EAMON Mallie is back on UTV with a new series of Face to Face with Eamon Mallie. I’m not sure he did himself any favours in his choice of title: the original Face to Face interviews in the 1950s were by former politician John Freeman and were superb. But while Freeman kept his name out of the title and his face off the screen, Mallie sits in a chair opposite his subject, hair nicely shaped and legs crossed.
Blair recalled his boyhood holidays in County Donegal, his grandfather who was an Orangeman, and his grandmother, who told him not to marry a Catholic. Which of course he did.
But the teenage Blair’s thoughts were far from politics. “I began to be interested in girls, I got a guitar, I had my first drink.”
His home was middle-class Conservative, his father a Thatcher fan. But experience of the outside world and university helped Blair Jr to broaden his mind and see that the society you live in often shapes the way you think.
Tackling the NEI situation was less daunting because it happened “in the first flush of government”.
What did he make of Gerry Adams? “He had the capacity to think strategically and he was very shrewd. And tough. Both he and McGuinness had the requisite degree of subtlety, were able to take their people on a tough journey, and help them realise it wasn’t a sell-out but progress.”
So did Blair (“Tony” to Mallie) expect a border poll soon? Not really – the people in the south that he spoke to didn’t want to rush into anything and had more pressing matters to cope with.
But what, Mallie insisted, did Blair “feel emotionally” about a united Ireland?
“Emotionally I want the Union and the UK to continue. But we created an agreement where it was up to the people of Northern Ireland.”
“You’re equivocating again – just sitting on the fence,” Mallie insisted. Blair was firm: “I’m giving you a view which I think is actually wise.”
I suspect Blair enjoyed the interview – he looked more cheerful than he has seemed in recent years. With his crisp, open-necked shirt and expensive blue suit, to misquote Gilbert and Sullivan, Blair was the very model of a modern Labour politician.
It helped, of course, that Mallie didn’t lob in any questions about Iraq, or Jeremy Corbyn, or British collusion with loyalists. Mallie started the interview expressing the hope his guest would enjoy the interview. Forgetting to ask questions about Iraq, Corbyn and loyalists must definitely have helped.