The controversy surrounding the Cherie Blair speaking tour is not unreasonable, one concludes after attending one of her sessions. Basically the British Prime Minister's QC wife is on a book tour - usually a promotional activity sponsored by publishers for the purpose of generating book sales. Mrs Blair's book, The Goldfish Bowl, was prominently on sale for $50. And her 50-minute speech, late in an extended evening of padding, was an illustrated synopsis of that book, with some added commentary on why she wrote it and a few comments on Tony Blair's early years living here in Adelaide. She also answered four pre-submitted and carefully-chosen questions - on how she copes with work and children and living in the public eye, what she thinks of the glass ceiling in the law... It was an entirely uncontroversial evening and there was no mention of human rights or any of the issues in which we had been led to believe she had some interest. Instead, we learned about the families who had occupied No 10 Downing St during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. I found myself dropping off to sleep.
The tour's big issue in the media has been the allocation of the money raised. The tour is heavily branded as a charity fund-raiser and the media has been irate to discover that Ms Blair is being paid some $250,000 for her role, the promoter/organiser some $20,000 and I daresay the entertainer and MC also are paid. The MC was swimmer Kieran Perkins, a piece of beefcake in a suit. He was inept as an MC. The entertainer was a competent comedian, Vince Sorrenti, who delivered some well-honed schtick. The SA Police Band performed. Very surprising but so bizarre and unexpected at a dinner that it was perhaps the highlight. The charity, a Sydney-based Childhood Cancer Institute, was extremely prominent with extended speeches from both the professor and the associate professor, along with a promotional film and a heavy-handed pitch for on-the-spot contributions. It was the hardest sell I have ever encouontered for charity donations. Adelaideans sat on their hands and failed to give. They had paid $195 to be there and had already spent big bucks at an auction. Even the raffle tickets were $20 each. The silent auction was a complete disaster. Many of the objects failed to receive so much as a single bid. So the charity will not have fared too well, since these corollary dollars are the only funds going in its direction. Well, "profits" is what we have been reading - and one can't imagine, with the cost of the event, that there will be much profit. Especially since only 400 people turned up - and one hears that some of them were paper. Media was banned. Seems silly, but one doesn't want it to get out that the Prime Minister's wife's speaking tour is really just plugging a book.
Ironic that there was so much security. We had to queue outside and go into the Entertainment Centre singly - going through full security checks as at an airport.
Ms Blair does have a very pleasant speaking voice and, although she has a strangely giraffe-like build, she is a much more handsome woman than her many published photos would indicate.
She is not, however, a particularly interesting or amusing woman. Basically, she gave us nothing. Except perhaps the contempt of making us pay for a book promotion appearance.
She gave the charity nothing, either. Only a hook on which to hang an appeal. And, oddly, she had trouble saying the word "cancer", pronouncing it "cantster".
When I think about, I realise that the biggest fund-raiser of the evening was the State Premier. His offer of hosting two dinners for six raised a healthy $10,000 dollars. Isn't that interesting. Adelaideans will spend big to dine with one of their own but will walk straight past an unsigned Chagall print without a single bid.