In 2009, the New York Observer dubbed Hadley Marie Nagel the “Egghead Debutante.” At the time, Nagel couldn’t believe she had received a four-year scholarship to Johns Hopkins. (“I mean, I didn’t apply for it, so it was totally out of the blue!”) She was the youngest lobbyist in Washington at the age of 17 and founded Americans for Madison, in hopes of giving our country’s fourth president the credit she feels he deserves, among a novel’s worth of additional achievements. (Or a television show: she’s said to be the inspiration for Gossip Girl‘s Serena van der Woodsen, “minus the promiscuity and drugs.”) A year and a half later, famed rich people reporter George Gurley (Observer, Vanity Fair) catches up with Nagel for another ostensibly back-patting profile, this time in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Nagel is still doing very well. Better even!
Like the Observer, the Times describes Nagel as young, beautiful and put-together, as evidenced by her choices in designer clothing. Then, she liked “Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney, Catherine Malandrino, Cynthia Rowley, Marc Jacobs and J. Crew ‘for filling-in pieces.'” More recently it was “a Ralph Lauren blazer, cashmere sweater, jeans and Ferragamo loafers” at lunch in Saks Fifth Avenue, though her wardrobe also includes “a Madame Vionnet gown, Chanel handbags and many pairs of Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo pumps.”
But beyond the superficiality is an ever-expanding resume, rabid ambition and a persistent precociousness:
An only child, she was reading “Great Expectations” by third grade, she said. At 12, she was corresponding with Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University, after becoming intrigued by his DNA research. At 13, she marched into the office of Kitty Gordan, then the upper school director at Nightingale, and announced: “Hello, I’m an eighth grader, I will be here for high school, and I’d like to start a debate team. How do I go about doing that?”
In college, Nagel belongs to the “values-driven” sorority Phi Mu and is writing a sophomore thesis (?) on the War of 1812. She doesn’t go to frat parties. “She is not blowing up, like a lot of kids in college, because of beer,” her “de facto publicist” Susan Nagel, her mother, said.
For color, Gurley’s describes Nagel’s interaction with the author of the Gossip Girl book series. It’s charming:
Cecily von Ziegesar (class of ’88) inscribed a copy of her latest “Gossip Girl” novel: “To Hadley, the real thing. I hope you don’t mind being hassled about being the model for Serena. So, so funny! Sounds like you’re doing a lot more important things than Serena ever did, and more beautiful too. XOXO.”
But the only real insight into Nagel’s personality as an actual teenager — at least as it’s presented to a reporter — comes in a paragraph about how Nagel fills her free time (as if!):
To unwind, Miss Nagel says she watches “crappy” reality shows on her flat screen in the suite she shares with three roommates. She enjoys listening to the Jay-Z song “Empire State of Mind” when she’s homesick. “I love that it’s about making it in New York, about what can you do in New York,” she said. “That’s such a part of my outlook on New York because I don’t think I’m somebody who just sits back and sort of dilly-dallies.”
Just don’t tell her that tune is largely about Brooklyn — she told the Observer she’d never go.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 26, 2010