On the day before Thanksgiving, Colin Powell officiated at George’s inauguration in the President’s private residence at the White House. The couple then raced back to California for a quick turkey dinner before returning to Washington to entertain Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar and his wife, Anna, who were in town for a three-day state visit. After that, the Argyroses found themselves on a plane to Madrid, moving into a home they had never seen.
“Once you’ve been nominated as an ambassador, you’re not allowed to go to the country [until after the confirmation],” Argyros told WWD in her first interview since the appointment. “Generally, you would have quite a bit of time to pack up, but George was one of the last ones approved and wanted to get there quickly, so we just rather went.”
The “very nicely furnished” six-bedroom home, which sits next to the U.S. Embassy in the upscale Madrid neighborhood of Salamanca, came complete with a staff of 14 and plenty of wall space for the couple’s art collection. Thanks to their whirlwind relocation, though, the walls are still bare.
During their first three weeks on the job, the couple entertained all but two nights, including hosting U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and a reception for 600 people. “It’s not as much sleep as I’m used to,” says Argyros, adding that the embassy’s schedule doesn’t embrace Spain’s traditional afternoon siesta. “George will come back around 6:30 p.m. and then our California faxes start coming. Dinner won’t be until 9 and we won’t get back until midnight!”
To prepare for the diplomatic lifestyle, the couple attended a two-week charm school at the U.S. State Department in July, along with nine other ambassadorial candidates and their wives. (Mr. Argyros has plenty of practice in politics: He raised over $400 million for the Republican Party as California’s finance chairman.) A Mrs. Ambassador is expected to help primarily with entertaining, which is, according to Argyros, a full-time job.
She will no doubt draw from her past hostessing duties that came with her husband’s real estate development and diversified investment company, Arnel & Affiliates. “I’ve been a hostess for as long as I can remember, so I know how to give a dinner party from the get-go,” she said. “And I love people, so the chatting comes easy, too.”
But Argyros’s talents aren’t limited to picking the right centerpiece. She’s also a licensed fly-fishing guide in Idaho. The interest sparked over 15 years ago when a male fishing guide left her on the side of a river, after choosing to fish with the men upstream. In Sun Valley, where the couple is rebuilding a home, Argyros has taught a ladies-only clinic for the past six summers.
“I’m as comfortable in a ballgown as I am in a pair of fishing waders.”
Now how many ambassadors’ wives can say that?