from-glenda-jackson-to-viscountess-astor:-it-girls-who-moved-into-politics
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When it was revealed that the Duchess of Sussex had conducted a virtual ‘introductory’ meeting last October with the high-powered Democratic governor of California, Gavin Newsom, the rumour mill started churning. Was Meghan Markle making her long-anticipated move into politics? The hour-long video call came at an apt time, when the governor was searching for a possible replacement for Kamala Harris, the California senator who went on to be elected vice-president.

The Duchess of Sussex

Max Mumby / Indigo / Getty Images

Now, more recently on Sunday 14 March – amidst the furore following Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview – it was claimed that the Duchess was considering running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2024 if President Biden chose not to seek a second term. The Mail on Sunday claimed that British sources with links to Washington believe that Meghan is networking with senior Democrats with a view to building a campaign and fundraising teams for a tilt at the US top job.

Far from being surprised or scathing, Californian Democrats were reportedly delighted by the reports in October. Mike Trujillo, a prominent Democratic strategist told the Times: ‘I think it’s fantastic[…] she’s doing everything that’s appropriate and allowed given her new position but she’s definitely putting her toe in the water. And once your toe is in the water your whole foot is in and next thing you know you are knee-deep and then you are fully in.’ He believes that their Archewell Foundation could prove to be a launchpad into politics, much like Schwarzenegger’s after-school foundation proved to be his own. A source close to the Sussexes has latterly said that the meeting with Newsom was ‘nothing political’ and ‘more social than anything’ conducted alongside his wife.

However, in Trujillo’s view, she is following a ‘well-worn path’ of the rich and famous pivoting their influence to politics, a path paved by these It Girls who did much the same.

  • Viscountess Astor

    Nancy Astor, immortalised in paint by John Singer Sergeant in the grand entrance hall of Cliveden, became the first woman seated as a Member of Parliament. The American-born British politician served from 1919 to 1945, after moving to England aged 26 with her husband Waldorf Astor, a scion of the very wealthy Astor family of New York. Cliveden, the setting of the Profumo Affair, was bequeathed to the couple as a wedding present from Astor’s father, William Waldorf, the 1st Viscount Astor. Lady Astor developed a reputation as a prominent hostess for the social elite and through her many social connections began to swim in political waters.

    Nancy became a parliamentary candidate after Waldorf succeeded to the peerage and the House of Lords, winning the Plymouth Sutton seat, left vacant by her husband. During Astor’s political career, she gained recognition as a parliamentarian who didn’t follow the rules, a tendency often attributed to her American upbringing. On her first day in the Commons, she was reportedly called to order for chatting with a fellow House member (not realising she was the one causing the commotion). She was known for her terse relations with the then PM, Sir Winston Churchill. Lady Astor is anecdotally remembered to have responded to a question from Churchill about what disguise he should wear to a masquerade ball by saying, ‘Why don’t you come sober, Prime Minister?’

  • Josephine Baker

    As one of the greatest female entertainers of the 20th century, Josephine Baker is not only remembered as a trailblazing dancer and style maven – but as a spy for the French Resistance during WWII and later, as an American Civil Rights activist. The girl from Missouri became an overnight sensation as the headline act at the Folies Bergère, capturing the attention of Picasso, Hemingway and E.E. Cummings who nicknamed her ‘Black Venus’. When WWII broke out she joined the French Resistance efforts, using her charm to attend the most important parties and gather crucial information. After the war, she became a lead mover in the Civil Rights movement, even speaking at the 1963 March on Washington.

  • Shirley Temple

    Born in the 1920s, Shirley Temple – once dubbed the ‘most popular movie star in America’ – was Hollywood’s number one box office draw as a child actress from 1934 to 1938. So popular, she had a drink named after her (the refreshing mocktail formed of ginger ale, grenadine and garnished with a maraschino cherry). Temple retired from acting at the age of 22 (in 1950) but it wasn’t for another 20 years that she would dip her toes into US diplomacy. According to Politico, long before Temple got into politics, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared: ‘As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right. … When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.’

    She would be employed in three ambassadorships throughout her life; first as US delegate to the UN by President Richard Nixon (1969), as Ambassador to Ghana, appointed by President Gerald Ford (1974 to 76) and finally as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989 to 1992) by President George H. W. Bush. Although, despite her achievements in an ‘age of male-dominated diplomacy’, Temple dismissed that she was a feminist role model. In 1976, she said she preferred ‘the strong arms of my husband around me to any women’s lib’.

  • Marina Baker

    A Playboy Playmate and a politician isn’t a combination you encounter all too often, but it’s a combination that exists – at least in Marina Baker. 53-year-old Baker was initially inspired to get into politics by her mother’s environmental activism as well as her relationship with PR boss Matthew Freud, son of the ex-Liberal MP Clement Freud, who she met while working as a waitress in London. To supplement her income, she began glamour modelling and aged 18, in 1986, she did a Playboy shoot. A jack of all trades, she appeared in stage production of Chekhov’s The Seagull and also became an established journalist in the 1990s, writing for most of the national newspapers. She chaired the Lewes district council before losing her seat. These days, environmentalism is Baker’s raison d’être; she is a member of Telscombe town council and organises projects to promote social economic and environmental wellbeing in the towns of Peacehaven, Telscombe and East Saltdean.

  • Diane Kirk (now Lady Nutting, with her late husband, Earl Beatty)

    The gossip columnist’s darling, Diane Kirk, was wonderfully beautiful and even modelled for Pierre Cardin, the avant-garde fashion designer. She reportedly once declared she was looking for a job ‘ideally as a film star’. At 18, she married Earl Beatty (himself, 54, and already thrice married) and became the chatelaine of the Grade I-listed Chicheley Hall. As a Unionist MP, Earl Beatty encouraged Diane to enter politics herself and in 1968 she was elected to Westminster Council. From 1980 to 1995 she was the first woman on the board of Anglia TV and from 1991 to 1997, a trustee of National Heritage Memorial Fund. She is now chairman of the Georgian Group and the Prince of Wales’s Drawing School and is married to second husband, John Nutting.

  • Glenda Jackson

    Jackson, the great beauty, was a double-Oscar winner. One for a romantic drama, Women in Love (1970), the second, for a comedy – a rare feat when it comes to the Academy Awards – A Touch of Class (1973). The roles and accolades continued – before she did a decisive pivot into politics, between 1992 and 2014. Jackson was elected as the Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate in the 1992 general election, moving up the ranks to junior transport minister between 1997 and 1999 under Tony Blair. (As a high-profile back-bencher she was later critical of Blair’s introduction of higher education tuition fees and called for his resignation over the reasons for going to war in Iraq and the questionable death of government adviser Dr David Kelly.)

    After winning the Hampstead and Kilburn seat by a whisker in 2010, she kept at it before stepping down from politics five years later. Jackson returned to tread the boards, taking on the titular role in Shakespeare’s King Lear in a sell-out run at the Old Vic, for which she was garlanded with awards, including an Olivier ‘best actress’ nomination. Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph wrote: ‘Glenda Jackson is tremendous as King Lear. No ifs, no buts. In returning to the stage at the age of 80, 25 years after her last performance (as the Clytemnestra-like Christine in Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra at the Glasgow Citizens), she has pulled off one of those 11th-hour feats of human endeavour that will surely be talked about for years to come by those who see it.’ More recently, she starred in Elizabeth is Missing on BBC One, for which she won the BAFTA for ‘best actress’.

  • Ivanka Trump

    Donald and Ivana’s oldest daughter, Ivanka, is a formidable business woman. You might recognise the pristine 39-year-old from the boardroom in the US Apprentice or know of her as an executive vice president of the Trump Organisation, but it was when her father became President that she swiftly pivoted into politics, bringing her husband, Jared Kushner, with her. Ivanka became a trusted senior adviser. She is no longer a part of the President’s inner circle (since her father is no longer the President) but as he left the White House it was rumoured that Ivanka was already plotting her political reemergence. Speculation suggests that Ivanka may well run for Senate in Florida, where she and Kushner have reportedly bought up an expensive plot of land. A source told CNN in December: ‘Ivanka definitely has political ambitions, no question about it. She wants to run for something, but that still needs to be figured out.’ Watch this space.

  • Cynthia Nixon

    Nixon was elevated to the realms of eternal It Girl-hood when she joined the squadron of four leading characters that made up Sex and the City. Nixon, who played hot-headed lawyer Miranda between 1998 and 2004, also picked up an Emmy for Outstanding Support Actress. She reprised the role for the film adaptations and will be re-embracing the role for the freshly announced new series. Nixon has long been politically engaged, an ardent supporter for public education and a spokesperson for New York’s Alliance for Quality Education. In 2018, she announced that she was running for governor of New York in an attempt to oust the incumbent governor, Andrew Cuomo. She failed to topple him but atta girl for pursuing her ambitions.

  • Lara Trump

    The wife of Eric Trump was a fast-moving, multi-tasking television producer before her father-in-law Donald Trump made it to the White House. She played a pivotal role in his campaigns, spearheading the 2016 Trump–Pence Women’s Empowerment Tour, then when he took the top job, she became an online producer and fundraiser for him. Neat as a pin, she looks like a Trump, even if not by birth. Whether or not it is to be believed, Donald Trump confirmed rumours she was going to run for Senate in North Carolina only three days ago on 14 March; it was suggested in an off-hand comment made during an impromptu speech at a Mar-A-Lago fundraiser. Ms Trump has not announced nor ruled out if she will run and only time will tell.

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