Peter Foster’s name is invariably prefixed with the words ‘notorious conman’ — and who would disagree?
In a criminal career spanning his adult life, he has earned infamy for flogging ‘miracle’ slimming products and notoriety for fleecing investors out of millions. Much of his life has been either spent in jail, absconding from jail or on the run from jail — with the odd glamorous girlfriend along the way.
Yet, ironically, the deed for which Foster is best known is an entirely legal and rather mundane affair back in 2002 — negotiating the purchase of two flats in Bristol on behalf of a middle-aged mother.
The difficulty that led to all the trouble, of course, was that the lady in question was Cherie Blair, wife of Tony Blair, then Prime Minister.
When a newspaper revealed that a serial fraudster was acting on behalf of the Blairs, a series of dramas unfolded and ‘Cheriegate’, as it was to become known, was born.
Adding further intrigue to the story was Foster’s then girlfriend, and the Blairs’ personal trainer, Carole Caplin, an exotic beauty whose presence in their lives was the source of endless intrigue, rumour and prurient speculation. It all ended with Foster being despatched back to his native Australia, with the Press in hot pursuit.
Despite a criminal career spanning his adult life the deed for which Foster is best known is an entirely legal and rather mundane affair back in 2002 — negotiating the purchase of two flats in Bristol on behalf of a middle-aged mother – Cherie Blair
Eighteen years on, after a series of improbable escapades around Australia, and a few more stints in prison, Foster is back in the news.
And the Blairs might want to hang onto their hats — because he’s penning his memoirs and says he’s not holding anything back.
Grief has made him nostalgic: two months ago Foster’s mother, Louise, passed away aged 88.
He says the loss of the woman who always told him off for his misdemeanours but unfailingly supported him, has left a gaping void in his life. Before her death, he spent 18 months caring for her 24/7. ‘It was the most extraordinary life-changing experience,’ he says. ‘It’s probably the only worthwhile thing I’ve done in my life. If there’s any good in me, it’s because of her. She was honest, my moral compass — perhaps I just didn’t look at it often enough.’
So, at 57, he’s living alone at his mother’s house on the Gold Coast with his Chihuahua crosses, Luigina (his Italian mother’s real name) and Che Che. Life’s pretty quiet. The only hint of days gone by is the flash Bentley he drives around town on his rare trips out.
Foster is reflective, thoughtful. When he says he’s aspiring to lead a better life, leopards and spots come to mind, but the quietly spoken, almost melancholy sounding person on the other end of the line certainly sounds convincing.
He needs to get some things off his chest. And what better way to do that than to write his memoirs, and revisit Cheriegate?
So that’s what he’s doing, sitting at his mother’s desk each day, and taking his mind back to those dramatic events of 2002. ‘There are some waters that even sharks won’t swim in,’ he mutters darkly. ‘It was a crazy time. There was nothing improper about the whole exercise except their [the Blairs] inability to tell the truth.
‘With Cheriegate, I wasn’t the one who did anything wrong. I simply helped negotiate a property transaction and when it all blew up in their faces, the Blairs cut me adrift. ‘I know it sounds rich coming from me, but I feel I was conned.’
Observers at the time noted that Carole Caplin, Foster’s then girlfriend (pictured left) appeared to have a hypnotic hold over both Tony and Cherie Blair (pictured right)
Reflective and contemplative he may be, but Foster hasn’t quite lost all his chutzpah. While he evidently feels it was the treacherous waters that the Blairs led him into that got him into trouble, ultimately Cheriegate wasn’t solely about Cherie Blair or Peter Foster — to get to the heart of the story, we must cherchez la femme.
Enter Carole Caplin, Foster’s then girlfriend, who acted as go-between. She, observers noted, appeared to have a hypnotic hold over both Tony and Cherie.
By 2002, when he met Caplin through a friend, Foster was already mildly notorious for his promotion of Bai Lin Tea which he had asserted was an ‘ancient Chinese diet secret’ but was later found to be common or garden green tea. His name had also appeared in the red-tops, too, in association with his romance with Page 3 girl Samantha Fox. The Aussie wheeler-dealer already had quite a long rap sheet: he’d been jailed here for another slimming scam, reportedly absconded while on day release and been re-arrested in Australia and jailed again.
(Foster claims he did not abscond but was assisted by the police in his flight back from Britain for whom he had been working undercover fighting corruption in our prisons. Well, who knew Peter Foster was a hero?)
Carole fell for his charms. But he says he always felt the Blairs were more important. ‘Carole seemed so obsessed with the Blairs. They were like family. It surprised me how much influence she seemed to have over Tony and Cherie.’
Peter Fox’s name had also appeared in red-tops for his relationship with Page 3 girl Samantha Fox – pictured together above in 1987
He says he first met Cherie around June or July 2002 at the gym where Carole used to put her through her paces. ‘Cherie was completely radio rentals mental,’ he recalls. ‘She [Cherie] had a horrible habit of being right in your face, which was really disconcerting — she invaded your space.’
Carole would visit the Blairs at Downing Street and Chequers, and even holidayed with them. He recalls picking Carole up from a property outside Toulouse where she was with the Blairs — and there met the PM for the first time. ‘Tony had just had a drive up and down the long private driveway to the property when we arrived in a car, from memory an Aston Martin — he was like a little boy on Christmas Day saying that he hadn’t driven in five years.
‘We had a chat. He said he liked Australia. He said how beautiful the Great Barrier Reef was and hoped to spend more time there.’
Carole’s nickname for Tony Blair was ‘Toblerone’ and, as well as giving him advice on health and fitness, she chose his clothes. Any shirt or other item of clothing Blair rejected, Foster says, would come his way.
Pictured: The Daily Mail’s front page story from 2002 on ‘Cheriegate’ reads ‘Cherie, a crook and the proof No10 lied’
On his 40th birthday in September 2002, he says he and Carole were whisked through Downing Street security to collect a present Cherie wanted to give him.
‘It was late and Cherie was in bed, so Carole collected it. It was a black attache case, with my initials on it, the same one, Carole told me, that they’d given as a gift to President George W Bush.’ A few weeks later, Cherie decided she wanted buy two flats in Bristol — one was to be used by her son, Euan, while at university there. There was a problem, though. Cherie wanted to get a good deal on the two properties, but realised that haggling might be deemed not befitting of the wife of a PM.
It would appear from an email that later surfaced, penned by Foster to Cherie, that she had hoped to get the price below the £250,000 Stamp Duty threshold. ‘As for the Stamp Duty issue, the taxman had recently sent out a circular to all accountants advising them that they were keeping an eye on all property sales just under the £250k mark for that very purpose, so to try and do something could be risky and unadvisable.’
What Cherie needed was a smart talker, a smooth go-between. And that’s where Foster came in.
‘Cherie had said to Carole words to the effect, “Your Peter’s smart, do you think he would be able to negotiate these flats?” ’ recalls Foster. He claims his sixth sense told him it would be a disaster but he agreed, to please Carole.
‘I wanted to please my girlfriend. She was one of the great loves of my life. She’s a sexy, sensual woman. Men, we do stupid things when it comes to women.’
Carole arranged another meeting at the gym between Peter and Cherie. A plan was hatched and, not long afterwards, he and Carole went to Bristol to view the flats.
‘I told the developer the PM and his family would be owning the apartment. You’d rather that than drug dealers at the door. They gave me a discount and that was it. I did the deal within a week.’
The Blairs ended up paying £262,000 for each property — a very attractive discount of £69,000 in total. But it was over the Stamp Duty threshold, Foster having advised Mrs Blair that it would be prudent not to be seen to be trying to avoid paying the duty.
Pictured: Tony and Cherie Blair pose in front of Number 10 Downing Street after Tony Blair was re-elected for a historic third term
Foster felt he’d done his mum —herself a respected estate agent in Australia — proud. All was well and there seemed more good news — Carole was pregnant. Sadly, she later miscarried.
Peter recalls the Prime Minister phoning to congratulate him. ‘It rang one day when I was out in Oxford Street and I got put through to him and he said, “Peter, I’ve just heard the great news, you must be delighted.” I said, “Well you’re the Prime Minister. If you say I must be delighted, then I suppose I must be.” He roared with laughter at that.’
When, in the December of 2002, The Mail On Sunday revealed Foster’s involvement in the flats deal, all hell broke loose. Mrs Blair initially denied any involvement with Foster, then admitted it and the Blairs found themselves in the midst of a full-blown crisis.
‘Probably if they had just told the truth at the outset it would have been OK,’ says Peter. ‘But Cherie had dug a hole which got bigger through the lies and denial.’
In his 2010 memoirs, Blair writes that when he was asked for a comment on Peter Foster’s involvement in the purchase of the flats, he denied Foster had been involved. This, he writes, was because the paper had phoned for a comment at the last possible moment the day before publication.
Blair says he called his wife and, in all the rush, he got ‘the wrong end of the stick’.
In January 2003 Foster was on a plane back to Australia. On the Gold Coast, he discovered he had become a celebrity.
The relationship with Caplin collapsed not long afterwards due to ‘a dalliance with an Italian model who turned out to be a Romanian stripper’, says Foster. ‘A newspaper ran the story. Carole was a little bit unforgiving and she had the good sense to end the relationship. I saw a picture of Carole online. She’s 57 and she looks the same as she did 20 years ago.
‘She’s living proof of what she does. I don’t think she got the credit for her professional ability.
‘I absolutely regret ever getting involved with the Blairs and wish I’d never met her [Caplin], but on the other hand I absolutely adored my time with her. So you know, there’s a real conflict there.’
In Australia there were spells in and out of jail for various scams. He was jailed for four years on money-laundering charges, at one point he got into trouble in Fiji when dabbling in politics and was arrested while trying to dive in a river to evade police.
Back home, he got involved in selling a diet spray called SensaSlim but it all went wrong when investigators learned that the Swiss Institut de Recherche Intercontinental that had researched the effectiveness of the spray did not actually exist.
Cherie and Tony Blair entered Number 10 in 1997 after New Labour’s landslide victory. Above, Tony and Cherie Blair leave their home in Islington, London in 1997 after the election win
To make matters worse, it was discovered he had broken a ban on working in the slimming product industry and he was charged with contempt of court.
This was around the time his mother fell ill, so rather than return to jail, he went on the run.
‘I thought, I’m not sticking around. I rented a farm with my mum. I absolutely loved every minute of it. I let my hair grow, my beard grow and became a hippy.’
A lag had once told him that when you go on the run, you must stay hidden, but Peter broke this golden rule once a week to put out the bins. Someone spotted him, and tipped off the police.
His capture, looking redolent of the Wild Man of Borneo, was recorded on camera — and he was swiftly given a year for contempt.
He was last in jail for using the alias Mark Hughes to secure investment for an offshore betting business. He’d pleaded guilty to making a false statement with intent to obtain financial advantage and possession of a false passport.
Foster was released in October 2018 and has, apparently, been on the straight and narrow since.
Well, there was an extraordinary claim on Australian TV a couple of weeks ago by a fraud investigator that Foster had once planned to hire a hitman to kill him. All denied, of course. ‘This was first said five years ago. It was false then and it’s false now,’ he says. ‘It was investigated and no one was arrested.’
Is he as bad as people say? ‘Half of it I deserved, half I didn’t. I’ve never sold a product I didn’t believe in. I’ve never set out to harm or defraud anybody.’
Four years ago, he gave up drinking as part of his efforts to make his life better but was dismayed to find he put on weight. ‘I sometimes wonder if it’s God’s punishment for my tea business.’
Carole Caplin might have some sensible advice, only they’re not in touch. So Foster is focusing on that memoir and says it’s going to be honest and frank, as his mother would have wished.
‘She wouldn’t expect me to give up, so I won’t. I’ll write the memoir, I’ll admit to everything.’
We can, then, expect a very lengthy tome.