Far from it being a shameful and disrespectful incident which marred the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the three-way selfie involving Barack Obama, David Cameron and Helle Thorning-Schmidt was the most fitting tribute to honour the great man, if you think about it.
Mandela’s death has provided the opportunity for politicians, rock stars and journalists to engage in one global selfie, waving to the camera and telling all about the time they met him. Or in the case of the Labour MP David Hanson, the time he didn’t meet him but “[he] walked past me on 11 July 1996”; or his colleague Chris Ruane, whose only connection with Mandela was that they shared the same birthday, but this was still worth telling the Commons about. Everyone wanted to get in on the mass selfie, so this was natural behaviour from Obama, Cameron and Thorning-Schmidt.
Yet many have been horrified at these three leaders. Actually, one leader in particular – Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish Prime Minister, identified as the selfie ringleader. But according to the photographer who took the picture of the little group, there was a carnival atmosphere at the time – so it wasn’t as disrespectful as it first appeared. Ah, but then everyone said, Thorning-Schmidt was just a flirty blonde leading on Obama in front of his horrified wife Michelle.
Now we are getting to the bottom of it. You can be perched at the uppermost point in politics – as leader of your country – but, if you are a woman, you are never far from the lowest common denominator. One journalist called Thorning-Schmidt “comely” – a word which should just mean attractive but is always used to sound like it should read “come-on-ly”. The Daily Mail said she was a “flirty blonde”; another writer described her as a “cool Scandinavian blonde”. The prize must go to Andrea Peyser, columnist for the New York Post, who did not even let the fear of tautology hold her back: Thorning-Schmidt was a “voluptuously curvy” “blonde bimbo” and “Danish hellcat” who “hiked up her skirt to expose long Scandinavian legs covered by nothing more substantial than sheer black stockings”. Black stockings, at a funeral? How dare she! But the colour black wasn’t the issue – it was blonde, blonde, blonde. As I write this, there have been 53 articles published since the memorial service that use the word “blonde” to describe Thorning-Schmidt.
Never mind that Thorning-Schmidt is Danish, and that blonde hair is fairly common in the Viking race. Never mind that no one would ever write the following sentences: “broodingly handsome Obama lured the Danish prime minister into posing together” or “hunky brunette Cameron egged them on”. It just doesn’t happen. No one writes the phrase “brunette bimbo” to describe anyone, let alone a premier, male or female.
I would never dare suggest that we blondes are at a disadvantage, but sometimes it is difficult for others to get past the hair colour. Stella Creasy discovered this when, as a new MP, she was mistaken for a researcher by the Tory MP Andrew Robathan, who demanded to know what “this blonde woman” was doing in an MPs-only lift. Yet, despite Creasy’s subsequent rise to prominence as an anti-loan-sharks campaigner, she is often still cast in one dimension: on Wednesday, the political editor of The Sun, Tom Newton-Dunn, tweeted that she had “boldly” asked the Prime Minister about the No More Page three campaign while wearing a “blue PVC skirt”. What would be the right attire to ask this question – something more modest, or less? Even the International Herald Tribune wrote of the MP for Walthamstow earlier this year: “Stella Creasy is young, female and very blonde.” Just wait, Stella, until you’ve been described as a “hellcat”, then you’ll know you’ve arrived.
It helps of course that Thorning-Schmidt is the Borgen prime minister, the living image of our fictional heroine Birgitte Nyborg. Borgen graced our screens for the last time last night (unless you’re hoping, like me, for the box-set from Father Christmas), and so, for me, the best thing on television for the past decade has come to an end. I loved it despite its central theme, that a female Prime Minister gradually loses everything – her marriage, her career and, in this final series, her health. But then it would be a boring programme if she were perfect.
In May 2012, when it emerged that Cameron has an enviable capacity to switch off by “chillaxing”, he was given some handy advice by the United States president. Obama, whose re-election campaign was being dogged by incessant commentary that he was a weak leader, told the Prime Minister while at the G8 summit at Camp David: “they will take your strengths and turn them into a weakness”. The message being, it seemed, that he should still chillax. Cameron apparently took this advice to heart, because he has never shied away from sounding normal. In his Spectator interview last week, I guess he just thought he was being a regular guy by saying he loved Nigella Lawson’s cooking, and wasn’t expecting a warning about contempt from the judge in her assistants’ trial. By contrast, Nick Clegg played it safe when asked about the use of a wooden butter pat by that other cooking superstar, Mary Berry, to discipline her children. Even when there weren’t any legal issues, he refused to condemn her (while saying he never beat his own sons with anything, culinary implement or not). But wouldn’t it have sounded more normal if he’d just said Berry was wrong?
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, is tabling bills of a different kind – he’s opened a delicatessen in the town with his wife Karen. Danczuk’s Deli, which the MP hopes will help reinvigorate the high street in Rochdale, sells traditional Lancashire and continental delicacies, including goat’s cheese salad for £4. All very chic, so I imagine the Danczuks were aghast that the Manchester Evening News has described the deli as, bluntly, a “sandwich shop”.
I would like to report that I met Lola, George Osborne’s new Bichon Frise, at a party in Downing Street last week. But such was the clamour to get near to the pup (and she really was a glamorous blonde) I have to admit I did not actually meet her. My only connection with her is that she walked past me, and that perhaps we share the same birthday.