TONY Blair attended the funeral of a former Sunderland priest who was a close family friend.
The ex-Prime Minister and his wife Cherie were in County Durham yesterday to pay their respects to Father John Caden, who died on February 22, aged 89.
Fr Caden – known as Jack – used to be Mr Blair’s tennis partner, and he baptised the former Sedgefield MP’s children Leo, Euan, Nicky and Kathryn.
About 500 mourners gathered at St Edmund’s Church for the service, led by Bishop Seamus Cunningham, the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.
Hymns including Praise My Soul the King of Heaven and Bread of Heaven were sung by the congregation.
Mr Blair paid tribute to his friend at the time of his death, saying: “John Caden was a charismatic, lively, warm and great-spirited priest and public servant. He was a constant presence in my life and always there for us with friendship and good advice.”
The popular priest was well known on Wearside. He was chairman of Sunderland Community Health Council and chaplain to the stars at Sunderland Empire.
There he became a friend to top stars of the 1950s, including Frankie Vaughan and Val Doonican.
While he was a motorcyle-riding young curate at St Mary’s in Bridge Street, he founded the Sunderland branch of the Catholic Stage Guild – which became one of Wearside’s best-loved youth clubs.
Fr Caden was also a talented goalkeeper.
He was a regular player in Sunderland’s Wednesday league and appeared for Darlington FC in the old Third Division.
He supported SAFC at midweek matches and became a friend of Charlie Hurley, as well as playing tennis with Jimmy McNab and Brian Clough at Thornhill Tennis Club.