Behind the Black Door Sarah Brown

Ebury, pp.452, 18.99

This book, written by someone whose husband was for three years prime minister of Britain, is impossible to review. Yes, it is dull, but it is so triumphantly, so ineffably, dull it enters a breezy little monochrome world of its own. There is no characterisation, for no value judgments are passed, except those on Mrs Brown’s husband, who is portrayed as such a force for good he is virtually an extra-terrestrial being intervening in the affairs of men. As for the rest they are ‘charming’ or ‘lovely’.

This is Mrs Brown showing HRH Prince Andrew, as she calls him, round Chequers:

Without thinking, I open the drawer that holds the wax death mask of Oliver Cromwell. There is a bit of a collective gasp, and I suddenly realise that this might not have been the most diplomatically sensitive gesture on my part: showing the face of the Great Protector and signer of King Charles’s death warrant to a member of the Royal Family. Stumbling apologies ensue on my part, although the Duke is, of course, very gracious about it.

She has Nelson Mandela to a buffet supper prepared by Gordon Ramsay. ‘I have to report that the dessert is — I kid you not — chocolate mud huts.’ She and her two small boys meet President Karzai of Afghanistan, the boys playing with some Lego cavemen fighting a T. rex. Just listen to what follows:

The President comments that Fraser’s small Lego men look like Afghan people, and asks Fraser what they are doing. Without a second’s pause Fraser bashes his two little people against each other and says, ‘Kill, kill, kill … dead.’

There is silence from me and Gordon as we take in the President’s reaction. Of course he knows that Fraser is talking about dinosaur world, but there is a lesson in there somewhere for us all.

Humour and commonsense are left far behind, and the earth is a small blue globe viewed from space. I feel sorry for the parodists: this book is beyond parody.

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Take the following extracts. Both are about the time the filmstar George Clooney called at No. 10 to talk to Gordon Brown about the war in southern Sudan, all this at nine o’clock in the morning. It is just that one is by Mrs Brown, the other by the parodist Craig Brown (no relation).

Extract One:

Mr Clooney is very charming, and a properly professional famous person. By this, I mean that he has that way of paying attention to everyone who walks into a room, looking to control what happens so that the experience works well, that conversation is good, that he is liked. It is not a bad thing, it is just noticeable among very famous people, and Mr Clooney seems to be among the best at this. Luckily for me — as I am wearing a very ‘comfy’ lime green M&S cardie — the photographer is only taking private snaps. Word of Clooney’s presence goes round the building and when I leave the room, people are hanging around in the corridor and leaning over the banisters.

Extract Two:

The whole of No. 10 is in full-on swoons at the visit of George Clooney, the famous actor. George is good-looking and has megawatt charm. He is very interesting about Hollywood. It must be because he is a famous actor that he seems to know so much about it. I wear my Amanda Wakely in a sort of light blue, I suppose you’d call it.

Now which is which? That’s it, you’ve got it. Extract One is by Craig Brown, the other by Sarah Brown. No, I’ve got that wrong, I have ’flu and am more than a little out of my skull. Yes, that’s it, Extract One is by Mrs Brown, the second by the other Brown. But, ’flu or no ’flu, have you noticed how seamlessly the two merge ?

Still, given the social life that was hers for three years, strange people turning up for the strangest reasons, it is a marvel that Mrs Brown was not out of her skull for the whole time she was at No. 10:

I have my first meeting with Naomi Campbell, who comes to Downing Street for the first time with her PR manager to discuss her Fashion for Relief events and to explore whether the next one could support the maternal mortality campaign.

Others, even stranger, do not turn up at all for the strangest reasons. At a dinner in Chequers, amongst ‘an endless stream of inspirational figures’ (they include Kevin Rudd of Australia and Jens Stolenberg of Norway), there is one absentee, Peter Mandelson, then EU Trade Commissioner. ‘When someone calls him he is reported to have replied that he had not been invited properly.’ So there.

There is an even stranger absence. Driven to Windsor Castle for a Royal Banquet, Mrs Brown discovers when she gets there that she has not been invited at all, so she, the consort of the man actually running Britain, gets driven away. Style, pure style.

Off-stage, history rumbles on:

Quite how Gordon manages to fit in the school runs I do not know, as it is clear that the crisis of Northern Rock is rearing its head again and causing great concern.

As I say, this is a book which it is impossible to review. All a man can do is quote, then walk slowly round the room touching the furniture.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Tags: Biography, Book reviews, Gordon Brown, Non-fiction, Number 10, Prime minister, Sarah Brown