The triumph of Hope over experience
The White House has a new communications director... and she's a 28-year-old former teen model. Phoebe Luckhurst speaks to the friends and colleagues who have witnessed her meteoric rise
Melissa Nathan remembers Hope Hicks, the 28-year-old White House aide who this week was appointed Donald Trump's fourth communications director in nine months, as a "very well-liked and a highly regarded member of staff who most definitely forged friendships with all team members".
The pair were colleagues at New York PR firm Hiltzik Strategies, a corporate communications firm that represents Hollywood luminaries and corporate executives. "Hicks was diligent and stayed on top of her work load, giving maximum attention to details and her respective clients," Nathan adds.
As the world's spotlight illuminates the pretty, ascendant spokesperson, the US President will, presumably, hope she keeps up the good work.
Regime change is usually unsettling - in the Trump administration it is virtually enshrined as policy. This week the president announced the appointment of Hicks, a former teen model and high school and college lacrosse captain, who majored in English at college and worked in PR before being absorbed into the Trump juggernaut.
Overnight, hers became a household name: commentators reeled as they tried to reconcile this unlikely figure with this unlikely administration.
First, to state the superficial, Hicks doesn't look like your usual Trump stooge (compare and contrast her with Steve Bannon or Sean Spicer).
Undeniably this fuels the frenzy: it is unsettlingly fascinating when someone pretty endorses Trump, as it seems to undermine the narrative of his villainy. Princesses shouldn't like trolls.
But more than that, she is, as The New York Times put it, "arguably the least credentialled Press secretary in the modern history of presidential politics" - although insiders muse that she might be just what the regime needs. She is discreet and inscrutable: unlike her boss, Hicks does not use Twitter and her Instagram account is private.
So far, she has refused to appear as a talking head: indeed, when she faces the Press to deliver the White House briefings, it will be the first time many journalists have heard her utter a word. She is, in other words, a foil to the volatile, loquacious president - an impassive, unreadable conduit. Therein lies her mythology - and possibly also her strength.
Nonetheless, the rapid ascendancy of her star is, even by the frenzied and unpredictable Trump regime, extraordinary. So, how did Hicks became the gatekeeper for the most unexpected presidential regime in history?
Partly it might be seen as a reward for her loyalty. Hicks has been working with the Trump family for five years. She was brought up in the manicured suburban America of Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended Southern Methodist University, a private college in Texas, before graduating and moving back east to start her first real job at Hiltzik.
Hope was a great asset on account of her "work ethic, perspective, reliability and likeability", remembers Matthew Hiltzik, the firm's founder. Hiltzik is a Democrat who has worked with Hillary Clinton, and will not be drawn on politics. He first met Hicks at a Super Bowl party in Dallas. Hicks' father was, at the time, working for the NFL.
At Hiltzik she was assigned to a Trump account, making fast work of it: indeed, she so impressed the First Daughter that in 2014 Ivanka poached her to work in-house at Trump Tower. Hicks started out working on Ivanka's luxury fashion line - occasionally modelling clothing and accessories for her website - before being absorbed into the Trump real estate division.
At this point, her stars started to align. Trump moved her into a Trump-owned apartment, where she lived rent-free, and Hicks started to travel with Trump's entourage. While college friends were staggering through their first jobs and internships she was becoming part of an influential and controversial inner circle.
Trump reportedly calls her 'Hopie' or 'Hopester'; Ivanka has called her a 'brilliant, kind, and wickedly funny friend'. Her Instagram account is one of only seven that Trump follows - the others are those of family members.
This proximity and exposure to Trump set Hicks up for her next role. In 2015, when Trump announced that he would be running as a Republican nominee for the presidency, he appointed her his Press secretary.
"Mr Trump sat her down and said, 'This is your new job'," Hicks' mother Caye Cavender Hicks told The New York Times. "It was a shocker."
Undeniably, although insiders report that Hicks was relatively unflappable.
Prudently, she made an ally of Trump's maverick campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Their relationship was by all accounts good, except for a single flare-up when they were spotted screaming at each other on a Manhattan street.
New York Magazine says that on the campaign trail Hicks was in charge of translating Trump's tweets from dictation. And the long hours on the campaign trail caused strain: she broke up with her boyfriend of six years.
So far, so precocious, then. It is also notable that Hicks has proved curiously Teflon, which is a coup in an administration hell bent on damaging leaks and internal conflict.
Of course, there is plenty of time for that to change (there is almost certainly a member of the Saturday Night Live cast being lined up to mimic her mannerisms). Instead, for now, commentators sate themselves with biographical titbits.
A favourite is that Hicks signed a Ford modelling contract in her teens. She was a zealous lacrosse player in high school and later at college. She once featured in a one-off Nickelodeon children's show about golf. Observant millennials note, gleefully, that Hicks also appeared on the front cover of a 2005 Gossip Girl spin-off book called The It Girl.
Moreover, while her appointment is unexpected, her political ambitions stretch back over a decade. "It's funny," she said in a rare interview with Marie Claire this year. "I was reading an article from when I was 11 or 12, talking about how my career as a model had taken off. It said, 'If modelling doesn't work out for you, what would you do?' And I said, 'Well, I'm not really sure, but I'm interested in politics'."
Hicks is said to handle Trump with a light, respectful touch. "My father makes people earn his trust," Ivanka has noted. "She's earned his trust." This week Hicks was the only aide present in the Oval Office during an interview with The New York Times, in which Trump discussed Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Although Trump has fond nicknames for Hicks, she calls him Mr Trump or "sir". Trump told The New York Times that Hicks "will often give advice, and she'll do it in a very low-key manner, so it doesn't necessarily come in the form of advice. But it's delivered very nicely."
A Politico profile published in July quotes a colleague from the White House, who assesses Hope as a "souvenir from Trump Tower". Others suspect this longevity works in her favour as she can remain relatively detached from the in-fighting that characterises the administration.
Hicks has been in DC since the inauguration, though a poster from her former office in Trump Tower provided a clue to her philosophy. "Fate whispers to the warrior, 'You cannot withstand the storm'," it reads. "And the warrior whispers back, 'I am the storm'."