What's next for Michelle Obama: Speaking circuit, memoirs, fashion brand or an - unlikely - 2020 presidential run?
It was her husband’s joke which confirmed what we all suspected: Michelle Obama cannot wait to move on to life outside the White House.
“You might have heard that someone jumped the White House fence last week,” said President Barack Obama, speaking at the annual comedy fest that is the White House correspondents’ dinner.
“But I have to give Secret Service credit - they found Michelle, brought her back, she's safe back at home now. It's only nine more months, baby. Settle down.”
For Mrs Obama has indeed chaffed at the restrictions imposed by the White House – telling how she longed to open a window, lounge on a lawn, browse supermarket aisles.
She was so thrilled to be allowed in a car without Secret Service to film James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke that she told the talk-show host: “Let’s keep driving!”
She added: “I think we drove around the South Lawn about 100 times.”
She described, in her final speech last week, being first lady as "the greatest honour of my life," adding: "I hope I have made you proud."
But it has not been a bed of roses.
Giving up her career was not easy: a lawyer by profession, she served as assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago's City Hall before founding the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, which prepares young people for public service. She went on to work for the University of Chicago, developing community service programmes, before becoming vice president of community and external affairs for the University of Chicago medical center.
Returning to her old job would appear unlikely, but she has spoken frequently of her wish to do something intellectually challenging, while helping others through the schemes she has championed in the White House.
Healthy eating has become a focus, with her Let’s Move initiative urging people to get active and do more exercise. Her vegetable garden behind the White House has become a thing of legend: Mrs Obama held a press conference on the South Lawn to announce that she has arranged for the National Park Service to care for the garden when she is gone, and has raised $2.5 million of private funding to cover the costs.
Her projects also include Joining Forces, to support veterans; educational foundation Let Girls Learn; and Reach Higher, which “encourages young people to complete their education and own their future.”
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Supporting and mentoring young women in particular has been a priority. Speaking in November 2015, she said: "As a first lady, a mother, and a human being, I cannot walk away from these girls, and I plan to keep raising my voice on their behalf for the rest of my life."
The same month, delivering a speech in Qatar, she said: "That story about the transformative power of education? That's my story. That's my family's story."
On the same trip, she told military troops that she would also continue addressing the needs of veterans and their families: "That's not just my vow to you as first lady. It's my vow to you for the rest of my life."
But she will also need to make some money. Unlike her husband, who receives an annual pension of $203,700, Mrs Obama will receive no public funds.
She has immense earning potential, however.
She will have just barely turned 53 when Donald Trump is inaugurated, making her the youngest departing first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy.
With her warmth, charisma and high approval ratings – she is by far the most popular political figure in the US – Vanity Fair gushed: “Could she be bigger than Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hillary Clinton, and Ellen DeGeneres combined?”
The magazine continued: “She has the style and poise of Jackie Kennedy but with the empathy of Oprah and the easy charisma of Julia Roberts.”
Most pundits do not, however, believe she will take up a role as the next Oprah.
She is, though, likely to write her memoirs – which will almost certainly fetch a record-breaking sum.
“I would be shocked if she didn’t have a book in the works already,” said Kate Andersen Brower, the author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies. “The money that she could generate would be astounding.”
She is likely to go on the speaking circuit, capitalising on a talent for oratory that has blossomed in her eight years in the White House.
In July she delivered what many have described as the Democratic National Convention’s most moving speech, memorably declaring: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
Vanity Fair reports that Mrs Obama will be able to earn about $100,000 per speaking engagement - which would seem as a fairly conservative effort, given that George Osborne has been paid more than that for his recent speeches.
She could also, if she chooses, continue to support young fashion designers – or launch her own range. In 2010, New York University business professor David Yermack, calculated that Mrs Obama’s fashion choices alone have driven $2.7 billion to the retail sector—with companies seeing “a 2.3 per cent stock gain when she dons their products - five times that of a typical celebrity endorsement.”
But a fashion range would not appear likely.
The Obamas will still live in Washington, until Sasha, their youngest daughter, finishes school.
“She has developed really good friendships with people in DC who have nothing to do with the administration,” said Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, who in the 1990s hired Mrs Obama when she was working in Chicago.
“It’s harder for [the president] to do that. But I think that what works about them is that wherever they are, they figure it out. And they make it good and they make it fun and they make it make sense.
“I do think that whoever the president’s successor is, they need not worry about having a second president in Washington. I think that they take it from President George W. Bush’s playbook in that you’ve had your time and it’s up. So you’re not going to see her on MSNBC as a commentator. That I can assure you.”
Perhaps the biggest question is whether she will enter politics herself. Americans are fixated on the idea that she, rather than Hillary Clinton, could become the first female president.
Mrs Obama has been at pains to quash that idea. The hashtag “Michelle for 2020” has been trending for a while.
But, in November, she made her feelings clear.
“Run for president!” someone yelled. Mrs Obama laughed, before replying: “Be quiet back there.”
Her husband agrees.
“Let me tell you,” he said a year ago. “There are three things that are certain in life.
“Death, taxes, and Michelle is not running for president. That, I can tell you.”