Britain getting excited about Blairs' 4th child

Pregnancy is a surprise for prime minister, wife

November 20, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- All of a sudden Britain is starting to act like a country of expectant parents.

From politicians to bookmakers, newspapers to homemakers, the country appeared transfixed yesterday by the announcement that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his 45-year-old wife, Cherie, are expecting their fourth child in May.

He might be Britain's most powerful politician and she might be among the nation's top lawyers, but the Blairs are now like almost any other middle-age couple, trying to figure out how to make room for one more.

"I was surprised," Cherie Blair said when asked of her reaction to the pregnancy, now in its 13th week.

The 46-year-old prime minister reportedly said he couldn't believe he would be changing diapers at this time of his life.

It's the first time in more than a century that a prime minister's newborn child will be welcomed to the official residence on Downing Street.

The last British prime minister to father a child while in office was Lord John Russell, whose fourth son, George Gilbert William Russell, was born in 1848.

"It's obviously wonderful news for their family," said Conservative party leader William Hague.

"I think it's one of those occasions when whatever political party you belong to, you all join in the general good wishes and rightly so."

The news was the stuff of front-page banner headlines and wall-to-wall coverage on radio and television.

The reports focused on the shock of the pregnancy and the jumble to be created for the Blairs, who live in already cramped quarters on Downing Street.

"Well done, Cherie. Well done, Tony. We wish you luck," proclaimed the Sun of London.

Reports also centered on some serious issues, such as the risks posed by giving birth in middle age, plus the government benefits available to parents, including the right to 13 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child.

When it comes to combining family and business, the Blairs have consistently cut against the grain on Downing Street, keeping the spotlight away from their children, Euan, 15; Nicholas, 13; and Kathryn, 11.

But the spotlight will surely fall on the newborn. For one thing, a lot of bets might be riding on whether it's a boy or a girl.

"We are expecting the biggest public betting turnover since the Royal Family stopped producing," Graham Sharpe of William Hill bookmakers told Britain's Press Association.

"It is an event which will catch the public imagination -- everybody loves the birth of a baby."

Pub Date: 11/20/99

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