x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

First Daughter takes her next step

Hillary Clinton grew up in the White House and has matured gracefully as she will walk down the aisle in what surely be the wedding of the year.

Kagan McLeod for The National
Kagan McLeod for The National

It is the happiest day in a girl's life, but also potentially the most stressful. As any bride will tell you, her wedding day is the ultimate high-wire balancing act. One wrong step and it's not so much a day to remember as one that you will spend the rest of your life trying to forget.

And how much more so if your name is Chelsea Victoria Clinton. Let's not get into the fact that, in a hippy flashback, your parents named you after a Joni Mitchell song. Or what your dad got up to in the Oval Office when he was president of the United States. Or that your mom, who is actually the US Secretary of State, has taken to referring to herself in public as "MotB" (Mother of the Bride) and keeps saying toe-curling things to TV reporters like "you're more likely to get the nuclear codes out of me than the date of the wedding".

For starters there's the guest list for the nuptials (which the MotB has since revealed are this afternoon by the way, so perhaps this might also be a moment to worry about rogue incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles). There are 400 names, and while Oprah might be coming, it seems that President Obama is not (he's been telling people his presence might distract from the happy couple). Supposedly Barbra Streisand gets an invitation, as does Steven Speilberg and Sting. For some reason, the former British prime minister John Major is also on the list. According to New York magazine, Chelsea "has instituted a strict no-strangers policy: she must personally know every invitee", which suggests an even weirder childhood than anyone has ever guessed.

Even The New York Times, which surely ought to be addressing oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and the state of the Afghan war, has got caught up in a giddy whirl of speculation. "Clinton Wedding Is Leaving Some Feeling Left Out", was the headline last weekend, as the paper reported that a number of important people were feeling snubbed after failing to get an invitation. It quoted one of them, anonymously "I'm good enough to borrow a plane from, but not good enough to be invited to the wedding?"

Which brings us to the in-laws. Chelsea's fiancé, Marc Mezvinksy, whom she has known since her teens, works for a Wall Street hedge fund. He also happens to be Jewish, although Chelsea is Methodist, as is her mother. One Israeli news website has described the Mezvinksky family as "colourful", by which they meant that prospective father-in-law Ed Mezvinksky is a former US congressman also known as inmate 55040-066 after serving an eight-year prison sentence for fraud in 2001.

Perhaps he can talk to Uncle Roger, the black sheep of the Clinton family, who did time in the 1980s for dealing cocaine. Other topics on the big day might well be the cost (estimated at, variously, $6,400 a head or $5 million, including an $11,000 gluten free cake (Chelsea has allergies and is also a vegetarian) and luxury portable toilets for $15,000. The dress is either from Vera Wang or Oscar de la Renta. Meanwhile The Wall Street Journal, which also really ought to have better things to do, is reporting that the bouquets are from Winston Flowers of Boston, but also that the supposed location of the Astor family estate in Reinebeck, upstate New York, might actually be an elaborate ruse to fool the media and that the whole circus is moving to Martha's Vineyard.

At which point, any normal bride might well scream "enough" and run off to the nearest town hall, pausing only to grab a couple of witnesses off the street. But the point is, that for Chelsea Clinton this is all quite normal, or at least since January 30, 1993, when a slightly gawky 12-year-old with braces entered the White House, with the unofficial title of First Daughter. Until that point the official chronicling of Chelsea's short life had been largely restricted to the pages of the Arkansas Gazette, the local newspaper based in Little Rock, the city of her birth and where her father forged a political career first as attorney general and then governor.

For the first few years of the Clinton administration, Chelsea lived largely under the radar, helped by her mother's insistence that her daughter's life was off limits from the word go. Instead she went to a good private school and won the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the 1996 Washington School of Ballet's production of The Nutcracker. There was generally more media interest in Socks, the White House cat.

Then came the Monica Lewinsky affair and the whole drawn-out ordeal of impeachment. The president's extra-marital affair nearly broke not just his marriage but his relationship with his only daughter. It was a test of loyalty, and Hillary Clinton seems to have won. When the worst became known, in late 1998, the family spent Christmas at their traditional retreat at Hilton Head in South Carolina. The president was photographed walking the beaches alone, Chelsea staying indoors with her mother.

Several months earlier it was reported she was forced to listen as her father admitted his indiscretions in private to her and Hillary. At the time many believed Chelsea was the only thing holding the marriage together. On another trip to Martha's Vineyard, when the story first broke, she sat with her mother several seats back from the president on Air Force One, but in public made a point of holding both parents' hands.

If the affair demonstrated anything, it is that Chelsea is her mother's daughter, the living proof of her belief that women first and foremost need to fend for themselves. There is a story that Chelsea was banned from wearing shoes with velcro fastenings until she had learned to tie her own laces. Academically, Chelsea was also precocious, skipping a grade in elementary school, and with a reputation for always being the first in her class with her hand in the air.

At the time of the Lewinsky scandal she was also going through the usual agonies of teenage life. Barely 17, she had just broken up with her first boyfriend. The following year she headed for Stanford University, in California, graduating in history with a thesis on the Belfast Agreement in Northern Ireland (in part brokered by dad). Her tutor described her work rate as "prodigious", adding, "If you talk books with her, you can be blown away by how much she knows."

The following year she completed a masters in international relations at Oxford. It was now 2003 and, unsurprisingly, she became the youngest member of her class to find a job; with a New York consultancy. Three years later she left to join Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund run by a prominent donor to the Democrats and a staunch supporter of her parents. By now, her mother was political head of the family, having won a Senate seat for New York in 2000. Although Chelsea has repeatedly turned down interview requests, including the offer of a photo-shoot from Vanity Fair, she joined the campaign trail as Hillary sought re-election four years ago. Her mother, though, was first told to apologise by her daughter after saying that young people thought "work was a four letter word" in an earlier speech.

The following year, she supported her mother's bid to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency, a gruelling series of meetings and speeches at more than 100 university campuses. At times she faced questions from students about the Lewinsky affair, telling one: "I do not think that is any of your business." Tellingly, she also let slip that she thought her mother would have "made a better president".

The appearance of Chelsea at campaign events, along with the staged appearances during the Lewinsky period, has led to accusations of hypocrisy being levelled at her parents. One TV commentator even accused the Clintons of "pimping" their daughter (and was suspended after they complained). The truth is, though, that Chelsea is now 30 and very much her own woman. Bill Clinton recently described her as having "her mother's character and her father's energy" (She, in turn has told him to lose seven kilos for the wedding). Given America's fondness for political dynasties, it is perhaps remarkable that there has been so little speculation about the potential of the former First Daughter who, so far, appears to combine the best of her parents.

Still, Chelsea Clinton seems too canny to be caught in that trap. She will have only one thing to say to the world this afternoon. "I do." @Email:jlangton@thenational.ae