There's the bit about "political pygmies" and his wife's glorious legs and the former prime minister's "ablutions," which ignited the tabloid rocket fuel that blasted the book straight into bestsellerdom.

Still, sitting on his sofa in his small apartment here, a world away from the princely British ambassador's residence on Massachusetts Avenue where he used to preside over grand matters of state and society, Christopher Meyer says he cannot understand what the fuss is about.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is refusing to comment publicly on "DC Confidential," Meyer's new memoir, but Blair's team is fuming, calling it everything from "unacceptable" to "a breach of trust." They are spitting with righteous rage that Meyer claims the prime minister was "seduced" by the "proximity and glamour of American power" and that he failed to use his leverage with President Bush to slow the rush to war in Iraq. "History's verdict," Meyer writes of the war, "looks likely to be that it was terminally flawed both in conception and execution."

Meyer faults Blair for not demanding a "plain-speaking conversation" with Bush that could have delayed the war, which in turn could have allowed more time to rally world opinion, try to pressure Saddam Hussein out of power without a war, and plan for an exit strategy.

Deadly serious stuff. But don't get Meyer wrong, this isn't some wonky PhD thesis -- nobody's going to shelve it next to Al Gore's "Earth in the Balance." No one who knew the witty ambassador during his years as one of the capital's most sought-after party guests -- and perhaps the only diplomat in town who wore bright red socks every day -- will be shocked to learn that the book dishes serious dirt.

"I like Blair," Meyer says in a interview, in the easygoing way that won him so many friends during his Washington posting from 1997 to 2003. Then he adds: "But he probably doesn't like me now."

In the book, Meyer remembers how Blair, on his first meeting with Bush at Camp David, was unable even to get his hands into his pockets. His corduroy trousers were so tight that they "appeared glued to the groin." Meyer employs a variation on the word "crushing" in a context unrepeatable here.

There is the tale of Meyer ogling his wife-to-be's legs, about how a British hairdresser accidentally got left behind at Camp David, about the unusual bathroom habits of former prime minister John Major.

Foreign Minister Jack Straw is one of the heavyweights who have tut-tutted about "DC Confidential," saying Meyer broke the "trust" placed in him by recounting high-level government meetings, including those between Bush and Blair.

"It undermines the key relationship between civil servants and ministers," Straw told reporters. "It has led to very great concern, I may say, among the whole of the diplomatic service."

Perhaps Straw didn't like Meyer describing some of Blair's cabinet officers as "political pygmies" who were intimidated into silence in the presence of Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney and mangled the names of global hotspots (as the "Balklands" and "Kovosa," for example).

Or maybe it was something to do with Meyer calling Straw someone "more to be liked than admired."

The book has spawned an impassioned daily debate in the British media on the propriety of civil servants writing tell-alls so soon after leaving office and the rules that should govern their publication. (No publisher has purchased U.S. book rights yet.) Still wearing those red socks, Meyer said Monday that he had been surprised at the reaction to the book, both the fact that it has sold out in many London shops, and the intense "velocity" of criticism he has taken for it.

He protests that many important aspects of the book are getting lost in all the hubbub about his tarter comments. He says Blair's people seem to be missing that he clearly states his belief that neither Bush nor Blair misled or lied to the public about their intentions to go to war as a last resort.

And, for the record: Blair is "absolutely not Bush's poodle," as the prime minister often is derided by the many who believe the prime minister thoughtlessly followed the president into this hugely unpopular war.

Sir Christopher's wife, Lady Catherine, is at home as well, in the next room, but she seems to be staying clear of reporters coming to ask questions of the man on the hot sofa. Meyer, 61, met her in Bonn, where he was Britain's ambassador to Germany before arriving in Washington. She had come to seek his help because of a ferocious custody battle with her former husband, who had their two children.

"With the greatest difficulty I stopped myself from looking at Catherine's legs. . . . She told me later that she was instantly aware of this," Meyer writes. "She sensed my eyes boring into her calves like red-hot pokers."

They were married the day before they moved into the ambassador's residence in Washington and quickly won over the capital's political and social elite. Regulars on the fine-wine party circuit, they entertained at home as well, in a house that had some drawbacks unseen to guests.

"There was not much privacy," he writes. "On arriving, as newlyweds, we found to our embarrassment that our apartment had three doors opening on the corridor and that none of them could be locked. Some of the domestic staff had got into the habit of walking in without knocking."

But, really, if Meyer is so worried about privacy, what about what he wrote about Major? Meyer recalls that during his time as Major's press secretary, "I invariably arrived as the prime minister was getting dressed, but was always admitted no matter what stage this process had reached. . . . Occasionally I was summoned into the prime ministerial bathroom where, as I spoke, he would discharge some ablution."

Readers are left hoping that he simply meant that Major spat out his toothpaste, trying hard not to conjure other images; many in England are hopping mad. Robert Armstrong, a former cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher's government, says that "nobody has the right to know this, just as there is no public right to know what kind of underpants I am wearing."

Meyer says he doesn't think that would bother Major. After all, he notes, Cherie Blair, the prime minister's wife, had written something similar in her book but in "different words." It is, after all, hard to imagine two authors using the phrase "discharge some ablution."

A spokesman in Major's office Tuesday said crisply: "Sir John is making no comment at all about the book."

Meyer insists he is "pro-American," and in the book he affectionately calls some on the Bush team the "Big Beasts." He has particular praise for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whom he calls the "most powerful woman in the world." He also recalls how she fell asleep at Camp David when Bush and Blair were watching the Hollywood comedy "Meet the Parents." The anecdote also serves to showcase that Meyer was also present for the private showing, the kind of invitation Bush doesn't dole out to just any old European.

People are calling Meyer's book many things, from "catty" to "entertaining" to "fabulously, stratospherically rude." But Meyer himself has this observation: "In a way it's a handbook on how to operate as an embassy in the capital of the most important country in the world."

His advice: "Establish your network of contacts, because if you cannot get access to people who know things, change things, you are stuffed."

Meyer's book is all about his access, and about letting the rest of us peek into places where we are rarely invited.

He relates a conversation with Vice President Cheney in January 2003 at the Alfalfa Club dinner. He was telling Cheney of the difficulties the looming war in Iraq could pose for Blair. But he said Cheney would hear none of it.

"He was dismissive: in a few months' time these difficulties would all be history," Meyer writes. "Bush and Blair would be feted as heroes and liberators in Iraq."

Robin Renwick, British ambassador to Washington from 1991 to 1995, said in a newspaper column that Meyer "has published the book we all would have loved to write about bumbling ministers, feckless royals and mistakes which, in retrospect, clearly should have been avoided."

But, he added, "the difficulty in actually doing so is that it is liable to worsen the tendency he deplores of prime ministers relying increasingly on their personal staffs and political appointees, rather than on the mandarins who are supposed to advise them behind closed doors."

Meyer insists that he did exercise a great deal of self-censorship.

"There were two things in play: what should stay confidential and what the public has the right to know," especially about the war, he says.

As for civil servants opening up, Meyer says he followed the rules. He submitted his manuscript for review to the government's Cabinet Office, which has the power to demand certain passages or the whole book be erased if they are judged to violate a law against revealing state secrets.

A spokesman for that office said Tuesday that, while "expressing disappointment," it did not censor the book because it was largely personal opinion and observations.

Then the spokesman added, as if jabbing the bureaucrat's sharpened pencil, "You expect people in those positions to keep it to themselves."

British Ambassador Christopher Meyer accompanied Prime Minister Tony Blair to a visit with President Bush in 2002. The former ambassador and his wife, Lady Catherine Meyer, greeting Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2001 at the British Embassy. At left, the Meyers with Houston socialite Lynn Wyatt in 2002. Not pictured: Sir Christopher's notepad.