updated 6/7/2005 1:03:31 AM ET 2005-06-07T05:03:31

As far as the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair is concerned, her husband chose a rotten day to fly to Washington for a meeting with President Bush.

Cherie Blair, a prominent human rights lawyer who also uses her maiden name, Booth, professionally, already was in Washington on Monday for a long-planned appearance in the Nation’s Capital Distinguished Speakers Series of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The juxtaposition of the prime minister’s visit with Mrs. Blair’s appearance, and its expected payday for her of tens of thousands of dollars, has stirred up critics in Britain who accuse her of cashing in on her position.

British press reports have estimated her fee for the 90-minute chat with American television anchor Paula Zahn as high as $54,000.

‘You can’t please all the people’
Asked about the uproar at home, Mrs. Blair said, “It has crossed my mind that of all the 365 days in the year that Tony could have come, this was not my favorite.” She reminded Zahn that her appearance had been scheduled for a long time.

Blair was flying in Monday night and planned to meet with Bush Tuesday.

Asked earlier about previous unfavorable press she had received, Cherie Blair said: “I just think you can’t please all the people all the time. You’re not going to get 100 percent approval. ... What you must do is be true to yourself.”

Blair’s main parliamentary opposition, the Conservative Party, has accused Cherie Blair of profiting from her husband’s position by appearing in Washington as the prime minister was going to the White House for official meetings.

Visit ‘demeans’ prime minister, some charge
The British press has also been critical. “The chance to make a lot of money in very little time has, once again, persuaded the Prime Minister’s wife to demean herself and her husband’s role,” Patience Wheatcroft wrote in The Times of London.

The prime minister’s wife has made public appearances abroad before, including in the United States last year to promote “The Goldfish Bowl,” her book about life at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence.

Monday’s speech, in the Kennedy Center’s 2,500-seat Opera Hall, is believed to be her biggest engagement to date. Most seats were filled, but sponsors had advertised the event as sold out, indicating that corporate backers had bought blocks of seats.

Conservative Party member Chris Grayling said the money earned from Mrs. Blair’s Washington speech should be donated to charity, even though she officially has broken no rules.

“Most people say what she is doing is wrong. Far and away the best option would be for her to accept people are not happy about what she is doing and perhaps donate the money to charity,” Grayling said.

‘Terrible sort of tightrope’
Mrs. Blair said one explanation for the negative reaction she has received might be that except for her predecessor, Norma Major, previous spouses of prime ministers had been of a generation in which fewer women worked out of the home.

“It’s a terrible sort of tightrope one is walking all the time — professional life and the wife of the prime minister,” she said.

Cherie Blair also found a hint of sexism in the British public’s reaction to her as compared with Dennis Thatcher, Britain’s only male prime ministerial spouse.

“Dennis Thatcher also had a number of outside interests. No one found anything wrong with that,” she said.

The prime minister’s office has previously rejected claims that Blair’s wife is in breach of the spirit of rules that prevent ministers from making private profit from their public careers. The ministerial code of conduct does not cover spouses.

On Monday, Downing Street would not comment on the controversy, saying it was a private matter for Mrs. Blair.

The American audience was friendly, applauding several times, especially when Mrs. Blair spoke of British-U.S. relations.

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