Blair and Clinton bonded over display of youthful vibes

Newly released papers show aides ripping up plans to portray leaders of the US and UK as the world’s dynamic duo

Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary ended their 1997 European tour with a hastily-booked dinner with the Blairs at Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London. PA

Aides to former UK prime minister Tony Blair and former US president Bill Clinton toyed with a plan to stage a jam session to cement their status as “young, dynamic and serious leaders” during their first London meeting after the British prime minister’s landslide 1997 election victory.

The proposal for the “fun” event with Mr Clinton on saxophone and Mr Blair on guitar was one of a string of photo-friendly opportunities dreamt up by officials from both countries before the day-long visit in May 1997, newly released documents show.

Other papers released showed how Mr Blair grappled with plans to tackle Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and how he tried to stop South Africa's Nelson Mandela commenting on the Lockerbie bombing trial.

An original plan for the Mr Blair and Mr Clinton to be taught “various sophisticated computer games” by a group of children at a sports café was swiftly ditched after US officials visited the venue and decided it was too down-market after attending a Nato summit in France earlier in the week.

“It was not serious enough and too big a step down after the weighty events in Paris and The Hague,” a Downing Street official wrote in a planning document.

The visit was seen as important by both sides with Mr Blair building his reputation after a huge victory for his Labour party in UK elections while Mr Clinton was ‘beleaguered’ after a series of political and personal setbacks after four years as president.

“His [Clinton’s] handlers…. hope association with new ideas and new decisiveness will rub off on his image here,” according to a briefing note for the visit prepared by British officials.

American officials told their British counterparts that Mr Clinton wanted to conclude his visit like a tourist and was interested in visiting a garden, shops and Indian food.

“His people are very keen to give Clinton the impression that he has a choice of where to eat that evening though in fact they will have cased a range of restaurants beforehand,” said one briefing paper.

They also mulled a short walkabout during a wreath-laying ceremony.

When the trip took place the planned ‘fun’ involved the leaders’ spouses Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair visiting the outdoor Globe theatre on the River Thames, while Mr Clinton met staff at the US embassy, reports said.

The visit concluded with a famous photo opportunity when the two couples dined at an upmarket restaurant, Le Pont de la Tour, in central London, and notched up a £299 bill.

In a subsequent letter to the restaurant owner, Mr Blair alluded to the chaotic planning. “I am very grateful to you for accommodating us at such short notice,” he wrote.

Updated: July 20th 2021, 9:45 AM