An inside guide to Obama's UK visit – barbecues and all
What will be on the menu when the US leader and family dine at No 10 this week, and which First Lady will be better dressed? Who else will Barack Obama be talking to? Jane Merrick provides all the answers
Sunday 22 May 2011
As President Barack Obama arrives in the UK on Tuesday for his first official state visit – after a pilgrimage to Ireland tomorrow – we offer our guide to the talks, walks, power and glamour we can expect over the next week.
One-on-one becomes three
President Obama will hold brief talks with David Cameron on Tuesday before a detailed bilateral discussion on Wednesday, when Libya, Afghanistan and Iran will be high on the agenda. The US President will also "pay a call" on the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, likely to be in his House of Commons office. But while Mr Miliband, who hopes his call for an optimistic "national mission" has echoes with President Obama's own campaign for power, gets the crucial one-on-one "face time", Nick Clegg is not getting any such meeting. Aides denied this was a snub, insisting he would have been entitled to 15 minutes at the Palace in his role as Liberal Democrat leader, but preferred to join the official 90-minute talks with the Prime Minister.
There will be photo opportunities, state banquets, gift-swapping and important political talks. But the item on the President's itinerary that has everyone buzzing is his address to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, the 900-year-old building which has witnessed the trial of Charles I, several coronations and the lying-in-state of the Queen Mother a decade ago. Only a handful of foreign leaders have addressed both Houses in Westminster Hall, including Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela and Pope Benedict XVI. White House officials made clear this weekend that this would be the main "anchor speech" of the President's week-long visit to Europe, so we can expect a good 'un.
Flotus and Samcam
Both Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron were on last year's Vanity Fair Best-Dressed List, so there will be plenty of interest from fashion observers this week. It is a racing certainty that one, or both, of the political wives will wear an outfit by Kate Middleton's wedding dress designer, Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen. The "wives programme" features a barbecue for service veterans and families, but the First Lady will make her own personal mission when she takes 35 pupils from the all-girls Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington, north London, to Oxford University for mentoring sessions and a tour of campuses. Mrs Obama wowed the schoolgirls with a speech during a visit in 2009, when she told them to "be the best that you can be". She will hold a question-and-answer session with the teens.
The good burgers of Downing Street
Samantha Cameron will throw a barbecue for the First Lady in the Downing Street garden. The PM and President will be in attendance, but this is Sam Cam's gig. Downing Street aides are nervously looking at the weather forecast in case the driest spell for decades suddenly ends in a torrential downpour, giving the Obamas a taste of the traditional British barbecue experience. But, weather permitting, locally and ethically sourced burgers, sausages and marinated ribs will be on the menu. Unlike every British home in the country, it is not expected that Mr Cameron will stand, tongs in hand, swearing loudly as the coals fail to light. British and American troops and their families are also invited to the party.
No 10 aides remained tight-lipped about what present Mr Cameron will give to his counterpart, saying only it would be "thoughtful". When they first met in July 2008, the then Opposition Leader gave the presidential candidate a box of CDs, including The Smiths The Queen is Dead. On Mr Obama's first visit to the UK as President in April 2009, Sarah Brown bought M&S Autograph T-shirts for the First Children, Malia and Sasha. Now the girls are approaching their teens, will Sam Cam give them each her personally designed Nancy Bag from Smythson?
The odd couple
In every drama there is always a subplot. When Gordon Brown met President Obama, it was his youthful foreign secretary, David Miliband, who entertained the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton – and their rapport was plain for all to see, sometimes spilling into the openly flirtatious "mutual shoulder squeeze". Now Mr Miliband (D) is a distant memory, and William Hague is there to fill the gap. In past meetings, their body language has been open and friendly, but the chemistry has never quite been there. They have the chance to make up for this in talks which begin tomorrow, before the Obamas arrive in Britain.
Show me the Moneygall
The President and First Lady begin their tour of Europe tomorrow when Air Force One lands in Ireland, following in the footsteps of the Queen, who made a highly successful visit last week. President Obama will make a speech in Dublin and visit Moneygall, a village of 300, where his great-great-great grandfather on his mother's side came from. The White House describes the homage as a "homecoming of sorts" and says the President is "very excited to see this small town in Ireland in which he has roots". The President personally traced back his roots, we are told. Expect headlines referring to "O'bama".
The bottom line
Happily, the Obamas will have loads to talk about with their royal hosts. The Queen, who is hosting a state banquet in their honour on Tuesday evening, can show the couple her Blue Queen French beans in the Buckingham Palace vegetable garden, inspired by Michelle's own in the White House grounds. President Obama and the Queen can compare notes about their trips to Ireland. Everyone will wait to see if the First Lady once again pats the Queen on the bottom. Speaking of which, they can also talk about the royal wedding, which, it is understood, "fascinated" President Obama. They are also expected to meet the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, although Pippa Middleton is unlikely to be invited.
Yes we Kan
What else is on the Obamas' European tour? After leaving the UK on Thursday, the President will travel to Deauville, France, for a two-day G8 summit, where world leaders will discuss Libya and the Arab Spring, Afghanistan, Iran and the European economic crisis, before travelling to Poland on Friday. President Obama's Middle East speech last week, in which he called for Israel and Palestine to revert to pre-1967 borders, is also expected to come up. He's holding a one-to-one meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, during which Mr Obama will pledge strong support for his country following the tsunami.
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