You might have missed the detail in Thursday’s Swimathon announcement by Michelle Muscat’s vanity charity, Marigold Foundation – Michelle will not be measuring her swim this year. Instead, the disgraced former Prime Minister’s wife will be “challenging herself to spend eight to 10 hours in the water”.
The announcement also invites the public to “join her by the sea” at Pretty Bay in Birżebbuġa for the day, marking a change to prior years where only select media were permitted to attend the cringe-worthy annual ‘Swimming Challenge’.
There was good reason for this media blackout in past years. Michelle was embarrassingly exposed last year on Twitter as blatantly overstating her ever-increasing swimming distances – by double!
While this announcement implies that Michelle is perhaps blissfully unaware that she should leave the limelight, the change in format recognises that any further exaggerated swims will only lead to further ridicule.
— BugM (@bugdavem) July 14, 2019
The year the Bubble popped
2019 was not a good year for the Muscats.
In November, former prime minister Joseph Muscat was forced to resign in disgrace after investigations into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination increasingly pointed towards his office’s role in, at the very least, attempting to cover up the murder.
The well-respected OCCRP simultaneously drew the curtains on his future political ambitions by crowning him the ‘Person of the Year in Organised Crime and Corruption’ for 2019, narrowly beating the son of a Congolese president who siphoned off US$50 million from the Congolese treasury.
Arguably though, the carefully crafted bubble of invincibility surrounding the Muscats popped earlier, in summer.
In early July 2019, the undeniable stench of corruption and the steady stream of unflattering reports by international scrutineers finally caught up with Joseph Muscat when he was denied his long-coveted post at the helm of the European Council. The official line was that he “almost” made it, but something happened after that which had not been seen for years.
The Shift called it out and people openly started mocking the “almost” line.
Very close. True. https://t.co/Ns229AhwJP
— Kurt Farrugia (@KurtFarrugia) July 2, 2019
It has been well known as far back as the Ancient Romans, when Augustus Caesar banned jokes about the Emperor, that nothing is more powerful at keeping budding tyrants in check than wit, satire and ridicule, in which murdered Daphne Caruana Galizia excelled.
Five times the charm
It just so happened that on 13 July, only days after her husband’s very public failure, Michelle Muscat was set to take part in a challenge of her own – a 14 kilometre swim.
Since its first edition in 2014, the Marigold Foundation – a charity set up by majority government-owned Bank of Valletta but effectively run by Michelle Muscat – has organised an annual ‘Swimming Challenge’ for its chairperson.
Each event typically followed the same layout – Michelle Muscat solo swims an ever-increasing headline distance ‘for charity’ (from 6km in 2014 to 14km in 2019) accompanied by an oversized entourage of AFM rescue divers, helicopters and boats. The event would end with a lavish party attended by donors and friends.
Caruana Galizia had, as far back as 2015, rightly called this out as “not an act of charity but an act of vanity“.
The swim would only be covered by the national broadcaster, who would unquestioningly report the distance swum successfully. Other media outlets would then echo TVM’s report or other controlled press announcements that Michelle Muscat successfully swam the distance. Long distance swimmers had privately been whispering about the dodgy figures but opted to stay quiet.
The fifth swim in 2019 was different.
Whether it was her husband’s public failure or the Twitter thread that cheekily pointed out that the swim was inexplicably cut short by three hours but the announced length swum was not, or the other that demonstrated in excruciating detail that it was mathematically impossible to fit 14km in the distance that she swam, people finally started publicly questioning the “official” figures.
Michelle Muscat’s “stop stirring controversy” reaction to the questions and her sycophants’ long-winded explanations about how Michelle “mastered various techniques including underwater swimming” and how the currents both helped and hindered her “strong legs and arms”, did not help.
Worse, they invited open ridicule. People finally saw past the curated headlines, self-congratulating advertorials and press releases. As aptly captured by Mark Anthony Falzon, Michelle Muscat’s final distance swim in 2019 became the ‘epic swim that never was”.
It now seems it was the final epic swim that never was. Thank heaven for small mercies.