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Sunday 9 February 2014


Note to Wendi: Get over your Tony crush

Peacemaker Tony Blair is much too smart to risk wrecking his reputation

'Oh, s***, oh, s***. Whatever why I'm so so missing Tony. Because he is so so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt ... And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love. Love his eyes. Also I love his power on the stage ... and what else and what else and what else ... "

And that, ladies and gentleman, is what Wendi Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of the most powerful media magnate in the world, thinks of Tony Blair, the most influential ex-prime minister on the world stage, who makes a fortune advising governments, according to Vanity Fair.

I'm ambivalent about Blair, but I don't doubt that he's a considerable politician with extraordinary qualities. When I read his memoir, A Journey, I was struck by how candid it was: he cheerfully admits to being a manipulator. He's also a brilliant judge of people.

Where would New Labour have been without Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell? When Blair coaxed them to join him in the mid-Nineties, Campbell – an ex-alcoholic getting over a nervous breakdown – was political editor of the failing Today newspaper: Jonathan Powell was in the Foreign Office. They helped win the 1997 election and became stunning successes.

And then there was Rupert Murdoch, who in 1995 invited Blair to address his News Corporation conference in Australia: "The country's most powerful newspaper proprietor, whose publications have hitherto been rancorous in their opposition to the Labour Party invites us into the lion's den. You go, don't you?"

He did, he manipulated and he charmed Murdoch into becoming a supporter of New Labour: as Vanity Fair put it with only slight exaggeration in a lengthy essay last week, "the two men virtually ran Great Britain, as the press lord supported the politician through his various news operations". He also charmed Wendi Deng, who in 1999, at 30, became the third wife of 68-year-old Murdoch.

Deng, clever, pretty and ambitious, grew up in poverty in China. By the time she met Murdoch in 1997 – around the time he confessed to his mother that his marriage was failing – she had had several relationships that had bestowed upon her success, money and fame. As his mother explained in 2008, in an interview before her 100th birthday, she had warned him that "the first designing woman will come along and will snap you up.' He said, 'Don't be ridiculous, Mum, I'm too old for that.' But that's exactly what happened."

Vanity Fair tells how Deng began her marriage as "the nice Chinese lady, here to make him happy, and I don't want kids", changed her mind, had two daughters, fought relentlessly to give them the same dynastic rights as Murdoch's adult children, and forged a career with the help of his empire and his money.

Murdoch tolerated Wendi's social climbing, her fondness for parties and her obsession with celebrities. Daughters Grace and Chloe were baptised together in 2010 on the banks of the Jordan with Queen Rania of Jordan as host and Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Tony Blair as godparents. But when he saw her alleged "Note to self" about Blair and others, he secretly set their divorce in motion.

A joint statement from Deng and Murdoch to Vanity Fair said: "Given the complicated dynamics of our family, we made the decision not to engage in public allegations or respond to negative claims."

Who knows what that's supposed to mean? Vanity Fair and much of the press desperately want to believe that Blair and Deng had an affair. Yet Blair likes to be friends with everyone, he got drawn into peace-making by warring members of the Murdoch clan, he was in constant pursuit of money and media support from Murdoch for his Faith Foundation, and Deng appears to have been constantly in pursuit of him.

But he's had a long and apparently successful marriage, is genuinely religious and he's much too smart to risk wrecking his reputation by yielding to the blandishments of a minx.

Blair is a man who works out, drinks sparingly and leads a disciplined life. As he strives to sort out the Middle East and bring world religions into harmony, would he risk wrecking his marriage, reputation and moral mission?

Deng's note smacks of unsatisfied lust, unlike her reflections on billionaire Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, about whom she confides: "I'm not ever feel sad ... about losing Eric ... Plus he is really really ugly. Unattractive ... and fat ... I'm so so soo soooo happy I'm not with him." Blair has unequivocally denied having an affair. I believe he's "so so soo soooo happy" he's not with Wendi.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards