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The British Ambassador's Wife, Pulling Double Duty

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

There they are! Washington got a rare peek Monday at the new British ambassador, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, and his wife, Julia. He's a career diplomat who served as Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser, but she's the one with the really interesting job: The internationally respected doctor (worked for the U.K. government and the E.U.) just landed a position at the Food and Drug Administration.

It's rare for an ambassadorial spouse to work at all, much less for the U.S. government. Lady Sheinwald (known professionally as Julia Dunne) is employed in the FDA's office of pediatric therapeutics; the Oxford-trained physician specializes in testing and regulation of children's medicine. "We feel very fortunate for the international expertise Dr. Dunne brings," said OPT Director Dianne Murphy. The ambassador's wife is working part time; Murphy would not comment on her salary.

Lady Sheinwald declined repeated attempts to discuss her dual roles; an embassy spokesman said there would be "no comment whatsoever."

Through 28 years of marriage, the Sheinwalds have cultivated a low profile despite high-power careers, but their new posting has made them de facto (if reluctant) Washington celebrities from the moment they arrived in October. The two were warmly honored Monday at a dinner hosted by the local chapter of the venerable English-Speaking Union, the group that traditionally introduces new U.K. envoys to fellow Anglophiles. The evening at the City Tavern Club, chaired by board member Willee Lewis, also paid tribute to outgoing director John Andrews and incoming ESU head Mark Olshaker.

So, why so press-shy? Maybe -- oddly enough -- because Lady Sheinwald has been so successful in her own career, which is a rarity in her husband's world. "For a long time, diplomatic spouses couldn't work," said Lawrence Dunham, former assistant chief of protocol at the State Department. That began to change in the mid-'80s, when the United States negotiated treaties that allowed Americans to work in foreign countries and vice versa; the U.S. and U.K. have a special agreement that fast-tracks qualified workers.

Today, the process is fairly routine: After the State Department verifies their status, embassy spouses can apply to the INS for work permits. Hundreds are employed in the private sector (a few for the feds), pay taxes and waive diplomatic immunity when it comes to their jobs. Lady Sheinwald is unusual only in her professional résumé and the profile of the British Embassy. At least one other ambassador's wife in Washington (Dunham declined to name her) held a job with the feds.

The reason most ambassadors' wives don't have careers? They're too busy working at their unpaid gig: all those dinners, receptions, openings and other must-dos that come with representing their country. "The role of spouse is a full-time job," said Dunham.

Another Strike Casualty: The VF After-Party

The Academy Awards haven't -- yet -- been canceled or pared down to a limp Golden Globes-style news conference, but the long-running writers' strike has already taken a toll: Vanity Fair announced yesterday that it's scrubbed its annual post-ceremony party, a glitzy favorite of star-watchers and stars alike.

Cutting too close to the caterer's deadline? No, said the mag's spokeswoman Beth Kseniak: " Graydon [Carter, VF's editor] talked to a lot of people in L.A.; this was just not the right year to throw a big party. It's not like life is going to return to normal immediately" even if the strike is settled tomorrow. "We'll be back next year."

Mellencamp Music for McCain? Like Paper & Fire

Die-hard Democrat John Mellencamp wasn't asking John McCain to stop playing his songs at campaign rallies -- just trying to, you know, shame him a little. And, hey, it seems to have worked!

In an e-mail this week to campaign manager Rick Davis , Mellencamp's publicist suggested McCain should find the singer's rousing classic-rockers like "Pink Houses" and "Our Country" to be an "embarrassment."

"Mr. Mellencamp identifies very strongly with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and was supportive (with these same songs!) of the candidacy of John Edward . . ." wrote the singer's rep, Bob Merlis, adding that wife Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp was a delegate at the '04 Democratic convention. "Are you sure you want to use his music to promote Senator McCain's efforts?"

Asked about the Mellencamp oeuvre, a McCain rep told our colleague Juliet Eilperin: "We're not playing it anymore."

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