Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Cherie Blair, QC

I knew Mr Smerdon already; his son was the first boy who ever kissed me. With
him as our teacher the last year at St Edmund’s Catholic Primary, in Crosby
at the northern end of Liverpool, was a magical time. We must have done all
the subjects but I can’t remember many formal lessons. He was a former
fighter pilot and would devote hours to recounting his experiences.

I was very aware, from my mother and grandmother, that I should go to a good
school ? and Seafield Grammar was the good school for Catholic girls.

You really were separated from the rest of your primary school class who went
to secondary modern; you became posh because you went to the grammar school.
It was a good school with a lot of emphasis on developing morally.

My social life revolved round the Young Christian Students; the best chance a
good Catholic girl had of meeting a good Catholic boy from St Mary’s, the
school that faced ours across Liverpool Road. We would discuss the
[liberalising] Second Vatican Council. I developed the type of Catholicism I
have today.

I was in the school plays and had the lead in Murder In The Cathedral. Two
things that the school did in helping with my legal career were drama and
public speaking, which gave me confidence in thinking on my feet. I was bad
at sport but did the commentary for sports displays. Rather than reveal my
two left feet in a gym display, I would announce: “Here is Mary with
her forward roll.” (I got a great kick later out of opening the
sporting block and unveiling the plaque that said: “Cherie Blair, QC
and distinguished old girl”, though I wasn’t so sure about the “old”.)

I got As in history, geography and economics and I got prizes in those
subjects. I wasn’t by any means the best-behaved girl and they didn’t give
prizes for having the most late marks. Meriel Taaffe, the mother of my
boyfriend, said: “You’re good at debating and drama. Have you thought
about becoming a lawyer?” The LSE offered me a place.

They found me a “suitable” place in Notting Hill run by Sacred Heart
nuns with a 10 o’clock curfew and a dormitory with other girls. In my first
act of advocacy, I managed to persuade the LSE to let me share a room in
Passfield Hall and I lived in Central London for three years. Though I used
to walk past Merchant Taylors’ [independent school] on the way to Seafield,
this was the first time I had come across public school people. I was always
aware that some students had cars and went out to expensive restaurants.

At the LSE they taught law as a social science, with labour law and human
rights law; they saw the subject in terms of its impact on political and
economic life. This was the kind of work I saw myself doing and I got a
first.

I did my bar finals at Lincoln’s Inn, coming top. (“Blair, A.” was
nestling in the Third Class section.) We were one of the first years to
experiment with practical training, visiting the different courts, but this
was still an adjunct to the academic training. Only 16 per cent of women
were called to the Bar. This was not deliberate prejudice, just the culture
of the times; you didn’t find many women accountants and doctors. Last year
it was 50 per cent.

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