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- March 28, 1977
- Vol. 7
- No. 12
Margaret Trudeau's Manhattan Escapade Turns into a Stirring Plea for Freedom
But Canada's irrepressible belle dame sans souci turned up soon enough—and says now she has never felt less lost in all her 28 years. "I know it will blow minds," Margaret says, "but I plan on finding an apartment in New York. I'll commute to Ottawa, so I can still be Pierre Trudeau's wife and the mother of our three children—but I also want to be a working photographer." She came to New York in pursuit of no more sensuous pleasure than that, she says. On the last day of her "ultimate freedom trip," as she calls it, she sat in a deserted Manhattan pub, fished a pen out of her black leather camera-bag and jotted down thoughts for her third-person diary. "Maggie is a lady who insists on freedom," she wrote. "Although she is married to a prime minister, she insists she is married to only the man—not the institution."
To be sure, that sentiment is not news. Born Margaret Sinclair in North Vancouver, she married Trudeau at a flower-childish 22. "He loved that spirit in me," she recalls, "but in the political world I became a closet freak." By 1974 the demands of lower consciousness and higher office had sent her to the couch and even, briefly, to the hospital. But her latest declaration of independence springs, she insists, not from sickness but from health. "All this talk about poor Margaret having another nervous breakdown is nonsense," she says. "At 28, I'm peaking in terms of my own energies. I'm doing my yoga, and I'm eating and sleeping well. I've never felt saner. But working as a prime minister's wife is so boring. I'm just tired of standing at dances and benefits shaking hands with people who do nothing more than say 'hello.' "
The PM has agreed to curtail her official duties (although she made it back in time for a state dinner with British Prime Minister James Callaghan) and is publicly supportive. "If I lost a couple of votes," says Trudeau, "I'm sorry, but I have no intention of fencing her in." Therein, for Margaret, lies the strength of their marriage. "Even though there's almost a 30-year age difference between us," she says, "the only line he draws is that I don't humiliate him."
She admits her latest exploit may have smudged that line a bit. "The controversy started because my trip began on our sixth wedding anniversary," she says. "I've never been one to celebrate anniversaries." But it was her spending the night at the Stones' Toronto hotel after being Mick's guest at their El Macombo Club concert that set tongues clucking. She insists her interest in Jagger was purely photographic—that her attention was focused mostly on Marlon Richard, 8, whose parents Anita and Keith (the Stones' guitarist) recently had been arrested on drug charges. "Instead of cavorting around in hallways, as I was accused of, I spent most of the time building model log houses with Marlon, 10 floors away," she says. "The next day I found him a home and a school and then attended the Stones' second recording session."
Heated speculation subsequently turned feverish when Margaret and the Stones—minus the Richards—rolled off to New York on separate planes. "There was no mucking with Mick," she says. "It was all vile innuendo and suggestion. Fortunately, Pierre has never felt threatened, and there have never been romantic involvements with anybody but him. We both gave up our lovers when we married."
The Trudeaus first met 10 years ago at the Club Med in Tahiti. Margaret was then a student in sociology and political science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. "I swam out to a handsome water-ski instructor, who was busy with all the pretty girls," she recalls. "By his side was Pierre, and for him it was love at first sight. We talked for hours—about Plato, revolution, logic, but there was no romantic interest on my part." Two years later she took a job as a social worker in Ottawa and they resumed their relationship. After a year of secret courtship, they were married and have since had three sons—Justin, 5, Sacha, 3, and Michel, 1.
She was no stranger to politics. Her father, cement magnate James Sinclair of Vancouver, was an MP and fisheries minister, and she and her four sisters campaigned by his side. But by the end of Trudeau's difficult 1974 campaign, the ties that bind had begun to chafe. "Suddenly Margaret, the lovely free lady, was no longer free," she recalls. "I felt used, exploited, trapped. The label 'wife of the prime minister' is like a giant signboard pointing at my head from a Monty Python sketch. But I am not Mrs. Prime Minister. I'm a human being."
Since then, the PM's mercurial mate has made that plain in countless ways—wearing Levi's and a Liberal Party T-shirt on a state visit to Cuba, grabbing the microphone for impromptu toasts and songs at state dinners in Mexico and Venezuela, and showing up at a recent formal White House dinner in a calf-length dress with a run in her pantyhose. "President Carter didn't frown at my short dress," she says. "Pierre said I should wear it. He used not to like me wearing my sexy clothes, but not anymore. If I don't feel like wearing a bra I don't wear one. I'd never let my nipples show at a state function though—I'd be frightened the old men would have heart attacks."
Margaret Trudeau continues: "There's nothing antifeminist about showing a lovely body; it's part of the person you are. I have strong sexual energies—I'm just being myself. Pierre loves me to be good-looking, and he's my number one fan—he has the body of a 25-year-old, and what pleases him pleases me. I don't have a single sheer negligee, but I'll normally wear garter-belt and stockings. I like putting them on. It's a turn-on. I like the ritual."
Since 1974, when Jordan's King Hussein presented Margaret with cameras and lenses worth $3,000, photography has been a passion. "For Christmas," she says, "I gave Pierre a collection of photos I'd taken quietly for the past two years, and he thought they were fantastic. He was as enthusiastic as I was about my going to New York to pursue a career."
The crush of reporters she consequently drew turned her "ultimate freedom trip" into something of a bummer. "It was like being in front of a firing squad with notebooks and microphones poised to kill me," she says. "They're talking about making me their new target now that Jackie Onassis has quietly gone to work." Her retreat was the posh seven-room aerie of friend Princess Yasmin Khan (daughter of Rita Hayworth and Aly Khan), but she braved outings to the Eliot Feld Ballet to see Baryshnikov, to toy peddler F.A.O. Schwarz to prepare for the what-did-you-bring-me-mommy welcome home, and to the photographic studio of Richard Avedon, where she spent five hours watching him work with actress Lesley-Anne Down. There was even time for a shooting session of her own in Greenwich Village—with a stop off for tea in a sidewalk cafe.
When she finally returned to Ottawa, the prime minister's silver-gray limo was idling on the airport tarmac to spare her from the staked-out newsmen. Blue-jeaned and barefoot, she settled into her second-floor sitting room in the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. Three-or four-day working weeks in Manhattan are in her future, and she has two photo assignments abroad in the next two months. "I pray that people will not judge Pierre by my wanting to be a woman," she said, "but I am a free spirit that must survive in a free world. I am not a weirdo, a wacko or an eccentric for wanting to do good, honest work on a day-today basis. I just want to find my individuality. I've had enough of being public property."
January 29, 2015
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