Queen to roll out red carpet for Obamas

22nd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II will roll out the red carpet for Barack and Michelle Obama's state visit this week, as a special royal relationship flourishes with the US first family.

The Obamas will arrive here on Tuesday as part of a European tour and will visit the queen, two years after they first met and shared an unusually public display of affection.

The 85-year-old monarch and the president's wife were seen putting their arms around each other's backs at Buckingham Palace in 2009, when the Obamas made their first visit to London after his election.

British newspapers debated whether Michelle Obama had breached strict royal protocol -- but that extraordinary gesture now bodes well at a time when the so-called Anglo-US "special relationship" remains uncertain.

And later that year, Michelle and the couple's two daughters, Sasha and Malia, made a private visit to Britain and were treated to more royal hospitality and a carriage ride across the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

Ahead of the visit, Obama spoke glowingly of the warm relationship which he and his wife enjoy with the queen and her husband Prince Philip.

"They are extraordinarily gracious people. They could not have been kinder to us," the president told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

"And then, Michelle and the girls actually visited London again, and went to Buckingham Palace. She could not have been more charming and gracious to the girls. They actually had a chance to ride in the carriage on the grounds.

"I think what the Queen symbolises not just to Great Britain, but to the entire Commonwealth and obviously the entire world, is the best of England. And we're very proud of her."

For this, the first state visit to Britain by a US president since George W. Bush in 2003, no formality or pageantry will be spared by a monarchy that traces its history back more than 1,300 years.

The heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, will personally meet the Obamas at Stansted Airport, north of London, on behalf of the queen on Tuesday.

Charles met Obama in early May during a trip to the United States that the British media said left the US president amazed by how much worldwide attention it received.

The US first couple will then fly by helicopter to Buckingham Palace, where they will stay throughout the trip as guests of the queen.

They will reportedly be housed inside the lavish Belgian suite, named after Belgium's king Leopold I, Queen Victoria's favourite uncle.

The monarch and Prince Philip will greet them with a ceremonial welcome, gun salutes, and Prince Philip will accompany the president as he reviews a guard of honour, followed by a private lunch.

That evening there will be a State Banquet in the ballroom for the Obamas featuring speeches by the queen and the president. The 170 guests will sit at a huge U-shaped dining table.

Prince William and his new bride, the former Kate Middleton, are also expected to meet Obama on Tuesday -- although Clarence House, William's official residence, said it was "too early to say" for sure.

William and Catherine, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are due to visit California in July.

After the political business of talks with Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday, Obama will receive the rare honour of addressing both houses of parliament in Westminster Hall.

Only Charles De Gaulle, Nelson Mandela and Pope Benedict XVI have received the same rare privilege since World War II.

Yet it could be the royal connection that defines this trip even more than Obama's political relationship with Cameron, which is still far from the close friendship enjoyed by Bush with former premier Tony Blair or that of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

The queen has met all 12 US presidents since her reign started in 1952, except Lyndon B. Johnson.

Obama begins his European tour on Monday in Ireland before heading to the British capital. Later in the week he will also meet world leaders at the Group of Eight summit in France and visit Poland.

© 2011 AFP

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