Monica Lewinsky is 40 years old. Or that is what her birth certificate says, but she isn't 40 really. Not in the eyes of the world, where she will always be a grinning twentysomething intern with a beret on her head, a stain on her dress and a cigar somewhere else.
One half of the biggest political sex scandal to rock America, Lewinsky has never really been allowed to move on from 1998, when her affair with the president was revealed. Bill Clinton, the other half, has fared better. Once the impeachment and all those weaselly words were behind him, he carried on being the most powerful man in the world for a couple more years. He had a life and career before Lewinsky, and he has one after her.
Lewinsky, who made the mistake of canoodling with the most powerful person in the world, rather than being that person, was a nobody when she met Clinton and has been a one-trick celebrity ever since. She is dogged by the beret, the dress and the cigar, as inseparable from them as Antonia de Sancha is from David Mellor in a Chelsea strip or Christine Keeler from that chair. She is trapped in a never-ending 15 minutes of fame.
In the 16 years since the tawdry details of their Oval Office fling were revealed, Lewinsky has never been able to progress beyond her White House internship. She has designed handbags, fronted a dating show and studied social psychology. She has not married and has no children, which is just as well because a happy family would not fit with the only profession that matters on her CV - one-time presidential mistress.
Now Lewinsky has resurfaced with a long essay, headlined "Shame and Survival", in the new issue of Vanity Fair. In it she writes about her "consensual" relationship with Clinton, and its unconsensual aftermath. She writes of regret and suicidal thoughts. She describes how she cannot get work, unless that work might involve trading on being Monica Lewinsky. Writing about her life is one of the few jobs she is permitted to do and over which she has some control. She is not blameless, but she has probably done her penance by now.
Naturally the timing of her reappearance has been seized upon as political conspiracy. It is a Republican ploy to wreck Hillary Clinton's White House bid before it gets going. It is a Democrat ploy to get the muck raked before Hillary Clinton's White House bid gets going. Or perhaps Hillary Clinton is beyond irritated that the stale indiscretions of her husband are read as having any bearing whatsoever on her own political career.
For her part, Lewinsky claims she is speaking out now "as the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the internet", to help other victims of online harassment. If true, that is laudable. She has also spotted a new line of diggers speeding down the highway and has decided to take the initiative. "I cannot help but fear the next wave of 'Where is she now?' stories," she writes. "I've begun to find it debilitating to plot out the cycle of my life… on the political calendar."
Her alternative was to keep quiet, to carry on being an unemployable eternal punchline, living in the shadows, occasionally illuminated by a Clinton career move. Given that, who can blame Lewinsky for "taking back her narrative" now? For reclining on a couch in a pretty white dress with professional hair and make-up and good lighting. For trying to move her story on beyond 1998. Rather that than be snapped every decade or so, looking older or fatter or thinner or richer or poorer than her famous 22-year-old self.
That's the thing for the other woman (and it is almost always a woman) in a political sex scandal. They never stop being the other woman. De Sancha, now 51, was recently photographed having a beer outside a Notting Hill restaurant; Keeler, 71, pulling a shopping trolley through her south London estate. In 2014, their ageing, irrelevant faces still make headlines. Sex scandals are fascinating - they add frisson to politics, they make for not very successful musicals - but they do not change the world. Women have always "brought down" powerful men, always will, but they rarely get to control what happens after that.
"I'm determined to have a different ending to my story," says Lewinsky. Sadly for her, the world will probably only ever remember the beginning.Reuse content