Michelle Obama feared a royal faux pas when I put my arm round Queen

Michelle Obama: How I feared a royal faux pas when I put my arm round Queen

  • Former first lady touched the Queen during visit to palace around a decade ago
  • In a new memoir, Obama says the queen had no problem and even moved closer
  • The first rule of royal protocol is that the Queen should never be touched

To some it was an act of sacrilege, the most grave breach of royal protocol – but Michelle Obama believes the Queen ‘was OK’ when she put her arm around the monarch a decade ago.

The former US first lady drew a wave of criticism when she touched the Queen during a visit to Buckingham Palace shortly after her husband Barack became president.

It was thought inconceivable that Mrs Obama would be unaware of the strict ‘dos and don’ts’ of interacting with Her Majesty – with No 1 being that she is not touched.

Former US First Lady Michelle Obama with her arm around Britain’s Queen Elizabeth ll at the reception at Buckingham Palace, London, Britain April 1 2009


Michelle Obama put her hand around the Queen and despite going against royal protocol, the Queen reciprocated the gesture

But Mrs Obama has now hit back in her new memoir by claiming the Queen had no issue with the royal faux pas – and even moved closer in response. 

Not only that, but the warm gesture prompted the Queen to rest her own hand on Mrs Obama’s back.

In her book, Becoming, the 54-year-old writes: ‘I couldn’t have known it in the moment, but I was committing what would be deemed an epic faux pas. I’d touched the Queen of England, which I’d soon learn was apparently not done.

Former US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama pose for photographs with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during an audience at Buckingham Palace on April 1, 2009

‘Our interaction at the reception was caught on camera, and in the coming days it would be reproduced in media reports all over the world: ‘A breach in royal protocol!’ ‘Michelle Obama dares to hug the Queen!’ 

It revived some of the campaign-era speculation that I was generally uncouth and lacking the standard elegance of a First Lady, and worried me somewhat too. But I tried not to let the criticism rattle me.

‘If I hadn’t done the proper thing at Buckingham Palace, I had at least done the human thing. I daresay the Queen was OK with it too, because when I touched her, she pulled closer, resting a gloved hand lightly on the small of my back.’

Former US President Barack Obama (L) and First Lady Michelle Obama (2nd-R) greet Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (2nd-L) and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, for a reciprocal dinner at the Winfield House in London, on May 25, 2011

Her memoir also reveals that when the couple moved into the White House, despite Mr Obama’s job, she would berate him to leave the Oval Office to have dinner with her and their two children.

‘Family dinners; that was one of the things I brought into the White House,’ she reveals during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. ‘That strict code of: You gotta catch up with us, dude. This is when we’re having dinner. Yes, you’re president, but you can bring your butt from the Oval Office and sit down and talk to your children.’

The former first lady said it had been difficult to keep a sense of normality for Malia, now 20, and Sasha, 17, who spent most of their childhood in the White House. 


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During the interview, published in Elle magazine, Mrs Obama said that her husband drove her ‘mad’ by regularly coming home later than promised, making him too late to see their girls before bedtime.

After Mr Obama served nearly a decade as president, the family moved to a new home in Washington, and on her first morning without a White House chef ‘fussing’ over her, she delighted in making her first meal – cheese on toast.

‘So here I am in my new home,’ she told Elle magazine. ‘And I do a simple thing. I go downstairs and open the cabinet in my own kitchen – which you don’t do in the White House because there’s always somebody there going, ‘Let me get that. What do you want? What do you need?’ – and I made myself toast. Cheese toast.’

Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (R) stand with former US President Barack Obama and First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama in the Oak Room at Windsor Castle ahead of a private lunch hosted by the Queen on April 22, 2016

She recently accused Donald Trump of endangering her family by supporting the ‘birther conspiracy’ – the inaccurate rumour that her husband was born in Kenya, so was not eligible to be president. 

She said she would ‘never forgive’ Mr Trump and ‘stopped even trying to smile’ at his inauguration.

Mrs Obama appears on the cover of this month’s Elle magazine, which is on sale today. 

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