May 11, 1998 12:00 PM

Some people are fortunate enough to be in the right face at the right time. After decades of British prime ministers who, in the words of John Harris, editor of the lifestyle magazine Select, “dressed and carried themselves dreadfully,” along came Tony Blair.

His opponents had him pegged three years before he was elected in a landslide victory. “Tony Blair has been anointed Labour leader on his looks, not his policies,” scoffed former Conservative party chairman Jeremy Hanley back in 1994. And the 6-foot Blair, 45, has been working those looks ever since. The nimble politician ushered in a new Labour era by donning shirtsleeves and appealing to the masses with his slate-blue eyes and bright smile. “We should have him cloned,” says fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, who attended the February White House dinner honoring Blair. “He’s a charming, witty, capable head of state.”

As a longhaired Oxford student in the 1970s, Blair, the son of a Conservative lawyer and a homemaker, fronted the rock group Ugly Rumours. Government didn’t interest him then, but he presided over his own cabinet of groupies. “Tony was our love machine,” a bandmate once said.

Though he’s no longer mimicking Mick Jagger’s moves, Blair stays active by playing tennis and soccer, and by swimming at the country house in Buckinghamshire that he shares with his lawyer wife, Cherie, 43, and three children. Also, “He tries to keep a reasonably balanced diet, with lots of fruit,” a Downing Street spokeswoman reports, noting that the stress of the job requires him to be fit.

Blair may need every advantage. “A face-reading expert told me he’s too pretty to be taken seriously as a leader,” says Eve Cameron, editor of Zest, a health and beauty magazine. After all, politics is supposed to be an ugly business.

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