December 12 2013 at 10:58am By PAUL BRACCHI
Her sexy wardrobe (and racy reputation) have earned her the nickname “Gucci Helle” in her native Denmark. It’s the kind of profile you would normally associate with, say, a footballer’s wife, or a model, not a prime minister.
But then Danish leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, 46, who dragged Barack Obama and David Cameron into that embarrassing “selfie”, is not a typical head of state, not by British standards anyway.
How many premiers, for example, when heckled at a public meeting about their wardrobe would have replied bluntly: “We can’t all look like s***.”
Or boarded a military plane to wartorn Libya in camouflage jacket and stilettos, with a bright red Gucci handbag (the headline in one Danish newspaper screamed: “Helle Took Her Bag To War”).
Not surprisingly, her sex appeal, which Thorning-Schmidt seems to have exploited to the full, almost certainly contributed to her electoral success back in 2011. The word most Googled next to her name during the election campaign, it would later emerge, was “naked”. It is not clear, however, if voters expected to find naked photographs of her on the Internet - or simply hoped to.
Danish magazines, meanwhile, claim her looks have been enhanced by Botox. (“Helle Thorning: Obsessed with Botox - see revealing images of the Prime Minister inside”).
Indeed, her career reads like a script from Borgen, the cult Danish political drama screened on BBC Four and featuring fictional prime minister Birgitte Nyborg.
Thorning-Schmidt has often compared herself to her TV counterpart. Certainly, her time in office has been dogged by scandal and gossip about her personal life.
There is a particular interest in Thorning-Schmidt in Britain because she is married to former Labour leader Lord Kinnock’s son, Stephen. Their domestic arrangements are unusual, and the source of some controversy.
Stephen Kinnock is a director of the World Economic Forum and lives in Davos, Switzerland, spending no more than 33 weekends in Denmark, apparently. Under Danish law, his non-resident status allowed his wife to deduct about £40 000 in tax from the mortgage repayments on their £500 000 house in Copenhagen.
But in a recent application to make him co-owner of the family home, Thorning-Schmidt claimed her husband was there “every weekend of the year”.
When challenged she was forced to admit she had made “sloppy mistakes” in filing out her tax returns and her husband was non-resident.
Danish tax authorities later exonerated the couple. But there was further embarrassment.
Their marriage became the subject of intense speculation in the Danish press, with one newspaper raising questions over Kinnock’s sexuality. Confronted with the allegations, Thorning-Schmidt was forced to publicly deny Kinnock was gay. “I can only say it’s not true,” she declared. “It’s so grotesque. It is unpleasant to hear people talk about us like that.”
What was the source of these rumours - apart, that is, from the fact the couple were leading very separate lives?
It was this: their accountant had told the tax officials that Stephen Kinnock was “bisexual or gay” to explain why he did not spend time in Denmark, and was not, therefore, liable for unpaid taxes.
But details of this confidential meeting - and the accountant’s claims - were leaked to the press.
“I admit it that I said it,” the accountant, Frode Holm, said when he was contacted by journalists. “It was a mistake that I am still quite uneasy about today.”
The couple met in their 20s while working in Brussels and married in a civil ceremony in 1996.
At the time, Stephen’s parents were establishing themselves as the gilded couple of the EU. Neil Kinnock was then a European Commissioner and wife Glenys was Euro MP for South Wales East.
“They are very clever, caring people,” said Thorning-Schmidt. “We spend a lot of time with them in Brussels.”
Apparently, they send the glamorous Helle joke text messages whenever Borgen is on TV.
From the very beginning, though, Thorning-Schmidt’s appearance, not just her political credentials, dominated the headlines. She became the country’s first woman prime minister on October 3, 2011.
But it was not long before stories emerged of her expensive tastes. One of her handbags from the luxury British label Mulberry cost between £6 000 and £9 000. Another favourite brand was the exclusive Danish fashion house Winchmann Couture.