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22 May 2011

Here comes the president

Five things to look out for as the Obamas come to town.

By Sophie Elmhirst

Barack Obama and his voluminous entourage will arrive in Britain on Tuesday for a three-day state visit. How we Brits love a state visit: the politics, the outfits, the body language, the table plans for the state dinner. Here are five things to look out for:

1. The Speech. The man knows how to give a speech. Barack Obama will be addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, a rare privilege (usually only monarchs or the Pope address both houses). Expect earnest jostling for the front row, and David Cameron doing his finely honed international statesman routine (the hair, keep your eye on the hair: I’m predicted serious work will have been done on that bald spot).

2. The visit to Westminster Abbey. Better late than never. Will Prince Philip and the Queen re-enact the royal wedding for the first couple (who missed out on an invite)? One can only hope.

3. Michelle hugging the Queen. Much was made of Michelle’s brazen abandonment of royal protocol by actually touching the Queen on the last visit. (No one has touched the Queen since 1959! We all thought she was a robot!) This time expect them to high-five their way around the palace, stopping only to take pictures of themselves in photo-booth gurning poses.

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4. Endless articles about Michelle’s fashion choices. In these progressive times, when the first lady is a woman of humour and intellect, the British press will be mostly preoccupied by what she’s wearing. Stripes? Pleats? Biker boots and a ne’er-before-seen tattoo? These are the questions that matter. Expect a never-ending photomontage of her style choices, career fashion highlights and breathless columns on why Michelle really is the first lady of fashion. If that phrase is used fewer than 85 times in the coming days, I will eat my laptop.

5. Too much talk about the “special relationship”. Pundits will be grateful for the open invitation to discuss at length whether the relationship is still special, was it ever special, do we need the special relationship, do they need the special relationship, what does special even mean? Mark my words: this debate will be lucid, ferocious and no less than paradigm-shifting.