While Kevin Rudd has never been media-shy (quite the opposite, what with his Twittering, website and blog), it seems his wife, Therese Rein, is finally ready for her close-up.
Back in May, I wrote 'Rein Priming for Mag cover?', suggesting that the likelihood of Rein appearing on the cover of an Aussie glossy was "about as likely as Susan Boyle landing the cover of British Vogue". In the glossy media world, a picture of perfection sounds louder than a CV full of personal achievements, after all.
At the time, the media was going bananas over Rein's apparent weight loss, which culminated in Woman's Day bringing her down to gossip magazine level, publishing unflattering and unauthorised pictures of her exercising in her gym gear after the magazine was reportedly refused an interview. Jessica Simpson, having suffered her fair share of body criticism this year, would have surely empathised.
Whether for the sake of her health and self-respect or her husband's public image (a bit of both, I suspect), Rein has played the media image game, shedding weight and glossing up. She now wouldn't look uncomfortable in the company of her international counterparts Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. And, confident in this new image, she's appeared on her first glossy cover: News Limited's The Weekend Australian Magazine.
Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald News Review section also ran comprehensive profile feature on Rein over the weekend, 'Pulling the right rein' (aka 'The lady of the Lodge: demystifying the PM's wife') by Annabel Crabb (listen to Crabb talk about Rein here), culminating in a sort of cross-media coming-out party for the PM's wife.
What we're presented with in both instances is the whole PR-managed Rein package, primped for public consumption 20 months after her husband took the country's political reins, which is fitting for a woman who likes to be in control.
Seasoned journalists Crabb and The Australian's Kate Legge dig deep, offering up insights into Rein's character, but she is obviously and understandably cautious about giving away too much. The Rein we come to know is a superwoman with a soft side, who shelves the negative stuff in her "Forgettery" (Crabb's get), is passionate about making a difference and is admirably defensive of her husband.
Crabb devotes much attention to her weight-loss, making note of her reaction to the Woman's Day photos, presumably because that's what we're all interested in hearing about anyway, as well as her family life, reaction to media scrutiny and exhausting schedule of public appearances.
Building her profile piece, Crabb talks of Rein's conspicuous media absence (until now), her presence on the PM's new website, her company's recent contract wins and allows Rein some anecdotes (one woman approaches her in public to convey her sympathies over the Woman's Day pictures, to which she responds: "Thank you. And thank you for your encouragement, and your support and your interest.").
Crabb also speaks to Rein's daughter, Jessica, via Skype, close friend and PR Sue Cato ("She has a totally wicked laugh, a fantastic sense of humour I can't think of anything negative to say about her.") and Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, director of the MCA, who says Rein "endeared herself to everyone" the night she spoke at a fundraiser for the Bella Program.
Legge, who gets six pages and the cover to explore her version of Rein, is interested in her Christian faith, philanthropic efforts, relationship with Rudd and business acumen. While Crabb legs it to The Lodge, Legge's story bookended with a visit to The Block, Sydney's "scruffy indigenous 'hood." So we get Rein The Family Woman (and "shoe fetishist"), as well as Rein The "Communitarian" (as one former employee calls her in Legge's piece) and The Sacrificial Life Partner who won't hear a bad word about her husband ("My role in our life is to love him and support him.").
Both journalists attribute Rein's new physique to her training for "a planned hike up Mount Kilimanjaro later this year". Is this the whole truth, I wonder? Part of me wishes Rein had opened up about the pressure she's felt to play the part of prim-and-trim prime ministerial wife; but she understandably doesn't want to go there. Why should she?
Legge says that she's not keen to "flaunt her new figure", preferring instead to pose in her chair ("our photographer is given short shrift"). Both journalists also reveal that Rudd needs only a few hours' sleep a night to function as the political head of the nation, which, like his daily prayer ritual, has attracted media attention in its own right.
In her search for The Real Therese Rein, Legge speaks to former and current employees, members of her "inner friendship circle", bureaucrats, businessmen, associated charity workers and members of the opposition. Liberal MP Tony Abbott takes the opportunity to have a dig at champagne socialism, euphemism for Rein's personal financial success: "I've been bemused...by Kevin Rudd's Brutopia attack on the Howard government's market fundamentalism given how he's benefited from her enthusiastic participation".
What we get in both pieces is an intelligent and loyal woman who built her own business empire from scratch, only to relinquish part of it for the sake of her partner's political future. Through Legge's piece, we get glimpses into a life "grounded by family and faith"; a woman with a strong sense of social justice and determination shaped by her father's refusal to give into his disability (spinal injury), an encouraging mother and her brother's autism. Through Crabb we meet a woman who's become accustomed to her role as a public figure and first lady. Both journalists have done her justice.
With all her stars coming into alignment – the overseas business deals, the charitable causes, the image aided by her weight loss – Rein is in her element. The hard work and sacrifice appears to be paying off. The PM couldn't hope for a more formidable political ally, or media accessory, than his wife.
First published on The Punch.
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