Wrong timing? Tony Blair parties for wife's birthday in UK while Gaza death toll rises
Tony Blair – the Middle East Peace Envoy – threw a lavish birthday party for his wife on Friday night at their country bolthole in Buckinghamshire, while the grim death toll from the Gaza conflict passed the 1,050 mark.
Mr Blair, whose role is to hammer out a ceasefire in times of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, spent most of last week in the UK before hosting the couple’s friends at the party, estimated to have cost about £50,000.
He held the surprise 60th birthday party for Cherie at their £6million country mansion South Pavilions, formerly the home of Sir John Gielgud, inviting 150 of their closest friends, which included former New Labour ministers, as well as wealthy businessmen and TV celebrities.
Just to make Cherie’s night even more memorable, Mr Blair even hired glamorous dance couple Kristina Rihanoff and Ian Waite from BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, who danced for them after dinner, to the Stevie Wonder classic Ma Cherie Amour.
And comedian Bobby Davro was also hired to entertain, doing an impersonation of Mr Blair, and singing the song, If I Ruled The World.
Mr Blair’s unexpected birthday party – held against a backdrop of death and destruction in Gaza – was criticised last night, with some saying he could have held it later, as Cherie’s actual birthday is not until September 23.
One source said: ‘He should be in the Middle East, not in the UK.’
Last week Mr Blair, 61, gave a talk on New Labour on Monday at the think-tank Progress in Westminster. He even managed a one-day visit to China during the week, and made it back to the UK in time for his wife’s celebrations.
However, other world leaders, such as US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN’s Ban Ki Moon, flew into Jerusalem to pressure the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to a long-term ceasefire.
Mr Blair is normally based in Jerusalem, as his Office of the Peace Envoy for the Quartet – the U.S., EU, Russia and the United Nations – is at the King David Hotel in the city.
World leaders, led by Mr Kerry, held urgent talks in Paris yesterday to pressure both sides to turn the ceasefire into an extended truce. Mr Blair was not at the talks.
The former Prime Minister hosted Friday’s birthday bash inside a giant marquee erected in the grounds of the couple’s sprawling estate.
Some of the guests from the world of politics included Labour leader Ed Miliband and his wife Justine Thornton and Blair’s old No10 spin doctor Alastair Campbell and his girlfriend Fiona Millar. The former Labour Europe Minister and now chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz and his lawyer wife, Maria Fernandes, also attended.
Labour’s ex-Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell arrived with husband David Mills. Other big Labour names were former Home Secretary John Reid, and the controversial Labour fundraiser, Lord Levy.
Lakshmi Mittal, Britain’s third richest man with a £10.4 billion fortune, attended with his wife Usha, as did West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady, who is a business ambassador to David Cameron.
Some guests posted pictures from the event afterwards on social media sites.
They included entrepreneur Sarina Russo – director of a recruitment agency of which the Blairs’ eldest son, Euan, 30, is acting CEO – who posted a picture on Instagram of her and a friend, Michael Pennisi, flanking Mr Blair inside the marquee. Kristina Rihanoff tweeted a picture of herself at the bash, while another guest, Kieran Patel, from Nottingham, posted a picture of himself with Miss Rihanoff and Mr Waite before their performance.
And Davro tweeted after the event: ‘Wonderful gig at Tony and Cherie Blairs [sic] crib in Aylesbury.’
The guests sat down to a three-course meal, with foie gras or hand-dived scallops for starters, rack of English lamb and a ‘British strawberry celebration’ dessert. Diners washed it all down with champagne, Chardonnay and red wine. Cocktails were also served all night.
Mr Blair gave a ‘schmaltzy’ speech to his wife, before the dinner started. Guests who attended said he told the gathering how much he loved his wife, adding that everything good that he has done in life was because of her, and all the mistakes he had made were in spite of her.
After the dinner, Cherie – a big fan of Strictly – was treated to a performance by Miss Rihanoff and dance partner Mr Waite, performing to Ma Cherie Amour. Bobby Davro then impersonated a blushing Mr Blair, and sang If I Ruled The World, from the musical Pickwick.
At 11.45pm, the guests sang Happy Birthday to Cherie, as waiters brought a pink-coloured cake into the marquee.
One guest, who asked not to be named, said: ‘It was a really good party and so well organised. Blair made a good speech.’ But he went on: ‘Although he should have been in the Middle East. But you sometimes think, what exactly has he done in the Middle East?’
Mr Blair also laid on a disco and a spoof casino for guests, who danced until 1am, before leaving, some in chauffeur-driven Bentleys and Mercedes. Guests had been checked in by armed police officers from Thames Valley Police. The estate was also patrolled by about five armed police.
The Blair household did not disclose how much had been spent on the party but Miss Rihanoff and Mr Waite charge up to £10,000 for one night’s event, and Mr Davro charges up to £4,000. Total costs are estimated at around £50,000.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: ‘Tony was in China for one day during which he was constantly in touch on the crisis. He also spent ten days in the Middle East earlier and will return as soon as needed. However, as you know, John Kerry is leading the process of negotiation in Paris.’
By Abul Taher and Emily Kent Smith