Thursday, April 2, 2009

Protocol is abandoned as Michelle Obama cosies up to Queen

From the London Times, this story:

Protocol seems to be dispensed with when the Obamas come to town.

When the President and his wife, Michelle, attended a reception at Buckingham Palace, the First Lady and the Queen slipped their arms around each other towards the end of the evening.

It is usually a breach of protocol to touch the Queen. But as the two women stood side by side, chatting about their height difference, she put her hand on the back of Mrs Obama, who did the same for a few moments. Before she departed, Mrs Obama told the Queen: “I really enjoyed our meeting.”

Breaching Royal protocol has left visiting digintaries and statesmen in hot water in the past. When the former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating put his arm around the Queen in 1992, he was branded the “Lizard of Oz”. When his successor, John Howard, was accused of doing the same, a spokesman insisted: “We firmly deny that there was any contact whatsoever.”

The warm conclusion to the Obamas' Royal meeting was matched by the rest of the US President's engagement, which was both informal and affectionate.

Mr Obama had earlier disclosed that the Queen was top of the list of things he likes about Britain, praising her “decency and civility” as important matters to people in the United States.

When they met last night, Mr Obama was heard to say to her: “Thank you so much for having us.”

Addressing the Duke of Edinburgh, he added: “It’s a wonderful honour,” and then described his day. “I had breakfast with the Prime Minister, I had meetings with the Chinese, the Russians and David Cameron,” he said.

Appearing to refer to his jetlag, he won laughter from his hosts as he added: “I’m proud to say I did not nod off in any of the meetings.”

The Duke laughed and asked: “Can you tell the difference between them?” The President waved a hand and joked: “It’s all a blur.”

The 20-minute meeting was held before the reception for world leaders in the Palace’s picture gallery.

The long room, with its arched roof, buzzed with conversation as the politicians, their aides and other members of their entourage chatted.

The Queen held court in the middle of the event, which despite the formality of the setting was designed to be informal. A large number of the Royal Family had joined them, including the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duke of York and Princess Beatrice.

At one point, the Queen chatted for a few moments with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian leader, as a few inches away the French President Nicolas Sarkozy held an animated discussion, through an interpreter, with Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State.

The world leaders sipped white and red wine and champagne in front of Old Master paintings worth millions.

For those who wanted something to eat, minuscule canapes were served by catering staff. The selection included chicken with courgette on skewers, mini Cornish pasties, smoked quails’ eggs, foie gras and tiny rolls of duck filled with melon.

As the drinks reception drew to a close, the politicians were ushered into the Palace’s ornate Throne Room for a group photograph with the Queen to mark the occasion.

A Palace official told the dignitaries to pose for four frames. The Queen then made a quip that made the whole group laugh: “It has to be a happy photo,” she said.

Presents were exchanged between the Queen and Mr and Mrs Obama. The US President gave the Queen an iPod containing a video of her visit to Virginia, Washington, in 2007. In return, he received a silver-framed, signed photograph of the royal couple.

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