Cherie Blair

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A Personal Thumbs-up from the Blairs

“Thank you so much for the lovely books, Leo was absolutely delighted to receive them and is enjoying them already. We will certainly look forward to Dinosaur in Danger. Yours, Cherie Blair.”

 It is surprising to get a personal, handwritten note from a busy woman who is a modern mother of four, barrister and Prime Minister’s wife. Her extraordinary schedule was revealed in an exclusive interview with Marie Claire in September 2003 – now infamously remembered as  ‘Lippygate.’

 The opening photograph shows Cherie in the den of their 11 Downing Street residence. In amongst the ‘untidy’ clutter of 3 year old Leo Blair’s toys is a book shelf, tucked under the stairs stuffed full of children’s books. Her children are definitely readers. The titles of Thomas The Tank Engine and Bob the Builder are visible.

 Parents all over the UK could see that the first toddler born to a British serving premier for 150 years, did not have to find his place amongst solemn leather bound statute books - he has his own space and is entertained by the same fare as any other British kid.

 At the foot of the stairs, prominently on display in front of the wooden trains and next to a teddy bear, is the large ‘big book’ edition of The Hunter by Paul Geraghty.

 When Random House, the publishers of the book, Realised that The Hunter was a hit with the Blairs, they took the opportunity to send Cherie Blair some additional books.  

 Did Cherie or Tony choose this book?  A year prior to this interview, Tony Blair, after only a handful of official visits, declared he had a “Passion for Africa.” This book is just that - a reflection of the author’s love of Africa.  

Paul’s enthusiasm comes from his innate affinity with his native South Africa and all its four-legged inhabitants. In his childhood all the creatures in his garden and the neighbouring river were named and carefully observed.

The Hunter was published in 1994 and short-listed for the Kate Greenaway Award for illustration and it won the Earthworm (Friends of the Earth) Award.

 It is the story of Jamina, a young girl in the African bush, who wants to be a hunter and then discovers first hand the consequences of poacher’s actions.

  Paul’s illustrations in the book capture the light and colour of Africa in all its vibrancy, the ominous grey pre-storm sky, the muted afternoon haze, all the colours of an African dusk and the moonlight bathing the animals at night. This was in fact the vision that gave rise to the book. 

“The initial inspiration came from a trip I made when I was 17 to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. I was with my best mate and we were lucky to be in the park during the full moon. We went to a hide one night at dusk.”

 “ We were watching the hippos wallowing in the watering hole. As it got darker everyone got quieter and suddenly everyone’s binoculars were focussed on the tree line just beyond the clearing. A very large black shape was emerging from the silhouette of the trees - a lone elephant - that trumpeted loudly to announce its presence. The hippos imitated the sound of a blunt saw on wood and left the water. This elephant was there to clear the watering hole and then from the tree line another black mass appeared as a whole herd of elephants came to drink. All at once this fantastic white light of the full moon rose above the tree line and bathed all the elephants in silver,” said Paul. 

Years later, this memory from his African experience, with the working title of ‘Elephant Girl’, was developed into a story in the dark, cold days of an early February in Ireland. “The funny thing is that I always end up writing stories about places when I am somewhere else. I don’t get diverted or distracted by the details, leaving me with the powerful essence of the experience.”  

“I did all the drawings out there, in Ireland and then sent the presentation dummy to my publishers from the only fax in the village post-office, which was run by three girls, all called Helen.” The book took two years to write and illustrate.

 For his illustrations, Paul uses his own photographs and good reference books to ensure the accurate representation of his animals. Jamina was drawn from a composite of photographs of three little girls, who he asked to act out the story to capture their attitudes and postures.

 The purpose of his books is to “ raise awareness of nature and the environment in the minds of young readers, by telling them the life-cycle and habits of the various animals in the hope that they will want to take care of nature, later in their life.” 

 Was Paul surprised that it was this particular book that had received this inadvertently perfect product placement opportunity? No. “It seems to be the book that appeals most to the teachers and is often used as part of the curriculum in schools.” Perhaps the book appealed to the Blair’s passion for Education, Education, Education!

Jenny Carswell

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"The Hunter" in the den of

the Blair's 11 Downing Street





At the foot of the stairs,

"The Hunter" by Paul Geraghty




Did Cherie or Tony

choose this book?


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