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Daily Telegraph

TONY BLAIR brought shoppers in Singapore to a standstill yesterday, while Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, looking as if he was heading for the beach, arrived virtually unnoticed.

The setting was Raffles City, a glitzier version of London’s Brent Cross and the first shopping centre to be hosting a session of the International Olympic Committee. It is enclosed by two huge hotel towers that make the place look like a multi-layered doughnut.

Throughout it are booths displaying posters of all previous modern Olympics and a giant screen with continuous grainy black and white footage of those Games — including that of London in 1948. It is also where Blair discovered, at around 4pm yesterday, that he had a local fan club.

He had swung into the city an hour earlier, when he was met in the Raffles hotel foyer by sports minister Richard Caborn before being rushed up to his suite for a briefing by members of the London team.

He was then about to travel to the high commissioner’s residence for a dinner attended by invited IOC members. At that point, a security cordon was thrown around the shopping centre’s lifts as word spread of his arrival.

A crowd, many of them clutching shopping bags, quickly gathered. I had come to the foyer to buy a coffee, but where the coffee stall normally stood there were now men in suits with bulging pockets, and there I found myself behind Claire and Vivian, two Qantas air hostesses, Jenny, from Idaho, and an elderly Chinese woman.

As we waited for the Prime Minister, Claire got her camera ready, while Jenny kept saying: “Do you know Idaho, that is where potatoes come from?” The Chinese woman, meanwhile, clutched an autograph book and put her fingers to her lips every time I asked her whether she admired Blair, as if this was a state secret.

In any case, the crowd reaction was a dramatic demonstration of the ‘Blair effect’ ahead of the crucial IOC session.

Livingstone, in blue shorts and carrying a shopping bag, did not attract quite the same attention. He elbowed his way through the cordon and smiled when I said: “Not quite the Labour Party conference is it, Ken?”

As security men talked on their mobiles, Blair emerged from the lift to come within touching distance of Claire and Jenny, offering the smile that once so dazzled the British public but is now rather shop-worn.

Here in Singapore it had instant impact. The locals burst into applause, while the Chinese woman was so awed and dazed she dropped her autograph book. Claire, however, kept her nerve and managed to get a picture.

“I don’t fancy him,” she insisted. “You would have to be desperate to fancy a politician, but he is the British Prime Minister and I got a great picture,” she said, skipping away to resume her shopping.

In the far corner of the foyer, as the Prime Minister’s motorcade swept away from the complex, stood a man who had been introduced to me as President Bush’s special representative for the New York bid. He had been described as a very important figure — Bush’s oldest friend, from their time at Yale.

Nobody took any notice of him on this occasion, though, and it was clear Bush’s rather more recently acquired British friend had been the main draw, even if it was more among local shoppers than IOC members.

Those IOC members have, in fact, been fairly thin on the ground so far, although they were beginning to come in last night. All the bid cities seem to have spent much of their time dodging shoppers rather than pursuing IOC members or talking among themselves as they hone the all-important presentation they will make to the IOC on Wednesday, the day of the 2012 vote.

The cities have also been bringing in their celebrities. But here again London has held an advantage. Just as the Blair effect dazzled Singapore, the New York man was offering me an interview with Australia’s Ian Thorpe, arguably the world’s greatest swimmer and one of that bid’s supporters. I had to decline.

New York will also have America’s former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, who might rival Blair, and the great Muhammad Ali, although he is too frail to face the shoppers.

Even so, the British have another ace up their sleeve — David Beckham will be here tomorrow. The only worry is if the Blair smile can have this effect, what havoc is Becks going to cause?

© Mihir Bose

      

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