Michelle Obama: The funniest and most inspiring quotes from her ‘Becoming’ London book tour

The former first lady discusses falling in love, facing adversity and breaking royal protocol

Katie O'Malley
Monday 15 April 2019 14:10
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Michelle Obama says The Queen has 'wonderful intelligence and wit'

If you’re in need of some words of wisdom from a feminist legend today, look no further for your education than Michelle Obama.

On Sunday evening, the former first lady sat down with The Late Show host Stephen Colbert at London’s O2 Arena to discuss a range of topics following the ground-breaking success of her autobiography Becoming last year.

Speaking to 15,000 attendees in the audience, Obama opened up about the pitfalls of social media and the early days of her relationship with her husband, former US president Barack Obama.

Reflecting on the moment she met the former politician for the first time, the 55-year-old said: “He was coming in already with this sort of sense of wonderfulness."

During the evening, she also shed light on how she often struggled to adapt to her role as a public figure during her time in the White House and raise her daughters in the limelight.

Here are all the best quotes from "Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama."

On her concerns over social media

With over 12.4m followers on Twitter and 29m on Instagram, Obama knows all too well the dangers of social media.

During her conversation with Colbert, she warned the audience: “We have to be a lot more sceptical about social media and the Internet – we have to do a lot more work and be willing to be a lot more vulnerable with one another."

Reflecting about meeting individuals who spoke ill of her husband and her during their time in the White House, she added: “Don’t read about your neighbours on Twitter. Somebody can talk into your ear about the person living next to you – and they can feed you lies and misperceptions.”

While she acknowledged the power of social media to galvanise and open up the world to young people (“They’re seeing and experiencing a diversity and clarity that we can’t take away”), she encouraged attendees not to forget the importance of interacting face-to-face with others.

“Put down the phone and start knocking on doors,” she said. “People can never be as mean to you to your face as they would be online.”

On meeting Barack Obama for the first time

During the hour-and-a-half discussion, Obama – who wore a Stella McCartney black jumpsuit for her appearance – shed light on her 27-year marriage to Barack Obama.

“My impression of Barack started before I met him,” she said, recalling the moment she learned the former president was joining her law firm Sidley and Austin in Chicago, US.

“He was the talk of the firm; this kid who wasn’t even a lawyer – who hadn’t finished law school and was a first-year associate. He was coming in already with this sort of sense of wonderfulness.”

Admitting she was initially sceptical about his talents, she added: “When you’re used to white people underestimating black people and being surprised when they can talk straight, you become sceptical of what their idea of fabulous is.”

The former lawyer later added that she was surprised by how impressed she was by Barack Obama the first time they met.

“So imagine if you have this picture of this nerdy guy who the white partners think is fabulous. I had to call to give him directions. And he answers the phone in his Barack Obama voice like ‘hello it’s Barack Obama.’ And – ladies – that voice is pretty sexy. That voice didn’t go with the picture – it was smouldering. I could tell he had more flavour than I thought.”

On falling in love

Opening up about her admiration for her husband, who served two terms in the White House from 2009 to 2017, the former first lady said it was his kindness for others that melted her heart.

“I fell in love with him – the way he treated people,” she admitted.

Former US First Lady Michelle Obama during a book tour for her memoir, Becoming, at the London O2 Arena

“Not just the partners in the firm, but I was impressed with the way he spoke with everyone. He was funny, he was self-deprecating, he was the first attorney or somebody in law school that wasn’t thinking about how much money he could make as the partner of a firm, he was literally thinking about how he could use that degree to help theirs.”

On breaking royal protocol

During the evening, Obama recalled the moment she visited the Queen in April 2009 with her husband and was criticised by the British media for placing her arm around Her Majesty.

Reflecting on accusations that she had broken royal protocol, the Chicago-born former lawyer said she had no regrets when it came to her interaction with the Monarch.

“What is true among world leaders is that there are people who handle protocol, and usually the people they're representing don't want all that protocol.

“So you wonder, ‘well who are you doing this for because they don't want it, we don't want it?’.

“But it's just the way things are. So I don't know that I could have done anything differently because it was a natural human reaction.”

Obama later added that following the scrutiny, she reconsidered how she should greet individuals in the public eye.

“I learned over the course of my time on the international stage to see that either hold my hands together tightly or behind my back to sort of kind of just make sure I was thinking before I reacted naturally.

“But in that moment, no. That was absolutely the right thing to do, because it was the human thing to do.”

On the Queen’s “wonderful intelligence and wit”

Speaking about her admiration for the Queen, Obama described the 92-year-old as “wonderfully warm and funny”.

“And she's elegant and kind and considerate in really interesting ways,” she said.

The mother-of-two recalled gifting the Queen a pin during a visit to the UK and becoming overwhelmed with emotion that the royal had chosen to wear the accessory for an event hours later.

Queen Elizabeth II poses with U.S. President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle Obama and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace ahead of a State Banquet on May 24, 2011 in London, England

“In the gloriousness of that outfit that she had on she put on the little bitty pin we gave her,” much to the audience’s glee.

She added: “And I did the same thing, I was like 'You wore the pin', and she just said "mmh hmm yes".

“That was my experience. That has been my experience. That kind of warmth and graciousness, and intelligence and wit. I like her.”

On bringing up her daughters in the White House

On the subject of her daughters, Malia and Sasha, Obama gave a sneak peek into how she and Barack learned to adapt to their children becoming young women in the White House.

As Obama and her husband were unable to teach their children to drive due to security concerns, the former first lady said that her eldest daughter, Malia, was taught by their protection officers at a secret service driving range.

Obama recalled the moment Malia returned from her first driving lesson with a security agent.

“It was a trip mum,” Malia told her mother, according to the former first lady. Obama added that her daughter was told to “floor it” during the lesson, joking that learning to stop a car at high speed appeared to be a top priority for Malia’s agents-turned-driving instructors.

Obama also added that “everything was a just a little more extra” when it came to maintaining a normal lifestyle for her daughters.

While sleepovers and chores were the norm, Obama joked that she often had to warn children’s parents that there would be a security agent positioned outside their home if Malia or Sasha had a sleepover at their house.

“There’s a man sleeping outside of the door with a gun, can you let him use the bathroom every now and then?,” she said, recalling her conversations with children’s parents.

On dealing with negativity

Having had every word she’s uttered in recent years “dissected and taken in”, Obama revealed she knows the importance of paying close attention to the way you speak to people.

“Negative words have a lasting impact. We have to understand, as adults, we have the power to lift up kids or crush them,” she said.

“We have an obligation not to lose faith in the possibility of being better. We have to do it for our kids. They deserve a world that is full or hope. It's our job to do a better job to give our kids a better sense of what is possible.”

On changing the world

At several moments during the evening, Colbert opened up the floor to questions from Twitter, with one Obama fan asking the former first lady “How can everyday people make big changes in the world?”

Obama replied: “A lot of people think change can only happen on the big stage. There is no one who has a monopoly on kindness and truth.”

On Trump being the US' "divorced dad"

Not one to mince her words when it comes to politics and the current US president, Donald Trump, Obama gracefully cmpared the former entrepreneur as being akin to a “divorced dad”.

While she did not mention the billionaire property developer by name, she alluded to the numerous indictments levied against the president, adding: “For anyone who had any problems with Barack Obama, let’s just think about what we were troubled by – there were never any indictments."

Comparing the US with Trump in the White House to being a teenager, she noted: “We come from a broken family, we are a little unsettled.

“Sometimes you spend the weekend with divorced dad. That feels like fun but then you get sick. That is what America is going through. We are living with divorced dad.”

On remaining true to herself during Barack’s presidency

Obama, who left the White House two years ago, said that while her family’s life had been “normal” before entering the White House, she said they quickly had to learn to “adjust to the rarefied air of politics” when they arrived in Washington in 2009.

“We were always ourselves – the presidency does not change who you are, it reveals who you are,” she added in what appeared to be another dig at the current president.

“It is like swimming in the ocean with great waves. If you are not a great swimmer, you are not going to learn in the middle of a tidal wave. You are going to resort to your kicking and drowning and what you knew how to do in the pool.”

When asked how she managed to keep going during the hardest times of her husband’s role as president, Obama said: “Every step of the way there was always someone telling me that I was talking too loud, dreaming too big. And I had to learn that I could either succumb to that and wither away or I could say ‘I’ll show you’.”

Obama also opened up about every detail about her being picked apart during Obama’s campaign trail leading up to his presidency.

“The parts of the campaign when I realised that I was part of the game – and people started attacking me,” she admitted. “Attacking my voice, attacking my appearance.”

During that time, she said one particular critic of hers found her senior thesis (“something I wrote as a child and pitcked it apart for the world to see”) which she admitted “hurt”.

“I had to steady myself in it,” she said of coping with the constant criticism. “I thought if I’m not going to be an asset to my husband then let me get off the campaign trail – I don’t want to be the reason that he’s not elected.

“If you don’t get control of your image and your message and your voice then someone will do that.

“That was an important lesson for me to learn.”

On life after the White House

At one point, Colbert asked the interviewee whether she watches the news on television.

Laughing, the former first lady responded: “When I am not able to deal with it, I turn it off. I only let that stuff in when I’m ready.”

Reflecting on how she’s learning to adapt to life after her role as first lady of the US, she said that “spontaneity is gone”.

That said, Obama revealed she’s still able to enjoy going to the cinema and working out in public, despite her high profile status.

Candidate for the U.S. Senate Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) holding his daughter Malia with wife Michelle and youngest daughter Sasha (R) celebrate his victory with supporters over Repulican rival Alan Keyes November 2, 2004 in Chicago, Illinois

“We have to go in senior hours,” she said of watching films at the cinema. She told the audience that “Monday at 2pm” is the best time of day to go to the cinema, where there are “old women and a guy asleep”, and that the experience is the closest thing to having “you own personal theatre”.

The avid gym-goer, who regularly hosted fitness boot camps on the lawn at the White House, also revealed that her go-to workout class in London is Orangetheory Fitness in Islington.

On building strong young girls

As a strong advocate of championing young women’s education, careers, and rights, Obama said she is often questioned how society can help build strong girls.

“Often [there are] times we look at who are the female role models,” she told the audience.

“But for me – looking at my father, all he could give us was his love but what he gave me as a girl was the first sign of not just being loved but being respected by a man.

“It wasn’t precious or doting love, it was a true ‘you are equal to your brother',” she said of growing up with her older brother, Craig.

“So when my brother was learning how to throw a ball, I was learning how to catch. When he was learning a left jab, I was throwing a right one. I had boxing gloves, he had boxing gloves,” she recalled.

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