This is my first ever blog, so forgive me if I make any 'blogosphere faux pas'. Arianna instructed me to write as if I were addressing an old friend, so here goes.
On Saturday night I attended the White House Correspondents' Association dinner for the second year running. The evening started with drinks at Christopher Hitchens' house. He is one of the writers I most admire and finally had the chance to meet. Then onto the Newsweek pre-dinner cocktail and then the actual dinner. I was accompanied by actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in Versace of course, and we were sitting with editor Graydon Carter on the Vanity Fair tables. (He is so entertaining!)
The dinner was a glamorous affair, as it was last year, but this time round there was a very different atmosphere, in ways that seemed to me to symbolize the huge changes that are taking place in this country as a result of the new administration.
The first thing that hit me was that nobody was using their BlackBerrys. This is a pet hate of mine, and last year lots of the guests were glued to their devices. While George Bush did a little comedy — conducting the orchestra and entertaining people with a speech — the audience was just not that attentive. Many people were talking away and those dreaded BlackBerrys were out in full force.
This year, the minute Barack Obama stood up to speak, there was silence. Its obvious to me that this is a President people want to listen to because what he says is interesting. There was a huge amount of expectation as he spoke and it made me think of the level of expectation people have of this man — maybe its too much? They hope he will fulfill his promise in a short time, but that of course is not realistic. People need to remember that he inherited the economic situation, for a start. But I think he's up to the job. He has already changed people's attitudes in a very short period. Sometimes a new person comes in to a job and nothing changes. But that's not the case here.
Speaking from a European point of view, it is no exaggeration to say that it had got to the point where many in Europe regarded America as the enemy — and Americans were people we didn't even want to look at. It was almost as if the Europeans were simply against America and Americans. This was wrong, of course, and a result of the fact that there was confusion in our minds between the American people and the American administration.
This is something that President Obama has managed to change, and this change was evident at the dinner on Saturday. There was a friendly atmosphere, it was cool, younger, relaxed and glamorous. Glamour was something that seemed to be completely lost before. Of course there were Hollywood people there last year, but there's a difference between cool Hollywood and stiff Hollywood. On Saturday I saw lots of cool Hollywood people that I know and some who are friends of mine — Ashton and Demi, Sting and Trudi — it was the right mix.
The key to this administration's appeal is, I think, that it's so energetic and positive, and (yes, one of my favourite words) glamorous! The first lady looked beautiful. It was so great to see a President's wife in a hot pink dress, a jewelled necklace with a pink flower and purple eye shadow. Great hair, great make-up — this is what we want to see: confidence.
As for her husband, he was wearing a normal tie, while everyone else was wearing a bow tie with their dinner suits. This is what I like about him — he seems so relaxed. He was clearly enjoying himself, and in fact the actors who were there were given a lesson in performing by the President. He did a fabulous comic speech and made us laugh — he was really, really funny. He made fun of himself and some of the press. He has a great a sense of humour. He really knows how to work an audience. He literally had the room in tears.
It was a long night but the time flew — it went so go quickly. People genuinely had fun. I've been to so many of this kinds of events where you have people looking at their assistants as if to say, "Can I leave now?" There was none of that. Everyone was having a good time, and I was amazed by how members of the Obama administration, high-powered people like the Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, and the Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, were just walking round the room in a really cool and relaxed way. Rahm was carrying his jacket slung over his shoulder.These people look like they know what they are doing. They don't need to put on an attitude to impress people.
Highlights for me were getting a big hug from Forest Whitaker, who I have never met before, and meeting my hero, General Powell. I went up to him and introduced myself and shook his hand. He was very friendly, very warm, and it made my evening.