Media-shy Chelsea Clinton begins new role as television journalist for NBC
Published 12/12/2011 | 10:07
SHE was a young woman who long shunned the cameras, but today Chelsea Clinton will make her debut in an implausible new role – as a television correspondent.
The once media-averse daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton begins a three-month stint as a contributor to the NBC network with a segment about a children's charity in Arkansas, where she grew up when her father was governor.
Two days later, Miss Clinton, a keen ballerina, will host a live broadcast of The Nutcracker to be transmitted through the American Forces Network to US troops serving overseas.
At the age of 31, the former first daughter is emerging into the national spotlight after years of studiously avoiding it.
She recently attended her first board meeting at a leading internet media company, is a regular at fundraising events and receptions for her favourite causes, including a party in London last week for her father's Clinton Foundation, and in August hosted a star-studded 65th birthday party in Hollywood for the former president.
This flurry of activity – much of it philanthropic but, in the case of her new board position, well-remunerated – would not be unusual for the offspring of many high-profile parents.
But for Miss Clinton, it marks a dramatic transition as she has finally accepted, if not quite yet embraced, the role of a public figure.
And it was not her instantly-recognisable and often apparently ubiquitous parents who finally inspired her to step out of the shadows.
Rather, she has told friends that it was conversations with her late maternal grandmother, Dorothy Rodham, that provided the catalyst for her to stop "pretending she was not Chelsea Clinton".
"I took what she [her grandmother] said seriously – that I had led an inadvertently public life for a long time and maybe it was time to start leading a purposely public life," she told The New York Times in what is believed to be her first media interview.
Even when Miss Clinton campaigned relentlessly for her mother during the 2008 presidential campaign, she refused to speak to the media, famously declining to answer a question from a nine-year-old "kid reporter" for a children's news service.
But Mrs Rodham, who died last month aged 92, gave the advice that is now shaping Miss Clinton's new approach. "She told me being Chelsea Clinton had happened to me, and outside of my advocacy work and campaigning for my Mom, I wasn't doing enough in the world," she said.
On the campaign trail for her mother, she drew large crowds, particularly on college campuses, and became an increasingly confident public speaker. She then returned to academia, taking a master's degree in public health at Columbia and now pursuing a doctorate in public policy at New York University.
But her conversations with her grandmother about taking on a public role continued, even as she also focused on her marriage last summer to her long-time boyfriend Marc Mezvinsky, a banker. Indeed, those chats were often at their most intense "when Marc and I were being hounded by the paparazzi for the silly reason du jour", she said.
"As with every decision, I talked to my grandmother about it, and she told me what she had always told me that life is not about what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you."
Earlier this year, she greeted Elton John and Richard Gere at a Aids foundation gala also attended by Barry Diller, boss of the internet media company IAC/InterActiveCorp.
Soon afterwards, he asked her to join the board, with an annual remuneration of $50,000 (€38,000) and stock options of $250,000 (€188,000).
But she had more ambitious plans for discarding her reclusive early adulthood and talked with her family, her close-knit circle of friends and veteran advisers of the family. The result was her contract with NBC News as a contributor to its Making A Difference series.
Even as scandals swirled around them, the Clintons sheltered her from scrutiny during her teenage years in the White House and she continued largely to eschew publicity during her university days at Stanford and Oxford. She moved to New York in 2003, working with the consulting firm McKinsey and then the Avenue Capital Group, a private equity company run by a family friend.
She then returned to her studies, even while taking a greater role at the Clinton Foundation and campaigning and fundraising on causes close to her heart, most notably gay marriage rights.
She has also weathered tabloid speculation about the health of her young marriage after Mr Mezvinsky spent much of last winter skiing in Wyoming while Miss Clinton commuted between weekends at their rented home there and New York.
The IAC appointment and her new position with NBC have earned criticism in some quarters that Miss Clinton is the beneficiary of her famous name as much as her talent.
President George W Bush's daughter Jenna is also an occasional correspondent and interviewer for the same network.
There were raised eyebrows for the explanation given by NBC News president Steve Capus why, at a time of newsroom cutbacks, someone with no journalistic experience and who has spent most of her adult life shying away from the media has been signed.
"Chelsea is a remarkable woman who will be a great addition to NBC News," he said. "Given her vast experiences, it's as though Chelsea has been preparing for this opportunity her entire life."
In another display of her new-found willingness to open up, she set up a Facebook page three months ago. Her most recent entry, after her return from London, stated: "Happy to be back home with Marc and Soren [the couple's Yorkshire terrier, named after the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard] after a week on the road."
In a country where political dynasties are commonplace, it has not been lost on some Democrat strategists that there will be no Clinton holding public office for first time in three decades when, as expected, Hillary steps down as secretary of state next year.
Another intriguing scenario has been discussed by some Democrats in New York - that she might be persuaded to run for Congress.