It’s been a bit of a tease, but the details are dribbling in. In no special order of importance: the Hawaiian float will feature a giant papier-mâché volcano (possibly fuming), Kelly Clarkson will attempt “My Country Tis of Thee” at the swearing-in, the cast Glee will perform and Michelle will be wearing….
Sorry. Some things about a presidential inauguration have to remain secret until the end. What we can say is that the festivities surrounding the re-installation of Barack Obama in the White House next Monday promise to be the usual confabulation of pop, pomp, yuck and party. And panic. Will I need binoculars to see Obama’s hand on the Bible? Which parties can I crash? Am I invited to at least one the official balls?
This will be a slightly scaled back affair; with luck the stress quotient will be proportionally diminished. Around 800,000 people are expected to hit Washington DC starting on Saturday, something like half the numbers who showed up in 2009 when Mr Obama was being sworn in as America’s first black president.
The organisers have strained to signal a degree of restraint in recognition of hard economic times, though don’t take the austerity theme too seriously. Britain may be content marking the transition of power with a moving van in Downing Street but America needs to go large. Highlights of the official schedule include the swearing-in on the west steps of Congress followed by Mr Obama’s big speech. He and Michelle then lead the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and back to the White House (volcano in tow).
The climax on Monday comes when the First Couple take to the dance floor at one of the official inaugural balls. There are only two this time (compared to 10 in 2009), one for military guests and veterans and the other, much larger one, for everyone else. Both will be held at the hardly intimate Washington Convention Centre downtown and about 40,000 guests will be allowed in (plus a reporter or two). The main one is so large it will be spread over 700,000 square feet on two different levels. If you don’t have a ticket yet, you might consider a $1m last-minute donation to the inaugural fund. For that you’ll get in, and your plus one.
Yet for those determined to jam in the fun (and the networking) this is but the tip of the iceberg. For three days, Washington is a bacchanal of parties, some stiffer than others, some broadly advertised and others more discreet. All this promises to be exhausting for the Washington A-listers for whom an inauguration is above all a chance to be seen. Internet news maven Arianna Huffington, for instance, has six parties on Saturday night alone, starting with a tea and Champagne shindig at the residence of the British ambassador.
The rest of us must meanwhile scramble and scrape for invites to such treats as the Google bash (also on Saturday), a glam-packed brunch to be hosted by Tina Brown of the Daily Beast with Eva Longoria at the Café Milano on Sunday morningk, or the Peace Ball with Mos Def and Moby at the Arena Stage on Sunday. Then there are other assorted balls on Tuesday courtesy of individual states (Texas and Hawaii should be favourites this year.) One of the least collar-and-tie affairs will be the Hip Hop ball brought together by music mogul Russell Simmons. We don’t even know how many private parties are being thrown by the lobby shops, law firms and think-tanks which have offices with unencumbered views of the parade route on Monday.
What most of us can’t hope for are invitations to the candlelight dinner that the President and First Lady will be hosting at the Kennedy Centre on Sunday night for the biggest donors to his re-election campaign, or the ball set for Tuesday night for Mr Obama’s White House staff. The staff ball is about the spiffiest (and least crashable) of them all. In 2009, guests were thrilled by a surprise performance by Jay-Z who scrambled the lyrics to one of his hit songs to create a new chorus: “99 problems but George Bush ain’t one”.
Thus strategising is paramount –which brings us back to the fashion choices of the women. Ms Huffington, we can exclusively reveal, will be wearing Ports 1961, the luxury design house that recently began offering its gowns at Harrods. The dress, according to senior director Eddie Parsons, will be full length in “gold metallic with black undertones and some classic drape at the bodice”. It’s sleek, he says, but it will be simple. “It’s a Democratic White House. They tend to go less extravagant than the Republicans.”
As for Mrs Obama and the designers she will make famous next week, this time we’ll simply have to wait.
Stevie Wonder, the President’s favourite, is lined up to play, just as he did at Obama’s victory night bash after the election. Also booked are Alicia Keys, country singer Brad Paisley, Marc Anthony, rappers Far East Movement, Nick Cannon, fun., Usher, John Legend, Soul Children of Chicago and cast members from Glee. Beyoncé is lined up to sing the national anthem, while Katy Perry, Eva Longoria, Moby and Danny Glover are also expected to attend.
The party by numbers
40,000 guests invited to inauguration ball at the Washington Convention Centre.
4,000 tickets handed out for the Commander-in-Chief’s ball, for servicemen and women and the families of soldiers on deployment.
2 official balls – the fewest since Dwight D Eisenhower in 1953.
57 This will be the 57th inauguration, for the 44th US President.
800,000 people are expected to descend on Washington – far fewer than the estimated two million who came in 2008.
2 official inauguration mobile phone apps, which will allow users to engage with the event on Facebook and Twitter feeds, work out where to watch the ceremony and the procession in Washington, and stream festivities everywhere else.