Emer McLysaght: I’m fascinated by Leo Varadkar’s grim aesthetic

That birthday cake post on social media was just the latest example of his domestic austerity

Leo Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett celebrate their joint birthdays with a Battenberg cake at home in a photo the Tánaiste posted on Instagram.

In less than 12 months Leo Varadkar will be Taoiseach once again. As part of the rotating rotisserie chicken deal with Micheál Martin he'll begin his second term this December, taking his place among the leaders of world and rubbing shoulders with the most powerful people on the planet. Maybe he'll even invite some of them around to his lovely new house, push whatever shite is on the dining table to one side and take an intolerably grim photo of their lamb chops in whatever the opposite of mood lighting is and post it on Instagram.

Leo Varadkar will never be a man of the people – except maybe the people who get up at the same time as him – and his personal social media presence is evidence of that. No, he’s not showing off luxury environs and expensive tastes, rubbing our faces in it, lighting cigars with fifty-euro notes. Instead, he seems determined to showcase a life that would have even the most staunch anti-Fine Gaeler saying, “Would you not get something with a bit of cream on it at least, Leo? Even a Black Forest gateau?”

The whole scene screamed 'final year student' and came complete with one half of the table covered with the detritus of life, a backpack within arm's reach

Last week Varadkar shared a birthday with his partner Matt Barrett, and added to his grim aesthetic by posting a selfie of the pair sharing a Battenberg cake. You know, one of the small ones you'd get alongside the French Fancies in your local convenience store with a best-before date of 2029 and the density of turf.  The whole scene screamed "final year student" and came complete with one half of the table covered with the detritus of life, a backpack (complete with tag, possibly a birthday present for the men who have everything?) within arm's reach and an air of "light the candle again there for the photo". "Not even a Colin!" I exclaimed when I saw it, invoking the spirit of the universal last-minute birthday cake: Marks & Spencer's chocolate caterpillar. The Tesco traybakes are also a delicious and speedy option. Even the French Fancies would have been better.

Unironically austere

It’s not the first time Varadkar has posted unironically austere food photos. He was slagged to high heaven over a tiny, transparent crepe he shared on Twitter to mark Pancake Tuesday a few years back. “Last treat before the Lenten fast begins,” he tweeted, “Looking forward to an uber healthy 40 days”.


If the pancake was his idea of a treat than I’d hate to see what leaner times look like for him. He’s no stranger to posting “date night” photos with the trademark mountain of shite on the table in the background. Of course, it wouldn’t be right if everything was polished and managed to within an inch of its life either, but at least move the takeaway bag out of the way! At least turn off the Big Light if you’re going to take a picture with the Christmas tree!

The old apartment had big Celtic Tiger vibes: it felt haunted by builders eating breakfast rolls and had windows that looked prone to extreme condensation

He and Barrett just spent their first Christmas together in their new house in Dublin 8 – the posh end. Previously, Varadkar lived in a flat in Castleknock for over 15 years and while the new house is all fresh paint and natural light, the old place with the leather kitchen chairs and matching placemats will haunt me for decades. The old apartment had big Celtic Tiger vibes, not in the sense that it was flashy and dripping with ill-advised purchases but rather it felt haunted by builders eating breakfast rolls and had windows that looked prone to extreme condensation.

Living in such a dwelling myself, I maintain rigorous monitoring of the damp back wall and have been known to stock up on those little water absorption tubs in Dealz. I can only imagine that Leo was on the same beat in his Castleknock pad. You couldn’t have one of his nice suits getting mouldy! It was the very epitome of a flat you rented with two mates in 2007 and in an effort to be grown up you decided to replace the truly horrific glass TV table only to be faced with shoving it in a wardrobe when the landlord refused to take it away. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time on Daft.ie will be familiar with the ambience. I’m not sure that Leo Varadkar is one of those people.

Of course, social media is not a failsafe window into someone’s life, and you can have no idea what lies beyond the photos. More importantly the soon-to-be-again leader of the country has more to worry about than what his house looks like when he lives in a home fit for a king in a country crippled by a housing crisis. I just worry that Leo thinks that the Battenberg, the mismatched cacophony of pint glasses that surely inhabits the kitchen presses, the austere pancakes, are very “I’m just like you” when in fact they have the country scratching its head and wondering what he spends all his money on. It’s not birthday cakes anyway.