‘Joseph’s my soul mate’
The Labour leader’s wife Michelle Muscat talks about her commitment to family, how she supports her husband and the challenging future ahead. Interview by Kristina Chetcuti.
Michelle Muscat leaves her house at 8am, drops her children off at school and then she’s “choc-a-block” for the rest of the day. In fact we meet in a coffee shop in Cospicua – where she has been doing home visits – before she heads off to pick her five-year-old twins from school at 2pm.
I told my daughters that in the country there’s got to be one boss and the winner is the one who gets most stars
“We’ll go home for lunch, do the homework and some reading, then at 5.30pm I’m out again for the evening events with Joseph.”
Her children are aware that their father, Labour leader Joseph Muscat, is taking part “in a competition”.
“We often meet Dr and Mrs Gonzi at official events and they always wave to them, so for the kids there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them’,” Mrs Muscat says.
Because they see their father on television or on billboards, she had to explain to them what was happening in a language they can understand.
“I told them that in the country there’s got to be one leader and the winner is the one who gets most stars,” she says, as she adds: “I think they like the game.”
For Mrs Muscat, 38, family comes first and it’s a 24-hour job. “I feel that the kids need my full attention, so I work around their schedule.” This includes a lot of chauffeuring around: the morning and afternoon school runs and ballet classes twice a week. She uses the waiting time to catch up on her e-mails or slot in meetings.
She describes her role as “the supportive partner” of the party leader and is aware that people have high expectations of her. “Especially in our party – we never had someone with a partner with an active role.”
She makes home visits, mainly in the south of the island, as well as attending meetings with different organisations. This has been her life for the past five years. “I’ve had to sort of totally forget my own career and focus on supporting Joseph.”
She does not mind kissing her husband in public on stage – a trait increasingly seen during electoral campaigns abroad. “It comes natural, I mean he’s my soul mate… we’re in it together.”
Does Dr Muscat discuss political issues with her? “Yes – sometimes he agrees with me, and sometimes he doesn’t.” Mostly, though she is his eyes on the ground: she meets people “doing normal things” practically all the time. “I meet people at the school gates and in the streets – and I feel it is my duty to tell him what’s happening out there.”
The fact that her children go to an independent private school has helped her to become aware of the different strata of society, she says.
“Everybody has their own realities. Maybe at school I meet certain types of people, over here in Cospicua...” She pauses.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m living in the same country because the realities are different,” she says, as she explains the poverty she witnesses. Which is why there needs to be an overall holistic way of doing politics. “You can’t be just for the workers”.
She feels strongly about the need to empower Maltese women and believes they are not as assertive in their roles as they should be, especially when it comes to jobs. “But considering, I think we’re doing very well. If you look at university statistics more women than men are graduating,” she says.
How does she feel about the efforts to encourage mothers to go back to work, especially as she herself opted to put her career on hold?
“It all goes back to balance,” she says. “I think when the children are quite young you’ve got to be there for them; however, there are different ways of doing that.”
She is a believer in quality time but says routine is very important for them. “I always tell my children: I’ll be back in three hours. And I’ll keep the routine – even now in the campaign.”
Until their children started school, the Muscats spoke to them in English. “The children come with us on our official travels and they are invited to parties at embassies and so on, so we thought it was important for our children to be able to communicate in a common language which was English,” she says, adding that lately she has started speaking to them more in Maltese. Their grandparents however, speak to them in Maltese.
The Burmarrad summer school helped them brush up their mother tongue even more. “Now at school, they told me that they were doing extremely well in Maltese so I’m quite happy that our strategy worked in some ways.”
Mrs Muscat does many things at home herself but must plan given her lifestyle. “I do the laundry during the night and time things so I get it in the drier and then hang it or whatever,” she says.
Her mother helps her out with the house chores and her mother-in-law is the evening baby sitter. She also manages the household budget and home maintenance, although, she quips, it is her husband who pays the bills.
Dr Muscat is a very hands-on dad, she says; however, he does not really have time to do chores. “But at least he does not leave his clothes running around. We’ve got the laundry room and he drops off his stuff there.” That is important for her as it makes her “feel organised and in control” – she does not like clutter or her “house to be in shambles”.
One thing she would like to instil in her children is that “they remain true to themselves”.
“Appearance is what matters most to a lot of people and it shouldn’t be like that,” she says emphatically. “I think we have to emphasise to our children that grooming is a must but keeping up appearances with the Joneses is not.”
How much time does she spend on grooming? “I have my hairdresser and Joseph has his own hairdresser – it’s someone he grew up with actually.” On a daily basis, she does her own hair. “Didn’t you hear about my rollers thing and all the jokes?” she says.
People have been commenting that she looks tired. “And I say: listen I’m not a model you know, I’m a mother, I’m a wife, I’m a person. And I don’t think this is about fashion even though I love fashion and maybe it comes natural to me.”
Does she have a stylist? “No I don’t. Those are all rumours,” she says promptly. She is friends with several people in the fashion industry – Adrian Mizzi, Carina Camilleri, Sue Rossi are but a few she mentions. “They all sort of offered their services but till now I feel like I can make up my own mind.” She mostly shops abroad, or from a few favourite shops in Malta.
Jewellery, on the other hand, is her passion. Her eyes light up when she describes the customised jewellery business she set up with her New York-based friend. The jewellery is then sold online, although she has had to put her input on hold for now. What is her favourite piece?
“Oh, that is the one I had dreamt about!” At my puzzled look she explains further. “In my dream I thought my friend had designed it. So when I woke up I described it to her and she told me she had never done a piece like that, so I went ahead and made it real.”
She is elated that Joseph heeded her advice by including fashion in Labour’s electoral manifesto [pg 129]. “That was one of my ideas and I was happy to see it there – so when I opened it, I was like: Yes! You included it!”
Does she think her husband is perfect? “No, I don’t think there is one perfect person in the world.” The secret of their relationship is that they let each other work separately but know they are there for one another.
When she met him he was already involved in politics. “He was a part-time journalist with Super One, while I was a part-time journalist with Life FM and Radju MAS.”
They argue like any other couple, she says. But they always make it a point to patch up before they sleep, following the advice of a priest.
Their main bone of contention is which film to watch at the cinema. “I like watching romantic comedies he’s more into action movies, although his choice always turns out to be the right one.”
They also make it a point to have some couple time every now and then. “I mean, we’re still young and we try to have a two-day trip alone without the kids.”
If Labour is not elected would that be a blessing in disguise because they would have more family time?
“Listen, for us this thing is not the be all and end all. Our children will always be our priority. We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us so whichever way it goes it’s quite a challenging future.”