Girlie holiday gives First Lady Michelle Obama the summertime blues
When did holidays metamorphose from straightforward stretches of R&R into highly politicised statements?
I ask this because Michelle Obama's jaunt to Spain with her youngest daughter, Sasha, and a few friends was attacked by anyone with an audience, as if it had the significance of the Magna Carta.
But the criticisms resonate with mere civilians, too. First there's the quandary of splashing out for a holiday at all when it's supposed to be the age of austerity. And air travel is the most obvious of eco sins. Worst of all is the fact she left Mr Obama at home (and on his birthday!) to holiday with the girls.
She was judged a spendthrift for holidaying in Marbella, a beautiful spot in southern Spain with its fair share of power-players and rich residents, but one also maligned as a playground for gaudy wannabe WAGs and conmen on the run. Oh, for shame. Does the First Lady's otherwise impeccable style not translate to the nuances of European snobbery?
Then there's her choice of accommodation, the Villa Padierna, where rooms can cost towards several thousand pounds a night.
She apparently block-booked half the hotel to put up her entourage of 40 girl mates. This indulgent frippery, along with the security and Air Force Two travel, cost the US taxpayer around $375,000. But it's the presence of these friends — along with the absence of the President — which caused the most upset.
The White House insisted she was on a private trip with Sasha, two female friends and their four daughters, along with four staff members, and are paying for their own rooms, food and travel in Spain.
And why not? There's nothing like a good girlie holiday to dust off the drudgery of real life.
My first forays into the Michelle Obama-style of summer holiday lacked the glamour (and, I suspect, always will), but the premise was exactly the same: school's out, so the girls can get away together — assuming they're lucky enough to have mums who don't work or can take the time off.
The location was a caravan site on Anglesey where the mums played poker for tiddlywinks every evening while we learnt to snog and to smoke. As time went on, the trips became more exotic and the behaviour a little bawdier. The mums, naturally, were disinvited. Ibiza at 18, Greece at 19, then Thailand at the age of 20.
All precious time we can't have again. Therefore, if Barack can't make it because he's running the country, that's no reason to keep Michelle and the girls at home, tilling the White House's veg patch and watching reruns of The Simpsons. One angry US commentator described her as a “modern-day Marie Antoinette” because of the extravagance of the trip. It's true that she could have organised a more modest holiday on home turf. And, yes, that would have been more sensitive given her country's economic plight.
But the idea she should dress in cast-offs and opt for a bargain sun break runs counter to the stylish, globally aware and culturally inquisitive image the Obamas and America want to present to the world. And who's to say it wasn't her head of security who demanded she stay in such an exclusive hotel?
So she missed her husband's birthday. What was she supposed to do? Hang around outside the Oval Office in case he finished work in time for a nightcap? Plus, holidaying apart is said to be good for a relationship. A recent survey by the travel operator Kuoni found that 59% of couples actually split up after going away together.
A politician's choice of holiday destination is just as sensitive in the UK. So the thrifty Camerons are returning to Cornwall.
Is it just me, or does Michelle's whirl around Moorish palaces sound a hell of a lot more fun than what's on the cards for SamCam — bitching over the garden fence about how difficult it is to find a decent rental with Orla Kiely crockery and parking for the 4x4?