The smiling survivor of White House hoopla

 

The First Daughter stepped onto the tarmac in Dublin yesterday morning as silent and reserved as always, steeled for the endless line of dignitaries she would have to meet throughout the day.

But the relief was obvious. In one month she gets to hand over her title to a new set of presidential children, and with it the painfully intense public spotlight that has tortured her through family crises and gawky, frizzy-haired adolescence.

Let the Bush and Gore kids worry about that now. Chelsea is taking time out from school to enjoy her last days with a key to the White House and access to Air Force One.

Before Ireland, she went with her parents to Vietnam and met the Sultan of Brunei, and over the summer she served as a US ambassador to the Sydney Olympics.

The presidency has produced many messed-up children before her. But despite those pressures, the 20-year-old who has been a politician's daughter since the day she was born has somehow managed to grow up like any ordinary young woman.

She was born when Mr Clinton was governor of Arkansas and named after Hillary Clinton's favourite song, Chelsea Morning by folk singer Joni Mitchell.

When her high school began studying Islam, she invited her class to meet the King of Morocco. She had to hear public talk of her parents' infidelities at the age of 13.

"But she's very grounded, and I don't quite know how she did it," said presidential historian Gil Troy. "She strikes me as in many ways similar to the Johnson or Nixon girls - young women raised in the spotlight who were able to take a lot of the hoopla of White House with a grain of salt."

Not at all like Ronald Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, he said, who wrote a spiteful book about her parents and posed nude for Playboy. "She seems unlikely to be a ne'er-dowell like the Franklin Roosevelt kids either."

Chelsea is to graduate from Stanford University in California this June. Once interested in a career as a paediatric cardiologist, she is now said to be considering postgraduate work at Oxford in economics.

She took her autumn semester off to take on the hectic schedule of her mother's New York Senate race. For hours, Chelsea sat quietly in the corner reading books as the campaign bus travelled the state. At each stop, she dutifully shook hundreds of hands, endlessly saying "thank you for coming" and "we need your vote".

"There comes a time in many women's lives when we start wondering if we can ever make it up to our mothers for what we owe them," said New York Times columnist Gail Collins. "It is entirely possible that Chelsea has evened the score."

This is Chelsea's first official trip to Ireland. But in 1997, she visited Clare with a friend, and she has obviously made more unpublicised visits here.

Yesterday the Taoiseach said she promised last September to bring her parents back to Ireland again soon.