The Queen is not known for being affectionate, but Michelle Obama connected with her over a grumble about their painful shoes
The difficulty with figures as famous as Michelle Obama or the Queen is that it’s hard to get a sense of who they really are.
They occupy a remote, almost abstract level of statesmanship that leaves little room for their characters to shine through.
We know what they do and stand for, but not what makes them tick on a personal level.
But now the former First Lady has shed light on her friendship with the monarch, offering a rare glimpse into a closely guarded world.
In a new interview with the Guardian to promote her book Becoming, Obama says that, from the beginning, she was drawn by the Queen’s “authenticity and matter-of-factness”.
“Even in our first meeting, I was able to talk about blessedly normal subjects with Queen Elizabeth, such as the fit of our shoes,” Obama reveals.
This first encounter came about in 2009, when the Obamas attended a royal reception during a G20 summit in the UK.
It was well-documented at the time, because Obama was pictured putting her arm around the Queen, in an apparent breach of protocol.
More surprising was the fact that the Queen, not known for being in any way demonstrative, appeared to return the gesture; with the two women exchanging a brief hug.
In her new memoir, Obama revisits the episode, as she recalls how she and Britain’s head of state connected over their painful heels.
“The Queen glanced down at the pair of black Jimmy Choos I was wearing. She shook her head,” Obama writes.
“‘These shoes are unpleasant, are they not?’ she said. She gestured with some frustration at her own black pumps.
“I confessed then to the Queen that my feet were hurting. She confessed that hers hurt, too. We looked at each other then with identical expressions, like, when is all this standing around with world leaders going to finally wrap up?
“And with this, she busted out with a fully charming laugh.”
I laid a hand affectionately across her shoulder,” she adds.
“I couldn’t have known it in the moment, but I was committing what would be deemed an epic faux pas.”
Faux pas or no, that unscripted moment appears to have marked the start of a strong tie between the pair; and Obama also became close to Prince Philip, too.
“Prince Philip and I spent a lot of time with each other, as the spouses of heads of state often seated or standing next to each other at formal occasions,” Obama reveals, in the Guardian interview.
“Gifted with the perspective of his 90-plus years, he’s got a terrific outlook and sense of humour. They’re both a joy to be around.
“I’d say that’s true for the entire royal family – we all genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, and we still do today,” she adds.