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Cherie Blair lauds Hillary Clinton for showing women they can aspire to greatness

TORONTO - A cup of peppermint tea with the media-savvy and whip-smart Cherie Blair causes one to wonder: might Blair herself pull a Hillary Clinton one day, and make a bid to become a world leader just like her husband was?


TORONTO - A cup of peppermint tea with the media-savvy and whip-smart Cherie Blair causes one to wonder: might Blair herself pull a Hillary Clinton one day, and make a bid to become a world leader just like her husband was?

Blair, on a worldwide tour promoting her memoir, "Speaking for Myself," laughs at the suggestion at a downtown hotel before heading up to her room enjoy a lunch of "stodgy English food," as she described it: halibut and chips.

"Oh no no, I've been there and done that and got the T-shirt - it's a very tough job and I always say I am the better lawyer, but he's the better politician," says Blair, who has juggled raising four children with a respected career as a human rights lawyer in addition to serving as Britain's "first lady" for 10 years as the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair.

"But I have such respect for Hillary Clinton. She's made it no longer possible to say that a woman can't run for president of the United States, and that's such a powerful message, not just in America but around the world. She's really shown such tenacity - so much has been thrown at her, yet somehow she keeps going."

Blair's memoir, strangely, has sparked vitriolic reaction in her native U.K., something that puzzles her but doesn't appear to have left any lasting wounds following years of being in the line of fire as Tony Blair's wife.

"They seem to have decided I was going to write a political memoir, but a political memoir is not my book to write, it's my husband's," she says serenely.

"I set out deliberately to write a woman's book for other women - a personal memoir about how different my journey was from my mother's and my grandmother's because I was born when I was born. And the personal anecdotes - these are stories I would have told to my girlfriends."

And yet many of the attacks from the media in Britain have come from female columnists who have accused her of revealing too much information about the details of her relationship with Tony Blair - she writes, for example, of having three men on the go before deciding on Tony, and about getting pregnant with her fourth child when she forgot to bring contraceptives to the Royal Family's Scottish retreat, Balmoral.

Comments from women on newspaper websites and blogs have even attacked her physical appearance - and for the record, the doe-eyed 53-year-old Blair, dressed in a lilac-coloured pantsuit, is lovely in person, with a warm smile and a flawless porcelain complexion.

And yet she won't return fire, refusing to bite when asked if women are hardest on other women. She does, however, take issue with the media's obsession with how women look.

"It's interesting, isn't it, that they tend to concentrate on women's appearances rather than what they do," she says. "It is almost as though we still haven't come to terms with the fact that women are do-ers in this world, rather than just decorative."

It's such a prevalent tendency, Blair says, that she was relieved Tony Blair was no longer prime minister when French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his new wife, model Carla Bruni, recently visited Britain.

"I must admit I was grateful and thinking: 'Thank God I don't have to stand next to Carla Bruni,' and be the victim of that comparison."

Blair is currently travelling the world promoting her book. She still practises law, and was even on hand last year in Bermuda, arguing on behalf of the family of Canadian Rebecca Middleton, the 17-year-old teen from Belleville, Ont., who was raped and murdered on the island 12 years ago.

Blair urged the court to order reopen the investigation into her murder, saying the prosecution of the two prime suspects was hopelessly bungled. She became spurred to get involved upon hearing the details of the case playing out in Bermuda, a British territory.

"The whole personal story of this 17-year-old girl just on the brink of this fantastic life and being killed in such a horrific way could not have failed to move anybody," Blair says.

Great Britain has overturned the so-called "double jeopardy" provisions that prohibit defendants from being tried more than once for a crime, but it still exists in Bermuda, she notes.

"We haven't always been good in the Commonwealth system about how we treat victims of crime. The court system failed Rebecca and her family very badly," she said.

"Even though in the end we weren't successful in overturning double jeopardy, whatever else we achieved, we at least got an acknowledgment from Bermuda that things had gone badly wrong there and we got an apology, and I felt that the family took some comfort in that. It's a terrible, terrible story, one that no family should have to endure."

 
 
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