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Look what the weight of office has done to Bertie; HE'S NOW OUR FLAB-TASTIC TAOISEACH.

BERTIE Ahern's years in office are beginning to show - around his waist.

Five years ago he cut a boyish figure as a fresh-looking Finance Minister.

Now not even his designer suits can disguise the fact that the tubby Taoiseach is showing signs of middle-age spread.

But Bertie has a lot of good excuses. He lives a hectic lifestyle, with a gruelling 18-hour day, from six in the morning to midnight.

Pals say he doesn't eat regularly, grabbing food in between meetings, briefings and public engagements.

Then there are the big official dinners, where asking for a small salad with reduced-calorie dressing is not an option.

No doubt the 54-year-old Taoiseach's hectic schedule is contributing to fatigue.

Next Sunday, for example, he flies out to South Korea on official business - only to fly home again within 24 hours.

It's possible he'll have indigestion and the niggling wish he'd been able to relax at home enjoying spuds and butter.

The last three years have been tough on Bertie, dealing with endless tribunals into sleaze allegations, the turbulent peace process and unruly back benchers.

His exercise consists of racing from one appointment to another and his interest in sport is confined to watching football from the stands.

Now, it seems, the strain is beginning to show - not only on his face but on his shirt buttons too.

His hair, although well cut, is now totally grey and thinning and the giveaway bags under his eyes seem to be getting darker.

Bertie was never one for a sharp image, but what he lacked in style was more than compensated for by his boyish charm.

He is fondly remembered knocking back a few pints of Bass at Kennedy's pub in his Drumcondra constituency, with his hair spilling over the collar of his trusty old anorak.

Living above his constituency office back then, he proudly admitted he would rather be dubbed "Anorak Man" than become a yuppie living in the lap of luxury.

He said: "I've been occasionally slagged off about my anorak, not looking the best and having a few pints or whatever, but I'd rather have that life. Who wants to have islands, helicopters, boats?"

However, since then the anorak has been ditched in the back of the wardrobe and he has tried to sharpen his image with the help of Louis Copeland.

Copelands not only won the Retailer of the Year and Classic Retailer of the Year titles last year, but also Bertie's confidence and business. Copelands, who also make suits for Bill Clinton, Pierce Brosnan and Ronan Keating, are responsible for ridding Bertie of his dowdy old look.

The move came after the Fianna Fail leader sought advice from PR firm Carr Communications.

As Ireland's most successful PR company, it had already handled the country's top 400 businesses for 25 years.

Bertie admitted at the time that he was nervous about going to an image consultant.

He said: "I expected they would want to transform me into something false - an imitation of some model communicator.

"But I realised that they teach you to be the best version of yourself."

The gruelling schedule and manic lifestyle is enough to make a man grab his anorak and run for the hills, but Bertie look set to stay. Although he might have to invest in a few new - and bigger - shirts.
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Author:Millar, Sharon
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 13, 2000
Words:556
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