From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein - review: A White House story, with shades of Bridget Jones

Philip Delves Broughton
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Beck Dorey-Stein was a part-time tutor at the Washington DC private school attended by the Obama daughters, when she answered a Craigslist advertisement for stenographers. She was looking for a steady wage and health insurance. What she got was six years in the peanut gallery of the Obama administration, transcribing what the President said in his speeches and interviews, and travelling with him and his entourage around the world.

Her account of the experience has already been snapped up by Hollywood, and it’s easy to see why. She’s a twentysomething in the corridors of power, boy-crazed, tipsy and massively self-involved. She has a steady boyfriend but cannot resist a senior figure in the President’s orbit — Jason, she calls him, a charming snake. For most of her time working at the White House she is falling in and out of hotel rooms and beds with Jason, wracked with guilt and eventually jealousy as she finds she is one of several on Jason’s corridor creeps list.

What lifts this from more familiar tales of romantic misadventure is the backdrop. The early morning work-outs in hotel gyms, where Dorey- Stein is pounding away on the treadmill only to find Barack Obama grinning from the elliptical beside her. There is the insider lingo: cigarette breaks are called “bilats”, as it’s often during bi-lateral meetings between the President and another head of state that his staff sneak off to smoke.

And there are adoring glimpses of Obama at staff parties in Washington DC and Hawaii, where he spends Christmas, and during long flights on Air Force One. He is everything his most ardent supporters say he is: charming, competitive, asking Dorey-Stein about her running times, and inspiring in even the hardest situations.

Dorey-Stein is there when Obama sings Amazing Grace at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, after the shooting of nine people during a church service. Even after spending five years observing him, she feels “chills and electricity all at once, a dizzying pride as I think, That’s our President.” And she is just as electrified when Obama invites her onto Marine One, his helicopter, for a ride on her 28th birthday and recalls how he was 28 when he met his wife, Michelle.

The obvious comparisons here are to Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Devil Wears Prada. Dorey-Stein starts out as the Washington duckling. She absent-mindedly packs her underwear in a suitcase which is taken away for security clearance, and has to spend a day trailing the President commando. When the treacherous Jason gives her a vibrator for her 30th birthday, there are tears, running mascara and tequila shots.

But naturally, she ends the book as darned near a swan. She spends a few weeks working for Donald Trump, whom, she writes, manages to get lost even on Air Force One, before escaping to become a writer.

Dorey-Stein is more perceptive than she is funny but she has made an unusually interesting contribution to the groaning shelves of presidential history.

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein (Bantam, £14.99), buy it here.