All eyes today are on…Carrie and Jill, as the remainder of the G7 summit is effortlessly overshadowed by the leaders’ spouses. The First Lady of the US is having tea today with Carrie Johnson — this being Cornwall, it will be a cream tea, with scones. This is pretty well obligatory when you visit Cornwall. Mrs Johnson is not actually first lady of the UK, since no such role exists, and the only First Lady is the Queen, but irritatingly the British media have adopted the Americanism, so stand by for headlines along the lines of ‘First Ladies Meet’.
Thank goodness, then, the British prime minister got round to marrying his girlfriend just last Saturday, before the summit — in fact, one wonders whether the nuptials were timed precisely to avoid any awkwardness. But that gives Mrs Biden a good starting point — Carrie can be felicitated on her wedding and then there’s always little Wilf, her son (who anticipated his parents’ wedding), to ask after. Not that Jill Biden is particularly censorious about this kind of thing…the circumstances of her own relationships with the President are a little unclear; her first husband seemed to intimate that they were still married when Mr B came on the scene.
Mrs Biden is 70 and a former teacher; she’s mature and friendly and perfectly capable of putting Carrie, 33, at ease. Matters might have been rather different with Melania Trump, who didn’t really do small talk, though she was obviously good on fashion. And although everyone will be obsessing about what Carrie wears (memo to Mrs B: Carrie hired her bohemian wedding dress for £45, which isn’t quite the FLOTUS style), fashion isn’t actually compulsory as a subject for the wives.
Both women are new to these things, of course, and this is their first summit, so there’s a sense that Jill and Carrie are both in the same boat, trying to make their mark and establish their own style. Carrie is a former political PR who worked for Conservative Central Office and her supporters make much of her political nous — though Carrie has at times taken this to the point of establishing her own court, with people around the PM hired and fired on the basis of whether or not they are friends of hers. In short, she doesn’t have a problem talking politics. But it’s the environment that’s her big thing — and Mrs Biden will probably be perfectly at ease talking dolphins and eco-education in schools. It might, however, be best to avoid mentioning Carrie’s other job (which may not last much longer) with Aspinall’s, a rather peculiar private nature reserve/zoo belonging to a rich environmentalist.
If necessary, they can talk dog: the Bidens have Champ and Major (the latter the first shelter dog in the White House) while Carrie has Dilyn, a Jack Russell cross with a propensity for inappropriate behavior with visitors; he appears not to be in Cornwall.
Mrs Biden’s big thing on this trip is relations with US military personnel and their families — her first engagement in the UK was at a US base, where she promoted the new organization for supporting military families, Joining Forces. But it can only help project the President’s agenda of establishing a New Atlantic Charter, in the manner of Churchill and Roosevelt, if the First Lady can be seen to have a friendly rapport with the wife of the British prime minister. Michelle Obama did this almost too well with Sarah Brown, wife of Gordon Brown, and their meetings sometimes felt like girl bonding sessions, but all Carrie and Jill need is to be seen to get on. And if the President and the PM fall out over the Northern Ireland Brexit deal, all the more to the good if their wives are friends.
So, what about relations between Carrie and the President, whom she’ll be sitting next to at some point? Well, she is blonde, cheerfully attractive, young and friendly; I don’t think there’ll be a problem, do you?