Helle Thorning-Schmidt: “Game of Thrones got me through post-election blues”

The former Danish prime minster on Emmeline Pankhurst, Harry Potter, and Janelle Monáe.

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Helle Thorning-Schmidt was born in Rødovre, Denmark in 1966. She served as the first female prime minister of Denmark from 2011 to 2015 and is the outgoing CEO of Save the Children International. She lives with her husband, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, in London.

What’s your earliest memory?

Reading Hans Christian Andersen with my grandmother for hours, and walking to the library holding my father’s hand, spelling words every time we took a step.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was my mum for the democratic and respectful way she brought up me and my siblings, and her dignity when my father left her for another woman. My heroes now are the girls and women I meet in slums, war zones and refugee camps. They have nothing but will do anything to get an education. Their striving for learning is inspiring.

What book last changed your thinking?

There are so many books out now grappling with our future with technology, artificial intelligence and how our democracy can survive; 21 lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari actually helps.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I am in awe of amazing women such as Emmeline Pankhurst who demanded the right to vote. When I was PM we celebrated 100 years of women’s right to vote in Denmark, which humbled me deeply. Without those brave women, there would never have been a first female PM in any country.

What would be your Mastermind subject?

It’s a hard choice between the functioning of the EU institutions and everything Harry Potter.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Our time is definitely the best, but it would be fun to experience the 1920s, when women got more freedom and you could go to a speakeasy and listen to jazz. Not so great to go through the Great Depression and two world wars though.

What TV show could you not live without?

Game of Thrones got me through my post-election blues, when I had to step down as PM, but the world would not be the same without Sex and the City.

Who would paint your portrait?

British portrait painter Jonathan Yeo already did a fine job: we had so much fun.

What’s your theme tune?

Janelle Monáe, “Tightrope”: marvellous medicine for female politicians, played loud when people try to knock you down.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Pick your battles.

What’s currently bugging you?

That I have to apply for the EU settlement scheme to continue to live in the UK.

What would make your life better?

People should send fewer and shorter emails, with fewer people copied in.

When were you happiest?

When my husband and our daughters, Johanna and Camilla, 22 and 19, are together. Just having dinner with them makes me happy. We have so much fun.

In another life, what job would you have chosen?

My mum thought I should have entered the musical scene.

Are we all doomed?

Not at all. There are a lot of really bad things happening in our world right now, but children have never been healthier, wealthier or better educated than they are today. l

This article appears in the 03 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, A very British scandal