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CHERIE TELLS OF FAMILYORDEAL u; H BRITAIN'S FIRST LADY OPENS HER HEART TO THE ECHO.

Byline: TONY BARRETT

CHERIE Blair today opened her heart to the ECHO over her family's six-month turmoil during the Hutton inquiry.

The prime minister's wife admitted the long probe into the death of scientist David Kelly had deeply affected the couple's four children.

``As a family it was one of the most difficult times since Tony became prime minister,'' she said.

And Mrs Blair, who was brought up in Waterloo, spoke of their relief after Lord Hutton cleared her husband of any wrong-doing.

For months she had to wait for official confirmation of what she already knew -her husband did not go to war on the back of a sexed up dossier on the scale of Iraq's weapons.

Mrs Blair was in Liverpool to raise funds for a homeless charity,but took time out to speak to the ECHO about one of her toughest weeks as the prime minister's wife.

``Obviously it has been a difficult time for everyone involved and it is not for me to comment on the ins and outs of the inquiry.

``But I can say it did affect our children because like any children they are naturally inquisitive and they all read the papers.

``As a family it was one of the most difficult times since Tony became prime minister,but once the findings of the inquiry came out it would be fair to say the children were relieved and all slept a bit easier.''

The Blairs have four children, Euan,19,Nicky,18,Kathryn,15,and Leo, three,and the couple are notoriously protective of their clan.

But Mrs Blair, who splits her busy life between being a wife and mother and working as a top QC,admits being in public life can take its toll.

She added: ``I am in a very special position and a very fortunate one but it can be difficult for the children and as a mother they have to be my number one priority.''

Mrs Blair, who still uses her maiden name Booth when on private business, grew up with her mother, six sisters and grandparents in a three-bedroom terrace house in Ferndale Road, Waterloo.

And she revealed how her love for her home city is as strong as ever.

``I have wonderful memories of growing up here and I take every opportunity I can to spend time in Liverpool. That is why I visit so much.''

An ex-pupil of Seafield Convent grammar school in Crosby where she was described as a ``truly exceptionally clever child'', Mrs Blair, 49,isproud of her achievements as a lawyer and as a mother.

``I count myself extremely lucky to have a fantastic family and the career I always wanted.''

Last night she was in Liverpool to host a banquet at a top city Chinese restaurant to raise funds for the homeless charity Emmaus.

Guests paid pounds 1,000 a head to hear her speech, with all the money going to Emmaus which is looking to build a pounds 1.5mhostel for the homeless in Liverpool.

Speaking at the Devonshire Hotel where she was staying prior to the event,Mrs Blair revealed she has supported the homeless charity for almost a decade.

She said: ``I became interested in the work of Emmaus before Tony became prime minister.

``What I really like about the charity is it aims to give homeless people an independent life, and it allows them to work for a living and get their self-respect.

``Anything that gives people a sense of self- worth has to be good.''

Emmaus volunteers are looking to build their sixth hostel in the UK and it would house between 25 and 30 people.

Mrs Blair was today completing her engagements on Merseyside with a visit to Lyndale School in Eastham where she will offically open a new sensory garden.

CAPTION(S):

GREAT RELIEF: Cherie Blair at the charity dinner at the Taipan in Liverpool last night.Left: Husband Tony Picture: JASON ROBERTS
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 30, 2004
Words:658
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