Huffington’s balancing act
Huffington Post’s editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington has been through something of a conversion from imperial to metric – Third Metric, that is. She talks about her new measure of success
Arianna Huffington with her daughters Christina and Isabella. Photograph: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage
Arianna Huffington in 1975. Photograph: Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Arianna Huffington in the 1970s with her then boyfriend Bernard Levin. Photograph: Express Newspapers/Getty
Arianna Huffington and Barbara Walters at a function in New York in the summer of 2013. Photograph: Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images
Three-quarters of the way into tea and chocolate tiffin cubes with Arianna Huffington, she admits she’s a workaholic. And it is an admission, not a humble-brag, because Huffington’s newest cause is to train herself and others not to work so hard, or at least not to work all the time, which is different. She’s getting there, but it’s difficult.
“I think it’s time to identify the snake in the Garden of Eden that is overconnectivity,” she says. “I’ve taken a lot of steps in my life. My bedroom in New York is a completely digital-free area. I don’t take my BlackBerry or my iPhone or my iPad to bed. I read real books in bed, and it’s just fantastic. It’s like, what can be so urgent?”
Huffington and her many devices are in London to host Third Metric, a conference with the subtitle “Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power” (money and power being the first two metrics), which takes place the evening after we meet at the sumptuous Charlotte Street Hotel, in Bloomsbury, close to the offices of the Huffington Post’s parent company, AOL.
Surrounded by chatter and the tinkling of the lobby piano, Huffington searches the menu in vain for decaf tea, toys with Darjeeling, then settles on Bespoke English Breakfast – the tiffin cubes are for me and John, an AOL corporate communications man. She tells me not to worry that I’m flying home before the conference: “We’re going to live-blog it.”
The Third Metric power-shindig is a follow-up to a similar “tribal” event she cohosted in the spring with her friend Mika Brzezinski, an MSNBC news presenter, in Manhattan, at the SoHo loft apartment she bought late last year for about $8 million.
“We took all the furniture out, and there were around 340 women there. But also my friends used their apartment above mine for the launch, and Jon Bon Jovi and his wife live on the top floor and we used their terrace for the reception. It became a bit like – in the States they call it a progressive, when you go from one apartment to the other,” she says. “And these were intimate issues we were discussing, about what we value in our lives, and how we live our lives.” Although the event was aimed at a female audience, there were “some good men” there too.
Huffington’s Third Metric preaches a combination of mindfulness and meditation; spiritualism, kindness therapy and practical steps for banishing or ignoring “ridiculous” 21st-century expectations that leave men and women exhausted and stressed by a sense of “time famine”. Her starting point is that success tends to be defined “in terms of money and power exclusively”, and that without a third metric, “it’s like a two-legged stool – you fall off”.
“If you look around, you see so many people in politics and media and business making terrible decisions. I think they are burnt out.”
Huffington had a burn out of sorts six years ago. “When I fainted in 2007 and broke my cheekbone and had four stitches on my right eye, it started me on this path of re-evaluating my choices,” she says.
Her choices up to that point had made her an undeniable success. Hers is a CV that confounds in its rich variety over the decades. How best to describe Arianna Huffington? “Blogging queen” doesn’t cut it. “Social climber”, another label that has been slapped on her over the years, is plain obnoxious. She has, at various times in her life, been an economics student, an author, a Manhattan socialite, a billionaire’s wife, a cable-show comedienne and a one-time participant in a gubernatorial race. On her Twitter bio, after her job title of “president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group”, she lists “Mother. Sister. Flat shoe advocate. Sleep evangelist”. She needs seven or eight hours’ sleep each night, which is perfectly normal, of course, even if the business elite so often profess to survive on much less.
Born Arianna Stassinopoulos, in Athens, in 1950, she left Greece as a teenager to study at Cambridge, where she became president of its debating society, the Cambridge Union. In 1971, she appeared as a panellist on the BBC’s classical music quiz Face the Music, on which she met the late English journalist and broadcaster Bernard Levin, who was twice her age. They began a relationship.
The second thing she tells me, after she mentions they have just put a yoga room into the Huffington Post’s Washington office, is that she used to visit Ireland – Wexford to be precise – in the 1970s, with Levin. They split up when she was 30. She wanted children, but Levin, by then in his 50s, did not, so she decamped to New York and entered a new social scene, marrying oil tycoon and Republican Michael Huffington, in 1986.
They moved to Washington so he could pursue his political career and had two daughters, Christina and Isabella. She became a US citizen, and he was elected to Congress, though his Senate bid failed. They divorced in 1997, Huffington disclosing his bisexuality shortly after, and her next stop was Los Angeles.
Somewhere along the line her political philosophy shifted quite firmly from conservative to liberal, and, in 2003, she ran (against Arnold Schwarzenegger) as an independent candidate for the governorship of California. When asked if she still retains any ambition to run for office, she answers “no” before the sentence is finished.