An intermingling of serious history and chatty anecdotes about the spouses of British prime ministers, conceived by the wife of the current one.
Booth, a lawyer, is married to Tony Blair. A career woman much like Hillary Clinton, Booth had received no training about how to comport herself when thrust into the role of Britain’s first lady seven years ago. “There is no job description for the prime minister’s spouse because there is no job,” Booth comments. She decided to learn how her predecessors had handled their roles, and so she teamed up with journalist Haste to research and write accounts of their lives. Those accounts grew into a book, with each predecessor back to 1955 covered in a separate chapter: Clarissa Eden, Dorothy Macmillan, Elizabeth Home, Mary Wilson, Audrey Callaghan, Denis Thatcher, and Norma Major. Four of the living spouses—Eden, Wilson, Thatcher, and Major—granted interviews. The biographical accounts, meantime, aren’t all whitewash—Dorothy Macmillan’s extramarital affair with Robert Boothby is included—and Booth, further, explores lifestyle and policy disagreements as well as concordances within each marriage. Life inside Number 10 Downing Street (a combination office/home) and Chequers (an Elizabethan manor house about an hour’s drive from the city, used primarily on the weekends) is a mix of work and play, but the emphasis is definitely on work. For those interested in architecture and interior design, Booth describes the alterations in the two residences over the decades, explaining why some of the features are sacrosanct. In her last chapter, she generalizes with insights about the shifting social class of the spouses, the role of religious faith while in a supporting role, the increasing difficulty of protecting family privacy in an era of pervasive media, and the varying ways of wielding political influence behind the scenes.
An uneven mix of reverence and irreverence, scholarship and gossip, but, overall, a bracing informal history. (For comparison, see The Blairs and Their Court, above.)