LONDON – His voice strained and his eyes welling with tears, Britain's usually guarded Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed rare public emotion in a television interview as he discussed the trauma of his newborn daughter's death in 2002.
Brown's unrestrained display in a conversation with celebrity journalist Piers Morgan, excerpts of which were broadcast Friday, comes ahead of a national election that experts expect to focus on leaders' private lives like never before.
The British leader's governing Labour Party has trailed in opinion polls for more than two years to the main opposition Conservatives, led by David Cameron, a 43-year-old ex-public relations executive seemingly at ease with offering the public glimpses of his family life.
"I could hold her hand and I could feel that she knew I was there and there was nothing that you could see that was actually wrong, but she just wasn't growing," Brown said in the interview, referring to his daughter Jennifer, who suffered a brain hemorrhage and died 10 days after her birth.
Brown's wife Sarah, who watched from the audience as the interview was taped last week, also appeared emotional as he described their grief and spoke of their son Fraser's cystic fibrosis.
Some analysts believe Brown's interview, which will be broadcast in full Sunday, is aimed at showing a human side to the sometimes taciturn former Treasury chief before he and the amiable Cameron begin vying in the campaign.
Britain's national election must be held by June 3.
"This is, in part, about making Gordon a more likable person to the voters," said Ben Page, chief executive of polling group Ipsos-MORI. "Voters see him as remote and out of touch."
Page said Brown's unlikely show of feelings would appear genuine to most voters.
"He's not sobbing into his handkerchief, which would be regarded as cynical," Page said. "What they want from a politician is authenticity — Brown seems to have managed to display that."
Brown and his wife have two sons — John and Fraser — though the leader has been reluctant to be pictured frequently with his family or refer to them in interviews.
He has previously attacked opponents — including Cameron — for seemingly using their domestic life for political gain. Cameron has published domestic video clips from his home, including conversations with his young children as he washes dinner plates, to burnish his image as an ordinary family man.
"Some people have been asking why I haven't served my children up for spreads in the papers. And my answer is simple. My children aren't props, they're people," Brown said in 2008.
Yet Brown later led the tributes in Parliament when Cameron and his wife Samantha's severely disabled 6-year-old son Ivan died last February. Brown spoke of the "unbearable sorrow" both families had borne.
Cameron has spoken movingly about his son in interviews, and credits his family's experience with British medical workers for influencing his staunch defense of the country's health service — previously a target of his party's scorn
In the interview, Brown also described his proposal to Sarah, discussed his love life as a younger man and spoke in unusually frank terms about his clashes with his predecessor, Tony Blair.
Brown confirmed he and Blair forged a pact in 1994 that allowed Blair to run as Labour Party leader unopposed by Brown on the understanding he would step aside for his colleague sometime in the future. Blair quit 13 years later in 2007, under pressure from a restless Brown.
"I don't deny that, that there were fights about different issues, but it's always the case," Brown said in the interview with Britain's ITV channel.
Page said the broadcast sets the tone for an unusually personal election campaign — noting that in a previous Morgan interview Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg discussed the number of his sexual partners.
"The two leaders of the main parties have spoken openly about their children, their private lives, even how they met their wives — and the leader of the third party has told us how many women he's slept with," Page said. "Things are going to be very different from elections in the 1980s or 1990s."