Hello, Mr President

Observations on Obamania

His Barackness is coming to town for the G20. But who will be lucky enough to exchange high-fives with President Obama? The White House press office is being tight-lipped about his schedule, which it says will be released as “late as possible” for security reasons.

It is expected that Air Force One, carrying the president and first lady, will land at Stansted Airport in Essex on Tuesday 31 March (it would be bad form for the special relationship if Obama clogged up Heathrow). The president and Michelle Obama will then be flown in Marine One, the presidential helicopter, to Winfield House, the residence of the American ambassador in Regent’s Park. The following afternoon Obama will travel to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. And later that night there will be a dinner, hosted in Downing Street by Gordon Brown, which will be prepared by Jamie Oliver and his apprentice chefs from Fifteen. There are even plans for a reception at the US embassy with Operation Black Vote. Perhaps David Cameron can try to get an invitation to that; so far, he has attempted to hide his disappointment at missing out by announcing that the G20 meeting is a governmental process, so naturally he will not be seeing President Obama. But other admirers – especially those who have helped him in the past – may have better luck.

Among Obama’s most prominent cheerleaders in Britain is his UK publisher, Jamie Byng of Canongate Press, who had the foresight to buy up the British rights to his memoirs in 2006 when he was a little-known senator from Illinois. Nobody was more assiduous in nailing their colours to Obama’s mast than Elisabeth Murdoch. She hosted a fundraising party at her home in Notting Hill last April that was attended by David Schwimmer, Gwyneth Paltrow and Charles Saatchi’s ex-wife Kay; she later hired the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road for a live screening of the presidential inauguration. Other staunch supporters include Joshua Berger, president of Warner Bros UK; the Go founder Barbara Cassani; and Debbie Owen, wife of the former foreign secretary David Owen, who donated the maximum $2,300 to the campaign coffers. But Obama was always sure of a warm welcome here. In the Democrats Abroad UK primary last year, 69 per cent voted for him and just 31 per cent for Hillary Clinton.

Where else will he go? When Jack Kennedy came to England he used to visit Chatsworth (his younger sister Kick had married the Marquess of Hartington) and would look up Lee Radziwill, his sister-in-law. Obama cannot boast such distinguished relations, but perhaps a visit to Berkshire beckons. His bingo-loving stepmother, after all, lives in a council house in Bracknell.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The end of American power