BY MARK GREAVES
TONY BLAIR IS considering buying a £3 million property in Buckinghamshire that comes complete with an in-built Catholic chapel and priest.
Friends of the Blairs confirmed this week that they had viewed Winslow Hall, a country mansion built by Sir Christopher Wren 300 years ago.
The chapel, which was converted from a ballroom in the 1940s, is a functioning parish with 200 Mass-goers a week.
If the Blahs decide to buy the property they would be housemates with Fr Kevin O'Connell, parish priest of St Albans, Winslow.
The mansion, which is surrounded by 22 acres of countryside, was put up for sale in May by Sir Edward Tomkins, a former British ambassador to France.
It is only 20 miles away from Chequers, the Prime Minister's weekend country home.
Friends said that the Blahs had looked at Winslow Hall as well as several other properties, but could not say whether they had submitted an offer. The Blairs already have a substantial mortgage on a five-storey town house in Connaught Square, central London, which they bought three years ago for £3.65 million, as well as further loans on Mr Blair's former constituency home in Co Durham and two flats in Bristol.
But the couple should have no problem with finances since both are preparing to publish their memoirs.
Mrs Blair practises as a barrister and Mr Blair is planning to embark on a lucrative international lecture circuit. Last week, however. the Blain enjoyed a relaxing few days in Turin. northern Italy.
According to the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera Mrs Blair had "fallen in love" with the city and its surroundings while attending the Winter Olympics with Laura Bush, the wife of President Bush, in February last year.
They stayed with the wealthy businessman Massimo Carello. the former head of Fiat's British operations, at his villa in the medieval hilltop town of Pino Torinese. Next week Mr Blair will give his first lecture since stepping down as Prime Minister at an illustrious New York Catholic fundraising event.
Cardinal Edward Egan invited him to be the guest speaker at the Alfred E Smith memorial dinner, which raises millions of pounds for Catholic charities in New York.
The cardinal said: "We are most grateful to the former Prime Minister for accepting our invitation. In 1947 our speaker was another Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. It is a distinct honour that we will have Mr Blair with us this year." A large number of America's most senior statesmen have delivered speeches at the annual dinner, which honours the memory of Al Smith, the first Catholic to be nominated for president.
George W Bush and Al Gore both gave speeches at the event when they were running for the presidency in 2000, both poking fun at themselves and making jokes about their own catchphrases.
Last year the speaker was Brian Williams, the anchorman and managing editor of NBC news.