”

Holistix, written with her mother, 1990

“Good dressing is not about labels, nor the cost of what you buy. Rather, itís all about selecting clothes, colours and fabrics that make the very best of your body and express your personality, in all areas of your life.”

The Mail on Sunday, 27 July, 2003

“Iím not Miss Perfect or Little Goody-Two-Shoes – but neither is it my way to be a victim.”

Hello!, July 2003

“We need variety in the colours weíre exposed to, because our bodies absorb energy through the vibrations they emit.”

The Mail on Sunday 16 March, 2003

“When people are travelling, you have to take into account climate, getting in and out of cars, colour, creasing, and many other things.”

Hello! July 2003

“Whatís the point of hitting out? Youíll look like s*** and everybody else will look like s***. If youíre seen to lash out, given your position already, will that make you look worse or better?”

Advice to Peter Foster in the television documentary, The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Ministerís Wife, December 2003

“The vast majority of people who seek my advice on looking and feeling better are badly over-caffeinated, and without fail feel better when they eliminate it from their systems.”

The Mail on Sunday 31 August, 2003

“Youíve got to tell the truth, you know.”

In The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Ministerís Wife

“Sometimes I feel like sitting on the floor and having a good old scream and a shout and let out a few choice swear words.”

Hello! July 2003

“Iíve had a lovely time with Peter. Iíve had a fun, funny, lovely time. It just so happened I got pregnant, as we know people do in this day and age.”

In The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Ministerís Wife

“Media is not my expertise, so let the men play.”

Hello! July 2003

“I asked Peter Foster to fax through the papers to me while I was in Cherieís flat. Cherie told me it would not be right for her to read them as it was not her case, so I folded them up, put them in my bag and took them home. At no stage did Cherie speak to Peter Foster about this.”

Statement to press, December 2002

“Peter knows what is and isnít the truth, for himself.”

In The Conman, His Lover and the Prime Ministerís Wife

“How can I possibly continue to be the Blairsí lifestyle guru when I am no longer a part of their lives? How can I style the Prime Ministerís clothes when I am no longer allowed anywhere near him?”

Quoted in the Sunday Telegraph 14 September, 2003

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