Cherie Blair on the sexist and elitist barriers she faced as a young lawyer

The successful QC reveals the hurdles she faced as "a working-class woman with a Liverpool accent" when starting out - and how even husband Tony was pitted against her

Cherie Blair’s legal career spans an impressive five decades, but she faced several hurdles – including her class, gender and even husband Tony – when she first started out, she has told The Big Issue.

Cherie – who became a barrister in 1976 and a QC in 1995 – confessed to experiencing imposter syndrome as she reflected on the challenges of being “a working class woman with a Liverpool accent” trying to make it as a lawyer in the Seventies.

Having grown up in a single-parent family on the outskirts of Liverpool, she admitted that the legal world was a “completely alien environment” when she first started out – especially in the face of unfamiliar codes of behaviour typically learned in “Oxford colleges and public schools.”

Speaking to The Big Issue for our regular Letter to my Younger Self feature, Cherie said: “I definitely felt the imposter syndrome at times. Just little things like going to eat the dinners at Lincoln’s Inn [the prestigious London-based body of lawyers] – they presented port at the end and I had no idea what it was. I just didn’t know the etiquette of lots of things.

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“I only realise now that a lot of what we were doing in the halls and Lincoln’s Inn was what they did in Oxford colleges and public schools, but they were completely alien environments to me.’

In the interview, Cherie also reflected on how she and husband Tony Blair were law school rivals in the early days of their relationship  – and how being a woman put her at a disadvantage.

“When I first met Tony we were rivals for the same scholarship. And then for the same place in chambers,” she said.

“My pupil master said to me, ‘Cherie, there’s only one place here and there’s a boy and there’s a girl and, obviously, we have to go for the boy.’

“I knew more about the law than he did, but of course it was a disadvantage being a woman, especially a working-class woman with a Liverpool accent. In those days people just said he was a better bet. “

She added that such thinking “just goes to show how wrong stereotypes can be, because I’m still a practising lawyer 45 years on and he gave up the law after seven years for some other career entirely.”

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Of course, that ‘other career’ saw Tony swap law for politics, culminating in him leading the Labour Party to their 1997 landslide victory over the Conservatives – something Cherie singles out as a standout memory.

Recalling the ’97 election night, she said: “We came back to London and the dawn broke, and the sun came up, and we went into the gathering of the Labour Party members and realised that after so many years of Tory rule we actually had a chance to make things better.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Cherie reflects on the impacts of her TV-star father Tony Booth abandoning his family when she was eight, her shock at the interest in her looks when Tony became prime minster, and her childhood ambitions to be the UK’s first female PM.

You can read the full interview in this week’s edition of The Big Issue, available as a digital download in our app or from The Big Issue Shop.

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