Byline: GEOFFREY LEVY;GORDON RAYNER
THIS time, they haven't felt the need for a cosy dinner to reaffirm an enduring friendship. This time, there has been no personal statement from Cherie Blair about 'my friend Carole'. This time, the embarrassing onslaught has been met with a Prime Ministerial implacability that seems to be saying: 'Do your worst.' There can hardly be a household in Britain that has not by now pondered the uniquely intimate and unshakable relationship between the occupants of No. 10 Downing Street and the lissom lifestyle guru Carole Caplin. No amount of adversity, it seems, can keep them apart.
At the end of 2002, the Prime Minister's wife was forced to apologise over misleading the public about her relationship with Carole's then boyfriend, conman Peter Foster. He had privately negotiated the purchase of two Bristol flats for her in what became known as ' Cheriegate'. Eventually, thrice-jailed Foster was barred from Britain and expelled from Ireland - despite being given unofficial advice from QC Cherie - and went home to Australia.
But now, Foster has returned to haunt the Blairs. For the past two weeks, from the Gold Coast where he has been writing a memoir, he has been producing a flurry of jaw-dropping allegations involving the Blairs and Carole.
The Blairs would be inhuman not to feel anger and unease at the 'revelations' - garnered, Foster says, during a lengthy affair with Caplin during which she conceived, and sadly lost, a baby - a baby, he now cruelly asserts which might not have been his.
And yet, although Carole is responsible for introducing this dangerous figure into the Blairs' charmed circle, none of the dirt that he has unleashed against the Blairs has dislodged the 42-year-old former topless model from her pivotal place at the side of Cherie, whose life she continues to influence.
One reason, clearly, is that Foster is a glib and practised liar who has served three jail sentences for fraud. Government ministers desperately wheeled out to bat him off in recent days, describe him witheringly as a 'fantasist' trying to publicise his as yet unpublished autobiography.
So what are we to make of his outrageous and even unsavoury claims about the Blairs? Could this convicted fraudster just for once be telling it like it was?
We have been investigating his claims and - surprise, surprise - much of what he says is, indeed, fantasy. On the other hand, we have confirmed through reliable sources that some of it is undoubtedly true.
For example, take Foster's blatantly mischievous claim that Carole once slept in the Blairs' marital bed at Chequers while Cherie was away. What we have confirmed is that she did, in fact, sleep in the Blairs' bed in Downing Street - not just once, but many times.
Even taking into account the complex and bizarre nature of the relationship, the strange sight of MsCaplin snuggled up between the Blairs' clean sheets in the middle of the day was something the Downing Street staff never quite got used to.
Those who witnessed Carole's daytime visits to the Blairs' marital bed - a king-size, well-sprung Norwegian model costing [pounds sterling]3,500 and which Carole herself advised them to buy - found Mrs Blair to be completely at ease with her friend's needs.
Indeed, until she was barred from No. 10 last September, in a vain attempt to publicly distance the Prime Minister from her, Carole Caplin seems to have had carte blanche to use the bed whenever she wanted.
'Sometimes, Cherie was in the room, sometimes not,' says a source. 'Carole would announce that she was tired and wanted a nap, and get into bed.
Cherie didn't seem to be bothered in the slightest that she was getting into the very bed she and Tony sleep in.
Tony, of course, was never in the bedroom when this happened.' Some might cynically interpret such boldness as the act of a woman with some rather strange hold over her friend Cherie. …