Sarah Sands: Michelle's front-page power is all in her warmth

Share
Related Topics

Magazines sell on the immediate appeal of their covers. If you were choosing a significant figure this week, you might consider Steven Chu, the US energy secretary. Then quickly pass over his photograph.

The editors of glossy magazines make tough business calculations. The brave editor who defies commercial orthodoxy is very likely to be the fired editor. When editors hit a winning streak – such as the sales effect of Kate Moss – they stick with her through thin and thin.

It was with a heartfelt commercial sigh that these editors justified their reluctance to put black women on the front of their magazines. They just wouldn't sell. Women responded emotionally to faces on the cover. And for all the will and education in the world, white women could not bond with black cover girls.

Yet earlier this year Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, never one to be accused of soppiness, confidently slapped Michelle Obama on the front of her magazine. Since then, I have noticed that photographs of the First Lady have the same premium value as those of Angelina Jolie.

The rating system is not explicitly discussed by newspaper picture desks, but one knows a commercial halo when one sees it. Newspapers also demand that picture-worthy subjects must have an unpredictability. Kate Moss and Madonna understand the importance of constant renewal. This is fine if you are in entertainment or fashion. If you are in public service it is harder to be consistently arresting.

Now, most newspapers, most weeks, are on the lookout for pictures of Michelle Obama. Even in the midst of Cannes, executive heads turn at the sight of her. She has escaped from the foreign pages, even in the red-top papers. Eighteen months ago, I was in America reporting on the presidential candidates. My former newspaper was avidly and prophetically interested in Michelle Obama, but I could not share the enthusiasm. Surely it was her husband who had magical properties. She was merely his large-boned, rather stern wife. I took soundings from magazine journalists on her fashion sense. They shrugged and said that it was unexceptional.

That was then. Now Michelle has achieved a status as First Lady that we have not seen since Jackie Kennedy. The overwhelming difference between the two women is warmth. Michelle began warm and ended up with an almost Pentecostal effect on those around her. She is clever and practical, but her charismatic characteristic is her physical touch. She has a universal empathy.

In an interview in Time this week she explains it is how she stops people from being intimidated by her position. "I'm so touchy with kids, because I think if I touch them and I hug them that they'll see that it's real."

She extended the same courtesy to the unintimidated. I have done extensive research into the who touched whom episode at Buckingham Palace and can confidently state that it was Michelle's arm which shot out first across the Queen's back.

Our own Lady of the Hugs was Princess Diana, but there was a neediness in her embrace that does not exist in Michelle Obama. The strongest quality of the Obamas is ease.

An American political journalist explained to me that Washington has joyously adapted to the sexy happy couple at its centre. There are cocktail hours and friendships at the White House now. Everyone wants to be touched by the Obamas. Of course: they are magazine cover stars.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the London Evening Standard

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Brand Consultant / Brand Strategist

£50-80k DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Brand Consultant / Brand Strategist is...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

£14500 - £16182 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: CCS Pricing Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£20000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Apprenticeship Tutor Assessors and Verifiers

£24000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprenticeship Tutor Assessors ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The era of graduates from the university conveyor belt is over

Hamish McRae
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks