Former First Lady Michelle Obama has revealed why she and the Queen put their arms around each other during a G20 summit – they were bonding over their sore feet.
Eyebrows were raised in 2009 when Mrs Obama was seen to put her arm around the Queen’s shoulders during a Buckingham Palace reception, and the monarch responded by putting her arm around the American’s waist as they stood side by side.
But in her memoir Becoming, Mrs Obama said her conversation with the Queen was about a subject on the mind of many women after a long day stood up in heels.
Many publications have reported that at first she was awestruck by Britain’s head of state, who she described as an ‘honest-to-goodness icon’.
But the Queen, who is famed for her humour – which she uses to put nervous guests at ease, commented on how tall the then First Lady was before highlighting how her shoes must be painful.
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
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, where the former first lady says she and the Queen bonded over their sore feet
Mrs Obama wrote: ‘The Queen then glanced down at the pair of black Jimmy Choos I was wearing. She shook her head.
‘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.’
Mrs Obama added that despite their positions, they were just ‘two tired ladies oppressed by our shoes’, and without thinking she put her arm around the Queen in a gesture of bonding.
Michelle Obama put her hand around the Queen and despite going against royal protocol, the Queen reciprocated the gesture
To some it was an act of sacrilege, the most grave breach of royal protocol – but Mrs Obama believes the Queen ‘was OK’ with it.
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.
She wrote: ‘I then did what’s instinctive to me any time I feel connected to a new person, which is to express my feelings outwardly. I laid a hand affectionately across her shoulder.
‘I couldn’t have known it in the moment, but I was committing what would be deemed an epic faux pas.’
However, the warm gesture prompted the Queen to rest her own hand on Mrs Obama’s back.
‘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.
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.