Stothard says he was never more than a few yards from Blair
Twenty-seven pages of The Times Magazine on Saturday will be taken up with a first-hand observation of four weeks in the working life of the Prime Minister during and before the war in Iraq.
The reporter is as distinguished as his subject: Peter Stothard. The former Times editor, who now edits The Times Literary Supplement, shadowed Tony Blair from 10 March. “I have never known 30 days like it in the whole of my 30 years in journalism,” he told Press Gazette.
“I went in to see them to talk about it and essentially I never left.” He claims no other British leader has allowed a reporter to get so close for so long.
The idea for the piece came when the magazine’s editor, Gill Morgan, asked for a 50th birthday interview with Blair. Morgan was determined that it would be different from the normal, 40-minute face-to-face.
She asked Stothard to do the interview just, he said, as it began to look as though the clouds of war were gathering pretty thickly.
“The timing just came together,” said Morgan. “The period was the most extraordinary, intense period of Tony Blair’s working life. We suggested Peter because he knows the Washington and Downing Street scenes incredibly well. He is a very, very good writer, a very sophisticated political reporter and could bring gravitas to the story.”
Stothard worked with photographer Nick Danziger whose black and white style, Morgan believes, sits very well with the subject.
Stothard’s first day with Blair came as he went on the PR offensive over the war. “I think Peter and Nick were very sensitive to the intensity of what was going on all the time and did what all good reporters do – they knew when to stand back and observe and some of the best reporting is from close observation,” said Morgan.
Stothard travelled with Blair to the Azores, Camp David and Brussels, where the PM met France’s President Chirac. “I was never more than a few yards from him pretty much every
day for 30 days,” said Stothard.
It was, he said, “a portrait of a powerful man under pressure. When I first arrived, he had enemies all around him, in his own country, his own party, on the backbenches, in the Cabinet and he faced them down.”
In the best tradition of fly-on-the-wall journalism, he tried not to irritate Blair by being a big presence at sensitive moments.
Danziger had shadowed Stothard at The Times for a Channel 4 documentary. Now they sat together outside the Cabinet room watching all the diplomatic and military meetings.
Stothard is extending the article into a book, Thirty Days, to be published by Harper-Collins in July.
By Jean Morgan