Iain Murray : It’s only natural that the Hunter goes after the hair

Tony Blair’s ‘office wife’ has left him for a more hirsute model – and twice the money. Just what was the role of the flirtatious mother of two? asks Iain Murray

Before long it will not be hard to distinguish Lord Browne of Madingley from the general herd of chief executives. He will have a confident spring in his step and sprightly light in his eye; he alone among corporate chieftains will have had his tie expertly scrutinised for traces of morning egg and his teeth examined for related matter; above all, he will not have a hair out of place.

And to what will he owe this impeccable presentation, this sartorial precision, this peerless aplomb? Why, to the devoted and meticulous attention of one Anji Hunter, lately gatekeeper, “Girl Friday, “details queen” and “comfort blanket” to His Eminence the Blair of Blairs. Last week – when it was announced that she was turning in her Government-issue mobile phone, pager, and pencil and paper set and joining BP as director of communications, where she will be answerable to Lord Browne of Truly, Madingley Deeply – a flurry of curiosity rippled across the land. Who was Anji Hunter? What had she done to justify a salary of £120,000 when in Government service – and to merit twice that in her new job?

The answers tumbled in. She is 46 and, I am pleased to say, a mother of two. She has known Mr Blair since they were at school in Scotland. She is a “handsome blonde woman with a Home Counties accent and a bulging briefcase”. According to another she is a “great schmoozer and networker”. And to another she is “adept at lavishing hugs and kisses on those she likes and those she needs. They go away flushed with the excitement of such an intimate brush with power”.

Okay, so much for what she is, but what does she do, this handsome schmoozing hugger and kisser, bestower of flushes on the excitable?

The answer, it seems, is best illustrated by example. The Telegraph tells it thus: “Early one evening last week, Tony Blair emerged from a lift in an expensive Riyadh hotel and walked towards journalists.

“He was stopped in his tracks by an elegant woman in a well-cut linen suit and dark silk scarf, who marched past him and planted herself in front of the microphones set up to record his words.

“She checked the cameras, smiled at the reporters from Saudi television, then turned to examine the backdrop. The marble columns and enormous crystal chandeliers concealed no embarrassments, nothing that would look bad in the pictures beamed around the world.

“With a brief nod of her head, she gave the all clear. Anji Hunter had once again proved her worth as Mr Blair’s details queen.”

What a pro! Note that when a nod was required she chose – call it intuition, call it instinct – her head as the most appropriate instrument with which to make it. To nod with any other part of the body could so easily have offended Muslim sensibilities, touchy at the best of times, but positively hair-triggered at this time of crisis.

To glimpse Anji in action on home soil, one has merely to turn to the Daily Mail, which tells us that she travels on the early commuter train from Haywards Heath to Victoria. Once aboard, she does not bury her head in her bulging briefcase but engages fellow passengers in conversation. “She is easy to talk to and quite flirtatious,” says the paper.

Later that morning, she wanders into the Prime Minister’s office and imparts the views garnered on her journey:

Blair: “What news from Haywards Heath?”

Hunter: “There is, Prime Minister, a man in a slightly soiled raincoat who would – and here I quote – like to wipe the silly smirk off the face of that jug-eared bastard.”

Blair: “That, I take it, is what the Daily Mail calls the distilled wisdom of Middle England’s commuter classes.”

Hunter: “Not quite, Prime Minister. Another traveller ventured an opinion, the several and distilled parts of which were Stephen Byers, truth, and the anal orifice of a gnat.”

Blair: “Are you sure you were sufficiently flirtatious this morning?”

Hunter: “Quite sure. Schmoozy, too, if my memory serves me right.”

On a personal level, says the Mail, Anji acted as Blair’s “office wife”, choosing his ties and fussing over his hair.

“She once sent him a pager message just before a big conference speech telling him to use a comb before getting up on the platform. And she has been overheard on the train discussing how brave Tony is to have come to terms with the fact his hairline is receding.”

How that must have humbled the long-suffering commuters of the South-east, men and women whose stoicism in the face of the humiliations and indignities daily heaped upon them by the worst rail service in the western world is as nothing compared with the raw courage of a Prime Minister manfully coming to terms with encroaching baldness.

It was probably too much for Anji, though. As one who is plainly hair-obsessed, it was not the huge salary that enticed her to defect, nor the prospect of learning about oil. It was the fact that Lord Browne has an impressive head of thick hair, something a girl can get her comb into.

Footnote: Ms Hunter’s replacement at Number Ten – one Baroness Morgan of Huyton – is, needless to say, a mother of two.


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