Byline: Anne McElvoy
It has to be one of the hardest wifedoms to carry off with grace: Sarah Brown is, however tactfully one puts it, shackled to a husband who is, very likely, on a losing streak. With the possible exception of himself, hardly anyone thinks that Gordon Brown will be Prime Minister after the next election. And yet his wife is one of the most popular and energetic women in London, with a wide and growing fan club. The wonder is that so little of the ire and anger that adhere so readily to her husband accrue to her.
Instead, she is rapidly amassing the kind of portfolio that might make any other political wife (or even, say, her old Downing Street rival Cherie Blair) green with envy. Her main role model is Hillary Clinton: her own politics, although discreet, are firmly to the left and she has spoken admiringly of Mrs Clinton's emphasis on global issues and her self-confident feminism. Sarah's aim now is to project herself as a kind of political mother figure. 'Sort of Winnie Mandela meets Hillary, with a bit of modern sainthood thrown in,' says a waspish Cabinet minister.
As the likely end of the Brown government nears, Sarah knows the first lesson of a successful career - planning is all. The brutality of departures from Number 10 cannot be overestimated. There's no dignified transition as in the White House: one day you're the Prime Minister, the next morning someone else is, and there's a removal van round the back.
Of course Gordon Brown cannot discuss or even hint at plans for a life after politics, but he has said he would like to teach. For that don't read 'at the local Kirkcaldy comp' but a lecturing role, in all probability at the John F Kennedy School of Government. He has a wide network of influential Democrat friends in the US and enjoys an academic environment. An Obama administration would look kindly on a former ally, so he can also hope for a presidentially appointed role as roving ambassador on Third World aid or a major role at the World Bank. That dovetails neatly with Sarah's new high profile and devotion to charitable causes that are big in scope and have international dimensions. She still keeps her commitments as patron of the educational charity Shine and her association with the Maggie's cancer caring centres and PiggyBankKids. But her more recent adopted causes are noticeably larger in scale.
Her role as figurehead for the White Ribbon Alliance, aimed at decreasing childbirth-related deaths, fast became a springboard for the recruitment of the model Naomi Campbell. Sarah was the first leader's wife to befriend Carla Bruni and she's formed intriguing alliances with Paris Hilton, Katherine Jenkins and Sharon Osbourne. She the G8 month shares snatches of this glamorous side of life via Twitter, where she also shared with fellow Tweeters domestic details of her gardening and family life. So look out for Sarah's tips on London Zoo and the usefulness of the Splash Zone for small children in hot weather; her good wishes to harassed mums running birthday parties; and reports of family excitement at the appearance of strawberries in the Downing Street garden. It's all very daytime TV and it's brought in nearly 400,000 followers on Twitter, which isn't all bad for Brand Brown.
Really, though, it's Brand Sarah that is taking on a new energy. She has a civil servant now devoted to helping organise her activities and what one Number 10 insider calls 'a full-on First Wife operation'. It's the beginning of a new chapter for a Buckinghamshire girl. ('My wife is from Middle England,' remarked Gordon Brown proudly.) She's solidly middle class; her mother was a teacher, her father an educational publisher and she spent her early years in Tanzania. Her parents separated when she was seven, an event that gave her a lasting sympathy with single mothers, the root of her close friendship with JK Rowling.
At Camden School for Girls, always a breeding ground for North London cool, Sarah was very far from the demure character she is now: one contemporary remembers her 'dancing on a desk' in a fake striptease. …