Petronella Wyatt

Leave her alone

The ongoing escapades of London's answer to Ally McBeal

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I have a summer cold. My eyes feel as if they have been rammed into the back of my head by pokers, my chest tells me that a boa constrictor has wrapped itself around it, and the rest of my body is convinced that it does not belong to me but to the Michelin man.

Why are summer colds more painful and more difficult to shake off than proper winter ones? Perhaps germs thrive in warm weather or maybe it is simply nature mocking one, as others happily chatter outside street-corner cafés, and the victim lurches from room to room in a dressing-gown.

Feeling sorry for yourself, on top of being slightly less mobile than normal, generates an orgy of thinking, that is, once the drugs have worn off. One's mind, as is customary at such times, turns for comfort to those who are having a truly super-rotten time. This is the most unattractive human trait, but there you are.

I started pondering Tony Blair but then concluded he'd had a pretty good run for his money as the Prince Charming of British politics, etc. I felt better when I thought of Alastair Campbell who once tried to insult me by saying I had a silly name, but decided that just like a cat he would always end up on his feet, as Napoleon remarked of Talleyrand.

So I turned to Mrs Blair. Why do so many of the press hate her so much? Yes, she has a Hammer sort of smile, yes, she has made mistakes of judgment, but none that led to the deaths of British servicemen. OK, the woman went and half-emptied a shop in Australia, but most of the stuff was for her children and she did pay for it.

Don't get me wrong. I don't like her. I suspect she is not the person who would like to sit down with you and a glass of wine and watch a screwball comedy. I cannot imagine that her conversation elicits belly laughs or makes her the soul of the party – both types of party. I imagine she would address you as if you were a recalcitrant student who had been skipping lectures.

But she does not deserve this continual hostile scrutiny. This is especially when it comes to her clothes. Last week, during a trip to America, Mrs Blair was photographed leaving the aircraft in a sort of lilac-grey suit. It turned out that the suit had been tailor-made – by someone of whom I had never heard – as opposed to being off the peg, and had allegedly cost £5,000.

This generated a bout of hysteria. Cherie spends fortune on suit, etc. Enough to feed a family for six months, etc.! And so what? Let's be fair even if we do dislike the woman. First of all £5,000 is very little for couture. Not that I buy any myself. My income makes me strictly off the peg. But I have friends in the fashion business who tell me that most tailor-made clothes, especially from the big design houses, cost around £15,000 a go.

Second, Mrs Blair is a very high-earning QC. She is bright and evidently works very hard. If she wishes to spend £5,000 of her own money that is her business. It is not as if the tax-payer coughed up for her suit.

Third, compared to other so-called First Ladies, as the Prime Minister's wife is now known, she is remarkably thrifty. Consider all the piles of dosh Nancy Reagan spent on clothes and shoes – almost enough to pay off Third World debt. And these were not clothes by unknown young designers. These were clothes by Oscar de la Renta and other couturiers who shrieked of chic.

And what of Jacqueline Kennedy? She didn't conquer France in a shift. The late Mrs Kennedy Onassis spend a legendary amount on clothes, so much that her husband felt compelled to tick her off. But for the large part the public were entranced and her 'look' became part of the Kennedy legend.

Leaders' wives are compelled to be smart as they are ambassadresses for their country. They have been thrust into the public eye and are not seeking publicity for the sake of it. It is quite the opposite with female 'celebrities'. These women spend most of their time at parties and probably think that a desk is a new kind of bias cut. They are perfectly useless and the majority are parasitical. Yet no one complains when they turn up at premieres and openings in dresses costing three times more than Mrs Blair's.

Sometimes they haven't even paid for them themselves. They are, rather, gifts from designers who want their clothes to get into the newspapers. At least Mrs Blair had bought hers with the sweat of her brow. Or is it that we still expect Labour leaders' wives to look like the head of a Soviet women's tank corps? Either way, the poor woman goes on being persecuted. I bet she wishes she had a summer cold instead.