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10 décembre 2007

Anyone for tennis with Tony?

Now he has got more time on his hands, Tony Blair's thoughts have turned towards keeping fit and pursuing his favourite hobby - tennis.

With the splendid grass court at Chequers no more at his disposal, he has set his sights on joining one of London's most exclusive clubs - Campden Hill Lawn Tennis in Kensington - which has both outdoor and indoor winter courts.

It is also not much more than a ten-minute drive by armour-plated car from Blair's new house near Marble Arch. Alas, not everyone at the snooty club, where figures such as Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, and author Sebastian Faulks play, is thrilled by the idea of the former Prime Minister making small talk in the members' bar.

"There's a waiting list for membership, which is closed, and there's a two-year wait for those on it," blusters a member. "Why should Blair leapfrog all those people? Apart from anything else, what about the disruption of his bodyguards hanging around - presumably making security checks on other members - while their boss is on court."

According to members, who pay £1,000 for entry as well as an annual fee of £650, Blair has "let it be known" that he wants to join. His son Euan is a regular, courtesy of his girlfriend Suzanne Ashman, 19, who lives nearby and is a member.

"Word has filtered out that he would like to be considered," one member tells me. "People do resent the idea of queue-jumping, but probably Blair's ability as a tennis player will decide if he gets in. Usually, good players can get in after six months but average ones can be on the waiting list for years. I’ve heard Blair is not that good."

Campden Hill is one of the finest private clubs in the capital. Rebuilt five years ago, it has six artificial grass outdoor courts, four of them floodlit, plus six indoor courts, a bar and a restaurant. Club secretary Paul Holloway denies Blair has applied to join. Says another member: "It has become the talk of the club. The committee will probably allow him to jump the queue."

Singer Peter Gabriel, the founder of Genesis, was not so fortunate. He was given only a midweek membership, which prohibits play after 6pm or at weekends.

Richard Kay

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