The mystical friendship of Cherie and Carol

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As the Prime Minister’s wife comes under pressure to ditch her New Age friend Carole Caplin, Sandra Dick examines the pair’s relationship

SHE is a mother of four children with a razor-sharp mind, a high-flying legal career, a deep Catholic faith and a husband who just happens to run a country.

And it seems she also has a particular weak spot for the power of crystals, for conversing with the spirit world and having nasty toxins scrubbed out of her body while standing naked in the shower with her best friend.

Far more intriguing than news of Cherie Blair’s Bristol property deals - even if the 70,000 discount was negotiated by Peter Foster, a convicted fraudster awaiting deportation - are the lurid, eyebrow-raising and sometimes toe-curling details of her relationship with former porn model Carole Caplin and Mrs Blair’s fascination with quirky New Age therapies which all but the most open-minded might well find bizarre.

The most recent of these was the startling revelation that the Prime Minister’s wife allegedly stood naked in the shower at a London gym while 40-year-old Caplin - whose CV includes appearing in soft-porn magazine Men Only, a spell with the dubious cult Exegesis which encouraged recruits to reveal their sexual secrets, membership of a dance troupe called Shock, a fraudster partner and a brief appearance in an Adam Ant video - scrubbed away those chakra-choking toxins.

Caplin is not the only unusual advisor to Mrs Blair but she is the closest and the most influential.

There has been a rash of other weird and wonderful disclosures, including Mrs Blair’s association with former market gardener Jack Temple, who charges 10 (plus 1 post and package) for dried strawberry leaves grown in the middle of a hastily erected stone circle which are said to "boost the dynamic life force of the food", and who uses crystals and nail clippings to search for poisons in the body. Perhaps more worryingly, he also claims breast-feeding a baby eliminates the need for MMR vaccinations.

The mystical world of the UK’s first lady also includes Caplin’s mother, Sylvia, who claims she can solve clients’ woes by dialling up the spirit world.

She introduced Mrs Blair to Chloe Asprey, who claims to be a shaman and uses crystals, meditation and visualisation. She encourages people to picture animals in their mind to provide protection against problems.

Carole Caplin introduced Mrs Blair to Bharti Vyas, a holistic beauty therapist who gives massages and aural acupuncture. Mrs Blair is said to have used Bharti’s Flowtron inflatable boots for lymphatic drainage.

On top of all that, Cherie uses a 240 bio-electric pendant which can supposedly chase away negative forces such as anger, and ear acupuncture studs to help her de-stress.

All of which begs the question: just what is an intelligent, sensible woman like Cherie Blair doing getting involved with what many people regard with suspicion?

Last night Mrs Blair stated boldly that she would not disassociate herself from her so-called "lifestyle guru" Caplin - a one-time fitness trainer who now wears designer dresses and picks up a rumoured 4000-a-month pay cheque from the Blairs.

The pair met ten years ago in Cherie’s local gym. Since then, Caplin, 40, has set up a health and fitness company with her mother called Holistix - which went bust in 1992. Her accompanying book, Holistix, advocated the benefits of goat’s milk and plenty of sex.

With such a background, is the fact that Caplin has become so friendly with Mrs Blair because, as her erratic career suggests, she just wants to be rich and famous?

Maybe. But according to Mrs Blair’s sister, Lauren Booth, Caplin is simply Cherie’s "Paul Burrell, a willing, round-the-clock mate-cum-dresser" who packs cases and goes shopping for her. She’s the kind of person any busy mum with a demanding toddler, three teenagers, a career and a healthy wage packet to spend on little luxuries - such as someone to scrub their back in the shower - would be more than happy to have around.

"She has encouraged Cherie to adopt a rigid fitness and dietary regime and introduced her to a series of remedies, but mostly she helps her to choose curtains, carpets and the outfits she wears when meeting world leaders," Booth says.

"Cherie, like Diana, needs people who can be called on at a moment’s notice, which means paying someone to be your most dependable pal."

Even if that "dependable pal" - once a member of a cult described in Parliament as "puerile, dangerous and profoundly wrong" - is becoming more embarrassing by the day.

But Mrs Blair’s refusal to drop Caplin (as Alastair Campbell allegedly repeatedly suggested) was, argues Booth, a "deliberate thumbing of her nose at the conventions for which she has so little patience. It also demonstrates her determination to fight for autonomy and privacy."

As for Cherie’s dalliances with alternative therapies, Booth says: "The New Age movement is now mainstream. Yet if Cherie sips a cup of camomile tea, it will be translated as an attack on the NHS.

"Strip away the unbelievable stories about mud orgies, and what you are left with is a practical attempt to cope with a relentless lifestyle that would challenge Superwoman. Wouldn’t we rather Cherie was meditating than knocking back gin or Valium?"

Dr Adrian White, senior lecturer in the department of complementary medicine at Peninsular Medical School, based at Exeter University, believes it might just be stress that has caused Mrs Blair to turn to Caplin.

"The stresses on someone like Mrs Blair are enormous, and many like her run for help - often in strange directions. Unfortunately, problems arise when someone with a qualification in a specific area, such as fitness, assumes a knowledge and authority for which they have no expertise."

That said, surely someone who is on the first rung of the ladder towards becoming a High Court judge should be on a different intellectual plain than someone who believes a tarot card reader when they’re told they’re about to meet the man or woman of their dreams?

Not necessarily, according to the experts. For the fact that Mrs Blair does have such a sharp, inquiring mind may well be the reason she has fallen for alternative theories, practices and health treatments which border on the bizarre.

Professor Robert Morris, of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University, suggests high intelligence does not prevent a person exploring the unconventional.

"Many people with high levels of intelligence may feel they don’t know everything there is to know," he says. "And if people feel their needs are not being met conventionally, then they will be happy to explore the alternatives.

"But, as professional magicians have said repeatedly, in some respects the smarter you are, the easier you are to fool. And even people who are very bright show difficulty when it comes to lines of reasoning."

Of course, Mrs Blair is not alone in taking an interest in the paranormal and the unconventional. A UK-wide survey of paranormal beliefs last year revealed that 67 per cent of us believe more in the power of psychics than in God, while three-quarters of people surveyed who had visited a psychic claimed the predictions had come true.

That comes as no great shock to Archie Lawrie, of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research, a former headteacher who is only too aware of the funny looks that come with publicly admitting to having an interest in "the other side".

"It’s easy to be a sceptic, it’s much harder to say that you do believe and are open to the unconventional. I think Cherie Blair has an inquiring mind and has said to herself that she believes in the psychic world."

Lesley Demaio, a tarot card reader and crystal dowser who runs Mystical Charms in Raeburn Place, says many of her clients have been high-flyers.

"The more intelligent you are, the more likely you are to question things," she argues.

"A lot of people have lost faith in modern medicine and are looking for alternative therapies. Others are questioning religion. Perhaps that is what Cherie Blair is going through."

Yet Cherie is well known as a devout Catholic - which makes her foray into the mystical world even more peculiar, particularly when the Pope himself has indicated his alarm at the growth of New Age groups which use astrology, magic, superstition and Eastern mysticism as part of their religious teaching.

However, some might say if you can believe in ascensions and assumptions, why not believe in the power of a crystal or a dried strawberry leaf?

Psychologist Cynthia McVey says: "Some people are drawn towards the mystical. Perhaps they have quite a challenging life and they take the view that it won’t do any harm, so why not try it? But if they are in the public eye, they do run the risk of being looked upon as being a bit strange - they have to trade off any benefits they might get with that.

"Of course, how much of it all really works and how much is the placebo effect is debatable. But say you are facing a particularly stressful day and someone gives you a crystal and says it will help, if you do go on to have a good day, then you might well start to wonder if it’s thanks to the crystal."

If you are the kind of person who believes in the power of a crystal, then you might also believe that certain people have the power to improve your life. And, just like Mrs Blair’s determination to hold on to her friend Carole, you won’t want to let them go.

"If you form a relationship with someone who is helpful, supportive and constructive in your life, who perhaps connects with the mystical side of your life, and then good things start to happen, then you may well wonder if it is partly down to them," suggests Cynthia.

"So, even if they may be frowned upon, you won’t want to shuffle them off completely. Loyalty comes into it too - why should someone who has done nothing wrong be abandoned?"

But perhaps there is another, far more cynical reason why Mrs Blair may be remaining steadfast and loyal to her former topless model mate.

Cynthia concludes: "If you are in the public eye and have formed a close relationship - one in which the other person has been supportive at particularly bad times, helping you through stresses and worries - there is also the potential that they could decide to reveal all of that to the public.

"Keeping them in your sights can help prevent a situation where everyone ends up reading about those very stresses and worries you want to keep private."

And there’s nothing mystical about that.