Anyway, on to her interview. The aim of it is quite simply to show Gordon Brown in a new, more human light. She certainly achieves her goal, even persuading him to talk about his
In January 2002, Gordon and Sarah lost their ten-day-old baby Jennifer, who had been born two months premature. Photographs of her parents, shipwrecked with grief, are hard to look at even now. He hates talking about it, but when I ask if he still considers himself to be a father of three he says, 'Oh, yes,' in the most decisive voice I have heard all day. Quickly, he adds that nothing can ever be the same again.
'You've had this young child and she's been taken away and she's irreplaceable. You can't explain why what was the happiest moment of your life one day turns out to be the most tragic.' Brown still can't say Jennifer's name without welling up with tears. For the first year after she died, he couldn't bear to listen to music. 'It seemed out of place with everything that had happened. First of all you have to keep going. Second, you hope maybe something good can come out of something so devastating.'
When John arrived in 2003, the Browns had the huge joy and relief of a healthy baby. Then, almost unbelievably, tragedy struck again in 2006 when Fraser was born with cystic fibrosis. Brown says: 'One of the worst things was going to the internet and Googling the disease. You get these terrible statistics. No known cure. Life expectancy very low. Symptoms are terrible, breathing is very difficult.'
At first, Gordon and Sarah simply refused to believe that their beautiful baby boy had a problem. 'You hope that the tests will reveal it was a mistake. Eventually, you have to admit that the original statement - that your son's got cystic fibrosis - is not just "likely", it's actually true.' When I ask if the couple felt that they had had more than their fair share of pain, Brown says something quietly impressive. 'What Sarah said was if it was going to happen to anybody we were best placed to deal with it because of what we knew after... you know, after Jennifer... we'd learned how to cope with... difficulties.'
Gordon has learned how to do the physiotherapy that a CF sufferer needs twice daily to clear their lungs although, inevitably with a very young child, it has mainly been Sarah's job. 'Fraser's doing really well. I think he's going to be a footballer,' grins Brown, who I reckon would happily trade his own centre-forward position for just one game on the pitch for his beloved Raith Rovers.
Brown made it clear in his conference speech that his children are 'people not props', a jibe at David Cameron. I'm afraid it's the Tory leader who has the surer instincts for the times. Whether politicians like it or not, the British have become more American. People are inspired by personal tales, especially ones about overcoming adversity. Listening to the PM talk so movingly about the children and what he and Sarah have been through, I can't help thinking that more of Gordon the Family Man and less of Gordon the Petrol Pump might send his own stock rising.
Pearson is right. People don't relate to Brown because the consider him remote and aloof. A bit more of this sort of thing and they might start to change their perceptions. But of course he made a rod for his own back by criticising David Cameron for using his children as props, so he is now open to criticism himself when he starts talking in this way about them, moving though it undoubtedly is.
The second section to tug at the heartstrings (and I mean that genuinely) concerned the Prime Minister's eyesight.
As the Prime Minister moves along the line of silver-haired Britons, shaking hands and asking if the traffic was bad, I also notice how he finds it impossible to meet people's eye, always looking over their shoulder. Is it shyness? Damian McBride, Brown's media man until the recent reshuffle, whispers: 'His sight isn't very good.' McBride tells me about one occasion when the PM was about to meet a line-up of war veterans and his aides noticed that former minister John Reid was in the same queue. Dr Reid had to be moved out of the way because Gordon 'would have confused him with a veteran'.
So is his remaining good eye giving him problems? A senior official, who sat next to the PM in many meetings after 9/11, believes that it is. He told me that all of Brown's memos are in huge print and triple spaced. 'If I want him to reply to an email, I always make sure it's in at least 36 point.' That's almost five times as large as the print size of this article.
Brown's own handwriting is also said to be getting larger. At a conference back in the spring, the Prime Minister took a wrong turn off the stage and failed to find the exit. The incident was reported as comedy, not something far sadder. Even allowing for the absentmindedness to which brainy chaps like Mr Brown are prone, there is mounting anecdotal evidence that the man at the eye of the financial storm may, with considerable courage, be battling a disability he prefers to keep private.
When I mention his sight to Brown, he makes light of it and avoids direct answers. I ask how much vision he has in the good eye and he chuckles: 'Enough. Enough!' But he admits that, because of the damage done by operations in adolescence, he has had to have a cataract removed. 'It does mean when you're speaking to an audience you automatically tend to correct [which direction to look in] so you've got to be careful. If you're reading something you have to look slightly to the side.'
'You can't understand Gordon if you don't understand his fear that he could go blind at any moment,' insists one old friend. Indeed, if Brown had a sudden fall, or someone bumped into him, his damaged retina could fail altogether and with it, what remains of his sight. Friends at university use to form protective rings round him in pubs to avoid just such an accident.
I don't imagine we will know the full truth until after Prime Minister Brown has left office, but it would explain a lot, wouldn't it? It would explain his desperate desire for Blair to give him his chance in Number 10 before it was too late. It would explain the frozen expression on his face. It would explain his difficulty connecting with the public - quite literally, he can't look us in the eye. And it would be good cause for all that rage and frustration. 'In public, Gordon puts on a heroic performance, but there is always a cost,' says the friend.
If it is true that he can hardly see, it would indeed explain a lot. It would explain the constant need to prove himself - to work harder and longer than anyone else. It would certainly explain some of the psychological flaws which are all too apparent. But it's clear it is something he doesn't feel comfortable talking, presumably as he believes people - i.e his political opponents - will see it as a weakness and try to exploit it. I suspect it would have the reverse effect.
The only politically significant passage in the interview was this revealing exchange...
When we finally manage to snatch some time in the study on the first floor, I ask if he has any regrets about his boast: 'No more boom and bust.'That is what Fraser Nelson would call a 'brownie'. A willing distortion of the truth. I have just done a bit of googling and there are countless occasions when he has used the phrase 'no return to boom and bust' without adding the word 'Tory', although he did use it in his conference speech this year. The implication of his remarks are that a Labour 'boom and bust' is somehow more OK than a Tory one.
'I actually said, 'No more Tory boom and bust,' he replies.
Hmm. 'I don't remember you inserting the word 'Tory', Prime Minister?'Brown laughs, as much in annoyance as amusement. 'Fifteen per cent interest rates under the Tories! We've got interest rates of five per cent, that's a bit different, isn't it?'
He harks back to 1992 and the fact that interest rates were at 15% for a very short time after Black Wednesday. That is undeniable. But did Black Wednesday cost the taxpayer tens of billions of pounds? Was there a run on the banks? Did the stock market drop by 20% in a week? No. This crisis is far, far worse than anything the Conservatives presided over, and it's about time Tory politicians stood up and said so.