| Cherie Blair
London, July 14: A public relations agent who has built his career on “reputation management” emerged yesterday as the leading candidate to be spin doctor to Cherie Blair.
Shimon Cohen, a protege of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite ad man, Lord Bell, and one of the brighter lights in the rather dim firmament that is PR, is understood to be the frontrunner in the contest to take charge of Cherie Blair’s image.
He is perhaps best known for once advising a conference of rabbis to sharpen up their suits.
If appointed, he will face the most challenging episode yet in a career that has included giving advice to rabbis on power dressing, dealing with top football teams and plugging the City of York. “He’s brighter than your average PR — much brighter in fact — and pleasant,” said an acquaintance.
Cohen, chief executive of Bell Pottinger Public Relations, will require all his skills to boost Cherie Blair’s public persona following her disastrous association with Peter Foster, the serial conman and boyfriend of her lifestyle guru, Carole Caplin.
When Cohen was asked yesterday about his proposed job, he replied: “That’s an interesting story. I have nothing to say.”
Cherie Blair urgently needs a new spin doctor after the resignation of Fiona Millar, the partner of Alastair Campbell, who has advised her on media matters for many years.
Millar is thought to have quit following clashes over and with Caplin. There is speculation that she would like Campbell, who has encountered severe turbulence over Iraq, to leave Downing Street with her.
Technically, Millar is a special adviser and head of events and visits, thereby justifying the payment of her salary by the taxpayer. It is not clear if the salary of her successor — and Cohen is unlikely to come cheap — will also be met from the public purse.
Cohen was born in Wales and educated in Cardiff and at Manchester University. He cut his teeth as a community officer at a synagogue in north London.
His talent for publicising events brought him to the attention of Lord Jakobovits, who appointed the 23-year-old as his private secretary.
In 1990 he gave his sartorial advice to a conference of rabbis. He explained: “Rabbis have a classical religious message to get across and therefore, in effect, they're antique salesmen. So they have to cultivate a classic look.” After eight years working for Lord Jakobovits, he was offered a job by Lord Bell, whose publicity campaigns helped secure three electoral victories for the Tories.
In 1996, Cohen was seconded to the private office of Lord Lloyd-Webber before returning to Bell Pottinger.
Sir Jimmy Young is one of those who has sought his advice. In 2001 he was given the job of rescuing York’s tourist industry after floods and foot and mouth.
Cohen maintains strong links with the Jewish community. He is a director of the Jewish Chronicle, a director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and a director of the British Israel Chamber of Commerce. He is also a member of Bafta and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
His name emerged after a newspaper report claiming Mark Bolland, PR adviser to the Prince of Wales, was being considered for the post. But a source told The Telegraph that Bolland was not the favourite candidate.
Downing Street refused to confirm or deny that Cohen had been approached.
But a spokesman denied he was being hired because Cherie Blair’s public image was so negative in the wake of the Foster affair as to pose a threat to that of her husband.
Foster, a convicted fraudster, helped her buy two flats in Bristol while conducting a relationship with Caplin.
Although Foster, an Australian, has now left the country, the controversial Caplin remains an influential figure in Cherie Blair’s life. Cohen would probably have to work alongside her.