Welcome to Oxford, Miss Clinton

Prince William isn't the only scion of celebrity starting at a British university. In Oxford, the shadow of a famous father also hangs over Chelsea Clinton
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The Independent Online

Behind the darkened window of her bullet-proof, chauffeur-driven Jeep, she flashed me a wave as I walked along the deserted Oxford street. She was almost regal. I was delighted. Were it not for Prince William starting at St Andrews, Chelsea Clinton would be the glammest, the most exciting fresher in Britain for years. Close, you might say, but no cigar.

When Bill returned in May to the place where he didn't inhale, didn't get drafted, and didn't get a degree (University College), he was chaperoned by the former First Daughter. The city went Clinton crazy. Friends, dons, cynics even, traded stories: Chelsea at Summer Eights; dad out jogging; the pair enjoying lunch at a country pub. Elvis could have swaggered unnoticed down The Broad. This is the age of the celebrity student.

With the high number of American students in town, and especially after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Chelsea can be sure of a cosy hello when she begins her Master's degree in international relations at Bill's old haunt this term. "If she ever gets fed up with the Brits – and I doubt she will – there's a hell of a lot of Americans here to talk to," a compatriot told me. "Chelsea certainly won't be lonely."

But the honeymoon may stretch to only a few weeks. Stanford might have been fiercely protective of Chelsea, 21, throughout her time in California, but her privacy will be under serious threat in Oxford. Shake off the Secret Service and you're still stuck with the gawping, open-mouthed undergraduates.

However cool, aloof and "yah, darling, we've seen it all before" some try to pretend to be here, Chelsea is box-office. Sunglasses will be essential on rainy days.

Neil Mahapatra, the President of the Oxford Union, sniffed: "Am I excited about Chelsea coming to Oxford? Not massively. No, not at all. Oxford has got a long tradition of having famous people around – she's just another one. I might invite her to President's drinks, though."

There is a cottage industry developing of student journalists trying to make a name for themselves (admittedly, myself included) by hawking any gossip to the national and American press. My paper broke the story that Chelsea was coming to Oxford and I know that several of us are circling like vultures, angling for an interview and another world exclusive.

A close parallel with Chelsea is Will Straw, son of the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. Thanks to underhand, undercover tabloids, he was also making the news before his first tutorial. Journalists have been a pain since then – Alastair Campbell has flown to the rescue at least once. Chelsea could copy Will's approach; when I called his mobile, Straw junior politely declined to comment. "I don't like to talk about my dad. I'm sorry. I hope you understand." He wouldn't venture any advice for Chelsea. Very sensible; she must learn to stand on her own.

But she's aware of the pitfalls of her position. There is a sneaking suspicion that all this hype, all this conjecture, will fall flat on its face. Chelsea would probably love it if she had a quiet, "boring" time here. Prince William hopes people will quickly get bored of him – the same could happen to Chelsea. She should be grateful that, to a certain degree, she will be in Will's long shadow.

But that will fly out of the window when dad comes to visit. "Publicity, Mr Clinton?" "Why, thank you." The coachloads of American and Japanese tourists and continental schoolchildren know she will (reportedly) live in her dad's old lodgings. Magpie Lane, which runs beneath what will be the window of her simple suite of rooms, has been checked out by agents. It is already a regular stop on the tourist trail. Peace and quiet will certainly be at a premium, and everyone will want a piece of her again.

Then there is the politics of it all: "Chelsea is coming to the dreaming spires!" Laura Spence eat your heart out. They say family connections won't get you a place here any more (ha!), but it can't fail to help if you've got a rich daddy, a powerful daddy, a daddy who used to be leader of the free world. I'm sure Chelsea is as clever and gregarious as friends say she is, but I somehow doubt that the tutors would have dared to turn her down, even if she were breathtakingly thick.

As one undergraduate said: "My only hope is that she has got here on her merits. We can't have her just because she's Bill Clinton's daughter." Another, who asked to remain anonymous, was more cynical. "We had been trying to widen access to this place. Chelsea coming to Oxford sets everything back years. What message does this send? If you're well connected, you can walk straight in." Heard any complaints from Gordon Brown's office?

Finally, what of romance? The Evening Standard kick-started the rumour train over the summer, listing the stereotypes of Oxford men. Apparently, if a man runs away after Chelsea starts chatting, it doesn't mean he doesn't want to have sex with her. He'll just be northern. And scared.

But there remains the horrible vision of a student Lothario grinning across his double-page spread in the News of the World, wearing a cheeky Union Jack waistcoat and declaring boldly: "Yes, I did have sexual relations with that woman."

Mark Hodgkinson is the editor of 'Cherwell', the student newspaper in Oxford