The email inviting guests to the ‘snacks & sips & dancing & dessert’ advised them to wear comfortable shoes and practise their dance moves.
Purse-lipped Washington etiquette experts have tutted at the informality of it all, but the Obamas have always been keen to appear accessible, even if the stand-offish reality is somewhat different. The Obamas are the world’s most scrutinised couple at the best of times, but it will be rare to find a guest at the bash who won’t be secretly watching them with particular interest.
Under the headline Obama Divorce Bombshell!, the National Enquirer claims the 21-year marriage has dissolved in a string of ugly fights that were prompted by the Mandela memorial incident (when Barack Obama took selfie at the funeral) and - far more outrageously - Mrs Obama’s discovery that Secret Service bodyguards had been covering up infidelity on her husband’s part.
Mrs Obama, the Enquirer claims, intends to stand by her husband until his presidency is over, at which time he will move back to Hawaii, where he grew up, and she will stay in Washington with their children.
For the moment, they are allegedly sleeping in separate bedrooms after Mr Obama’s attempt to ‘mend fences’ backfired so badly on a recent Christmas getaway to Hawaii that he returned to Washington with their two daughters, leaving his wife behind.
The National Enquirer, it must be said, quoted only anonymous insiders in support of these sensational claims, and is hardly the most reliable source of hard news.
Thin as its story may seem at the moment, might it be on to something again? At least it was right on one point - Mrs Obama did remain in Hawaii. The White House quickly offered an explanation, saying the extended stay had been a birthday present from her husband.
Before returning home on Wednesday, Mrs Obama holed up for more than a week at TV star Oprah Winfrey’s spectacular 12-bedroom house on a mountainside estate on Maui, the second largest of the Hawaiian islands.
Their girls-only get-together was joined by Oprah’s close friend, the TV presenter Gayle King, White House aide Valerie Jarrett and Sharon Malone, wife of the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Oprah has described the estate as a place where she and guests sit on the porch sipping guava cocktails, and ride horses to the top of the mountain to watch the sun go down.
Why would anyone rush back to chilly Washington from such an idyll?
But if the rumours are true, and there were more painful reasons for Michelle’s reluctance to rejoin her husband, this would not be the first time such tensions have apparently surfaced.
Since he was elected President, two books have claimed the couple came close to splitting in their early years together, with Mrs Obama even drawing up divorce papers after deciding his burning political ambition was ruining their chances of domestic happiness.