News & Opinion

Chelsea Clinton

Tomboy who turned into a beautiful young bride

The Times

July 31, 2010


Most brides on their wedding morning fret about their hair and final adjustments to the dress. For Chelsea Clinton the last-minute checks are of a different order. Federal airspace over the small town of Rhinebeck in upstate New York is restricted for “VIP movement” from 3pm today to 3.30am tomorrow. Police and secret service agents are securing access roads to the palatial 50-acre Astor Courts, which is now dotted with a white marquee and other temporary structures.

Just like her life to date, plans for her wedding to Marc Mezvinsky, an investment banker, are shrouded in secrecy. Last summer there was speculation that she was about to marry in the millionaires’ playground Martha’s Vineyard. This year, the food (fancy tuna?), the dress (Vera Wang? Oscar de la Renta?), and the guest list have been ceaselessly speculated upon.

Yesterday Bill Clinton appeared in Rhinebeck on a walkabout and chatted with locals and reporters. To questions blurted from the crowd the former President rattled off easy answers.

“How are you?” “

We’re all fine. We love it here,” he said. “Chelsea loves the area as well.”

“How’s she doing?”

“She’s doing well.”

On Thursday President Obama revealed that he had not been invited and wouldn’t have gone anyway. “You don’t want two presidents at one wedding,” he quipped.

The bride-to-be has been spotted going to the gym every day; on Tuesday she was photographed entering Wang’s boutique badly disguised in a large, floppy straw hat.

The closest America gets to a royal wedding, this is a crowning, if critical, moment for Ms Clinton, 30, and her evolution from a shy tomboy to confident bride. The bigger question behind all the secrecy, which emerged when she became a voluble campaigner for her mother in the battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, is how much longer she can remain so determinedly private?

She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, where her father was Governor, and named after the song Chelsea Morning, written by Joni Mitchell. Chelsea was first glimpsed, clinging to her father’s side — teeth braces and all — after he secured the first term of his presidency in 1992. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had counselled Hillary, now Secretary of State: “Be ruthless about keeping the public from the private” — advice the family has stuck to.

Chelsea’s looks were mocked: Rush Limbaugh, a radio “shock-jock”, called her a “dog” when she was 13. But affection for her grew precisely because she seemed like a gawky teenager growing up in exceptional circumstances.

She met Mr Mezvinsky, 32, when she was 16 and he 18 at an event for young Democrats; his parents are former politicians and his father has, like hers, known scandal having been jailed for a financial scam. Chelsea’s love life first made headlines in 1998, when, said to be “stressed” by her father’s travails, she was dumped by Matthew Pierce.

In 2000 she and Jeremy Kane, a fellow Stanford University student and a White House speechwriting intern, began an 18-month relationship, although the same year the magazine Star — under the headline “Chelsea in love with movie hunk” — linked her to Ben Affleck. The sketchy proof? They were photographed laughing together.

In 2002, while studying at Oxford, she began a three-year relationship with Ian Klaus, a Rhodes scholar, which ended because they “grew apart”. Then she and Mr Mezvinsky rekindled their earlier friendship. “He’s a great human being,” Bill Clinton says.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton aide, told The Times how intelligent and able she was, though he “couldn’t possibly answer” what kind of a person she was. Fun, serious, jokey? “That’s going too far, sorry,” he demurred.

When she supported her mother so confidently two years ago, some questioned how much longer she could refuse to answer questions about herself. One TV journalist, who wondered on air if she was being “pimped out” by her mother’s campaign team, was suspended by his network.

Richard Johnson, editor of the influential Page Six gossip column in the New York Post, said that when he had lunch with Ms Clinton a couple of years ago — all conversation off the record — she was still “careful not to say anything that would get her into trouble. She wasn’t that engaging.”

Chelsea seems to be edging towards a public life. In her early twenties, she lost the curls and settled on her now-familiar groomed look. In 2003 she took a job at the blue-chip consultants McKinsey and then, in 2006, worked at a hedge fund. Now she is studying health policy and management at Columbia University.

Health was an issue that she spoke passionately about during her mother’s campaign. Mr Blumenthal said: “Ultimately, she wants to go into public service of some kind, that’s what motivates her.” Bill Clinton has said: “She is the best politician in our family. I would think it was wonderful if Chelsea went into politics.”

If she did, she could no longer hide from the cameras or the questions. Her wedding day might mark the last gasp of Chelsea Clinton’s very private life.