LONDON The wives of Britain's political leaders, who once shunned publicity, are being thrust into the spotlight as their husbands' parties try new ways to win over voters before what could be a cliff-hanger election.
Opinion polls suggest neither main party will win a parliamentary majority, making every vote worth fighting for.
Conservative leader David Cameron's wife Samantha gave a glimpse of a top politician's domestic life, revealing in her first television interview that her husband loves cooking but has "lots of very irritating habits."
Cameron, bidding to end 13 years of Labour Party rule in an election due within weeks, calls her his "secret weapon" and says voters will probably see a lot more of her in the campaign.
The Conservatives hope to emulate the success of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's wife Sarah who was credited with showing Brown's human side when she introduced him at last year's Labour Party conference as "my husband, my hero."
The popularity of Michelle Obama has also not gone unnoticed in Britain.
CHARACTER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
With characters and backgrounds an electoral issue, the wives portray their husbands in a good light and try to connect with voters by talking up the ordinariness of their lives.
The serious, brooding Brown has been forced to deny allegations that he is a bully prone to temper tantrums while some voters are suspicious of Cameron's privileged upbringing.
Samantha Cameron said her husband had never let her down in the 18 years they had been together.
"He's definitely not perfect and like any husband he has lots of very irritating habits," she said in an interview to be screened on Sunday. "One of the brilliant things about him is he loves cooking. But he ... makes a terrible mess."
"He is not very good at picking up his clothes. He's a terrible (television) channel flicker. I have to be quite firm about him not fiddling with his phone and his Blackberry too much," she said.
Samantha Cameron, 38, creative director of a luxury goods company, has till now taken a low profile as did Brown's wife Sarah in the months after he became prime minister in 2007.
But with Brown facing calls to quit in 2008, his down-to-earth wife came to his rescue, introducing him at that year's Labour Party conference and doing so again last year.
"He's not a saint. He's messy, he's noisy, he gets up at a terrible hour. But I know that he wakes up every morning and goes to bed every evening thinking about the things that matter," she said in September.
Sarah Brown, 46, has now become a personality in her own right. She is active in charity work, has her own section on the Downing Street website, and has more than one million followers on micro-blogging site Twitter, around six times the membership of the Labour Party.
(Editing by Jon Hemming)