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Michelle Obama gaffe: She touches the queen

April 2, 2009 |  8:43 am

I guess we're just a friendly bunch.

First President George W. Bushwinks at the Queen while she's at the White House after ceremonies marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first British colony, in Virginia.

Keepers of proper etiquette upbraided the president, who later made light of his gaffe by saying that her majesty "gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."

Now First Lady Michelle Obama has bent the rules of protocol by touching the queen on the back.


It all started when the 82-year-old Queen Elizabeth, apparently smitten with the 45-year-old first lady, said she hoped they could stay in touch. And then the queen, who has met 12 U.S. presidents and any number of celebrities, broke royal etiquette herself by touching the first lady on the back. So, being an American, Mrs. Obama reciprocated the back-pat.

Buckingham Palace tried to put the event in historic perspective.

"It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection," said a spokesman, adding that he could not remember the last time the queen offered such a public display of warmth. And he archly insisted, "We don't issue instructions on not touching the queen."

Why tell when everyone knows? When  former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating put his arm around the queen in 1992, the tabloids dubbed him the "Lizard of Oz." When his successor, John Howard, was accused of doing the same, a spokesman insisted: "We firmly deny that there was any contact whatsoever."

But the White House issued no such denial Wednesday. And the queen seemed to enjoy the virtual hug. As the Daily Mail put it, "The two clearly took to each other."

If so, the queen is not the only one. With her stunning outfits and warm personality, Michelle Obama continues to wow the often snarky British media, which last swooned over a president's wife when fashion model and songwriter Carla Bruni accompanied her husband, French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Today, the Times of London wrote, "Carla who?"

Some views of Michelle in London.

First Lady Michelle Obama at the G-20 meetings in London 2009 

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama after a G-20 dinner in London April 1 2009 

First Lady Michelle Obama surrounded by spouses of other world leaders at G-20 summit in London 2009

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo (top): Michelle Obama. Credit: Joel Ryan / Associated Press

Photo: President Obama and the first lady after the G-20 dinner. Credit: Steve Parsons / Associated Press

Photo (bottom): Michelle Obama surrounded by the wives of other G-20 leaders. Credit: Steve Parsons / Associated Press

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