Helle Thorning-Schmidt: five facts about the Danish PM

Thorning-Schmidt captured global attention with Obama and Cameron selfie at Mandela's memorial

LAST UPDATED AT 11:29 ON Thu 12 Dec 2013

DANISH prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt captured worldwide attention this week after posing for a selfie with Barack Obama and David Cameron at Nelson Mandela's memorial service. Critics described the photograph as inappropriate on such a solemn occasion. But the 46-year-old, who was elected as Denmark's prime minister in 2011, has defended the picture, insisting that the day was a "celebration" of Mandela's life.

So what else do we know about the Danish PM?

Early successes

Thorning-Schmidt was not only Denmark's first female prime minister, she was the first female leader of the Social Democratic Party. With two degrees in political science from the University of Copenhagen and Belgium's College of Europe, she worked at the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions and served in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004. She now leads a coalition of the Social Democrats, the Socialist People's Party and the Danish Social Liberal Party.

Lord Kinnock's daughter-in-law

Thorning-Schmidt married Stephen Kinnock, the son of former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, in 1996. The couple were hit by scandal in 2010 amid allegations of tax evasion. Kinnock claimed he was not a resident of Denmark and was therefore not subject to Danish taxes. But Thorning-Schmidt separately declared that he lived in the country "every weekend of the year from Friday through Monday". She later attributed the discrepancy to a "big and sloppy error" and the charges of tax evasion were dropped.

Gucci Helle

Thorning-Schmidt is sometimes referred to as "Gucci Helle" because of her love of designer clothing. The PM once boarded an armed service aeroplane to war-torn Libya wearing a camouflage jacket, stilettos and a bright red Gucci handbag - prompting newspaper headlines in Denmark to proclaim "Helle took her bag to war". Her opponents say her passion for expensive brands undermines the core principles of her socialist political party. However, on one occasion when she was heckled over her attire at a party meeting she reportedly replied: "We can't all look like s***."


Thorning-Schmidt might be prime minister but she still gets star-struck now and then. Last year she spotted her idol Sex and the City actress Sarah Jessica Parker arriving for Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo and jumped out of her ministerial car to say hello. "Hi, I am the prime minister of Denmark. I'm so happy to see you," she said before asking for an autograph. Supporters said the moment showed "she is only human". Others described the meeting as "cringe-worthy".

Helle effect

According to Peter Stanners, a senior journalist at The Copenhagen Post, Thorning-Schmidt is a divisive leader in Denmark who has implemented several challenging policies. These include the introduction of a rule whereby employees must work for 12 minutes extra each day, thus increasing productivity by an hour every week. The approach has led top economists to label the cause of the rise in Danish consumer confidence as the "Helle Effect". She has also taken steps to lower the tax burden for Denmark's rich and to reverse strict anti-immigration measures passed by previous governments. Some critics say she promised a lot in her election campaign and has failed to deliver. · 

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Now go back to the picture and take a closer look at the expression on Mrs Obama's face.

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