Tony Blair’s father Leo died yesterday aged 89. The former prime minister was with his father when he passed away peacefully, his office announced last night. Mr Blair, who pulled out of an engagement with former US President Bill Clinton after his father fell seriously ill on Thursday, said he had been ‘privileged to have him as a Dad’. He added: ‘He was a remarkable man. Raised in a poor part of Glasgow, he worked his way up from nothing, with great ambitions dashed by serious illness on the very brink of their fulfillment. ‘He lost my mother, whom he adored, when she was still young. Yet despite it all he remained animated by an extraordinary spirit that was in him until the end.’
Mr Blair, who was born in 1923 in Filey, North Yorkshire, was the illegitimate son of two middle-class travelling entertainers - Celia Ridgeway and Charles Parsons. Mrs Ridgeway was the daughter of a wealthy West Sussex landowner. She married at 17 and had two daughters, Jenefee and Pauline, before she became a dancer and started a relationship with Mr Blair's father. The social stigma, combined with the family’s hectic lifestyle, prompted his parents to give up their baby to the Blairs, whom they met while on tour in Glasgow.
Clydeside shipyard worker James Blair and his wife Mary - who had suffered two miscarriages and feared they would never have children again - adopted him and quickly became strongly attached to the little boy. He adopted the Blair surname and was prevented by Mary from even contacting his biological parents after they eventually married and tried to reclaim him four years later. While he was away on active service in the Second World War, she told his real mother and his half-sisters that he was missing, presumed dead. They accepted her story.
It was only after Tony Blair became Labour leader that press articles prompted a reunion which enabled Mr Blair senior to fit the scattered pieces of his life together. Mr Blair grew up in the Govan dockland area of Glasgow and accompanied Mary to left-wing rallies. When he left school, he worked as a copy boy for the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker. He became the Secretary of the Scottish Young Communist League, between 1938 and 1941, and served in the Army during World War Two.
After demobilisation, he studied law in his spare time to become a barrister and later a law lecturer in Adelaide, Australia, and then at Durham University. He seemed to cast off his earlier Communist beliefs and later became a member of the Conservative Party admiring both Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbitt. He rose to chairman of the Durham Conservative Association, but his dream of standing for Parliament was scotched by a stroke at the age of 40, when his son Tony was 11.
Blair sent Tony to the prestigious boarding school Fettes College in Edinburgh where he is said to have modeled himself on Mick Jagger. He spent considerable energy grooming his son Tony who, at 12, stood as a Conservative ‘candidate’ in his school’s mock elections. However, tragedy struck for the family when Leo's wife, Hazel - mother to Sir William, Tony and Sarah - died of throat cancer in 1975. Mr Blair remarried and moved to Shrewsbury, Shropshire, with his second wife, Olwyn. By 1995, Tony was leader of the Labour Party and Leo, then chairing the industrial tribunal in Shrewsbury where he now lived, underwent another political conversion at the age of 71.
He joined the Labour Party, citing objections to rail privatisation and pride at his son's achievement. However, Leo remained his own man and took out private health insurance for both him and his wife in 1999 - gifting a propaganda coup to the Tory Party. Tony frequently spoke of his closeness to his father, and named his youngest son after him in 2000.
Source: Daily Mail UK