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Gordon Brown: Labour's survivor

By Anna Doble

Updated on 06 April 2010

The man with the awkward YouTube grin - or the defiant backbone of Labour? Who Knows Who examines Gordon Brown.

Election 2010: Gordon Brown will try to hold off the challenge from David Cameron. (Credit: Reuters)

The watchword of Gordon Brown's political career (see Brown's Who Knows Who power map) used to be prudence. Now it is resilience.

He is Labour's comeback man, without ever having gone away.

Left blind in one eye in by a teenage rugby accident, Brown's defiance has carried him from the playing fields of Fife to Downing Street. But who really knows Brown?

Born in 1951, the prime minister was already a strapping teenager when election rivals David Cameron and Nick Clegg were born.

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The son of a church minister, sport-mad Gordon grew up with brothers John and Andrew in Kirkcaldy - the town at the heart of his constituency.

He recently revealed how as a 10-year-old he accidentally let a burglar into his home. He told The Sun he thought nothing of it, because his father regularly invited strangers into the manse.

Brown owns shares in local team Raith Rovers and has been attending matches at Stark's Park since he was a boy.

He was a high-flying student and gained entry to Edinburgh University at the early age of 16. Incidentally, he is one of only five prime ministers who did not go to Oxford or Cambridge.

But he was no run-of-the-mill student and certainly not the grumpy windswept Scot of popular imagination.

He dated a princess, wore tweed and, at 21, cut a dash as one of the first ever student rectors.

His girlfriend was Prince Philip's goddaughter Princess Marguerite of Romania. He remains friends with the Duke of Edinburgh today - the royal was chancellor at Edinburgh while Brown was a student.

(Gordon Brown at Labour's annual conference in 1996 - Reuters)

A university friend has described Brown as "the main man at the centre of left wing politics", adding that "Margarita chased him before anyone else had a chance". Classmate Jane May said: "Even at university he had been a star. He always had satellites around him. They included a lot of students from public school."

Brown eventually graduated with a first in history but not without a fight. He nearly did not pass at all - his finals papers were said to be almost illegible, not helped by his eye sight.

By end of his Edinburgh days, Brown was a fully-fledged socialist. He wrote a paper on the life of James Maxton, founder of the Independent Labour Party, which became a book published in 1986.

Like Cameron, Brown was elected as an MP only on his second attempt. He first stood in 1979, losing the battle for Edinburgh South against Conservative Michael Ancram.

He won the Dunfermline East at at the 1983 general election. The constituency became Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2005.

When Labour leader John Smith died suddenly in 1994, many of Brown's followers believed it was time for their man to step up. But Brown supported Tony Blair's campaign and their leadership "deal", of political myth, was brokered.

The pair had shared an office at Westminster and were said to be "brotherly", but with Brown at the helm. This had now switched and the Blair-Brown rivalry at the heart of New Labour was born.

During the 1997 election campaign, Brown, the shadow chancellor, is said to have worked an average of 18 hours a day, six days a week.

He worked with spin doctor Charlie Whelan during this period and it is believed Unite's political director has returned to Brown's side for election 2010. His inner circle in the late 1990s was nicknamed "the Hotel Group" for their late-night and secretive meetings in Geoffrey Robinson's suite at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane.

Brown's closest friends from this period remain - Robinson, schools secretary Ed Balls, with whom he "chats about football", and Chief Whip Nick Brown.

After a decade as chancellor, Brown finally became prime minister in June 2007 after Blair's resignation. Rumours there would be a snap election later that year were swept away by the developing financial crisis which revived Brown's poll ratings. 

Brown married Sarah Macaulay in 2000. The couple have two boys, John and Fraser - who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Their first baby Jennifer died aged ten days after her birth in 2001, from a brain haemorrhage.

The prime minister has often struggled with his public image. Throughout his premiership he has attempted to soften the "dour Scot" reputation - with his claim on the Arctic Monkeys, the infamous YouTube appearance and more recently his informal interview with Piers Morgan.

In an interview last year, Brown let slip he would like a career in teaching if his days in politics were to end.

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