Monday, May 23, 2011

What the Queen could teach the Obamas

I note that Michelle Obama is due to visit the school across the road from the office again. When she first came, soon after they moved into the White House, hundreds of local people waited patiently at the top of Chapel Market to see her. If you know the area you'll realise that it's not the kind of place where people normally turn out for public figures. After three quarters of an hour a motorcade appeared made up of blacked-out vehicles, most of which were duplicates of the one behind. It drove straight into the school gates. The waiting crowd saw literally nothing.

Around about the same time I was walking through Green Park one summer evening when I arrived at the Mall to find that the police had stopped the traffic because the Queen was going from Buckingham Palace to Lancaster House. I waited, completely on my own, on the pavement as a couple of outriders drove ahead of a large limousine with the royal standard on top. It was one of those vehicles which has been designed so that the people outside it can see the people in it. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh smiled at me – not at a crowd but at me – and waved. I smiled and waved back.

All heads of state are equally concerned about security. But all heads of state also have a duty to be seen. It seems the Queen understands this better than the Obamas.


  1. Bet she's a subscriber and knows you from the magazine. I'm off to the Word website to see if I can decipher her code name.

  2. I saw the King and Queen of Spain playing host to President and then just Mrs Clinton in Granada. The royals arrived, wavily through the transparent windows, in a blue Merc - only one model up from a standard Spanish taxi. A flotilla of black-windowed SUVs then rolled, out of which piled at least a dozen Secret Service men speaking urgently into their lapels.

    It wasn't impressive or statesmanlike; it was overblown and ridiculous. The crowd were, literally, shaking their heads in amazement. It was particularly as, in those halcyon pre-9/11 days, the potential for an ETA attempt on the King's life was a far clearer and more present danger than that of any Spanish grassy-knoll-dweller hoping to have a crack at the Clintons.

    After their visit (which was "private") was over, it was revealed for a full week beforehand the FBI had requested and been given a special dispensation from the Spanish Interior Ministry to scour all the sewers running beneath the motorcade route. Just in case, like.

  3. I saw Obama when I was in New York recently. I say 'saw'. The road was closed off on both sides, with police cars blocking every conceivable access to the road by Grand Union Station, an entourage of at least 50 different cars came by, with his armoured, blacked out tank somehwere in the middle. We saw a silhoutte of someone waving. And then he was gone.

    Like you I saw the Queen, being driven down The Mall in a big car where she could be seen quite clearly reading The Daily Mail.

    She looked up and waved and smiled occasionally, but while stuck in traffic - no escort here - she was quite prepared to bury herself in her paper.

    Americans are SO dramatic.

  4. An ex-copper mate of mine was on duty when the Queen visited Richmond to open some building back in the 80s and he told me every public toilet on the route was closed and cleaned just in case Her Majesty got caught short on the way.

  5. Now, if they'd only got out and pushed.....