When I was 16 I was a nerd. I was preoccupied with my reading and my studies. I also went to ballet every day after school, and I was quite serious about it. I remember clearly my mother coming into my room in the evening telling me I shouldn’t be doing my homework, I should be out with my friends and I needed a bit more balance in my life. She was completely correct, of course. But I was so curious and loved school.
I’d like to go back to my 12-year-old self, moving from Arkansas to the White House, so worried that I’d never make any new friends. My two best friends, both called Elizabeth, came to stay for a week or so during those first months. And for the first time my parents let me have a phone in my bedroom so I could call my friends whenever I wanted. So when I wasn’t doing school work or at ballet, I was on the phone talking to my friends back in Little Rock. We talked a lot. My parents did everything they could to allow me to nurture those friendships through my teenage years in Washington. They were very important to me, and they’re still my closest friends. I was a bridesmaid at both their weddings. We’ve always been deeply connected to each other.
I was never resentful about any restrictions on my life when I was a teenager. I don’t find resentment a helpful or comforting emotion. I always understood that the secret service had a job to do and I respected that and respected them. When I had to have protection I understood why. In fact I was quite grateful to the secret service staff and the way they treated my friends. Particularly the boys, who were fascinated by them. They were always so patient, answering endless questions about training and weapons, and what they would do in all the different situations my friends dreamt up for them.
I watched The West Wing when it came out and I remember thinking I wish politics really operated like that. Especially today. The idea of general agreements over shared goals and intense debate about how to reach those goals. Today in my country we don’t have a sense of shared ends – it’s quite the opposite of that at this precise moment.
- A mass shooting sees 16 pupils and a teacher killed at Dunblane, Scotland
- Braveheart is awarded Best Picture at the Oscars
- Bill Clinton is re-elected as US president
If you met the 16-year-old Chelsea today you’d find her friendly – I was always very friendly. I understood it was my responsibility to help people overcome their preconceptions about me. I wanted to show that I’m not snobbish or hoity-toity. I was a blend of outgoing and quite geeky. I wasn’t shy or reticent, but I was not outwardly confident either. I’ve always had a strong sense of myself inside but I’ve never been brash or loud.