When it comes to home makeovers, France's First Lady sets a high bar
So you think Carrie Symonds’ £58,000 wallpapergate is a political disaster without precedent? Disaster, yes, especially when you’re dissing John Lewis. Political, obviously, as the PM seemed unable to Just Say No to his 5’7” partner when faced with bills for £840-a-roll wallpaper and a £9,800 sofa. Would you trust this man to reject uranium enrichment clauses in treaty negotiations with Hassan Rouhani?
But unprecedented? Never. In fact, even an £88,000 makeover (taking into account the £30,000 allotted annually by the Downing Street budget for refurbishments to the PM’s quarters) is pretty modest compared to Carrie’s international counterparts.
The last one to get away with a big home makeover was Jackie Kennedy, who brought in from Paris Stéphane Boudin of Jansen, and got rich Democrat donors to cough up both cash and eighteenth century French antiques. She escaped criticism because it was seen as a conservation prestige project for the nation (Jackie even went on PBS, breathlessly tour-guiding her husband’s voters through the whole thing). Moreover, the Kennedy millions seemed to guarantee this was in no way personal graft.
Nancy Reagan, by contrast, got massive flak for a perfectly legal $209,508 donation from the JP Knapp Foundation. She used this money to finance her purchase of 4,370 pieces of American-made Lenox china for the White House. But this didn’t chime with the Reagan’s home-on-the-range image.
Carrie is an amateur compared to Brigitte Macron’s €600,000 refurbishment of the Élysée Palace at the height of the Yellow Vests crisis. This revamp (with a lot of greige to replace the crimson and gold of an earlier era) was tactlessly described by the President’s wife as a dépoussiérage (dusting off) of Madame de Pompadour’s house. Mrs Macron blithely explained at the time that she wanted “to let the light into this place: it had become a kind of fortress, shielded from the outside world”, while commissioning 1,200 pieces of artist-designed china from the Manufacture de Sèvres worth a further €500,000.
Following a week of fawning glossy Sunday mag coverage of the revamp, the Élysée was indeed turned into a fortress — quite literally, as battalions of Gendarmes mobiles were assigned to protect it from rioting citizens, who obviously shared Lulu Lytle’s view on €300,000 neutral-coloured pile carpets.
The British PM and his fiancée have yet to provoke a backlash on that scale. But they’d be well advised to stop pushing their luck.