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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices