1st Lady charms queen away from protocol

Michelle Obama and the QueenMichelle Obama has done what few others have managed – getting Queen Elizabeth II to break protocol.

The first lady arrived Wednesday with President Barack Obama. After separate meetings on the eve of the G-20 summit, the couple attended an evening reception for world leaders hosted by the queen.

Mrs. Obama clearly made an impression with the 82-year-old monarch – so much that the smiling queen strayed from protocol and put her arm around the first lady in a rare public show of affection.

It was the first time Mrs. Obama – who is nearly a foot taller – had met the queen. The first lady also embraced her.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman who asked not to be identified because of palace policy said he could not remember the last time that the queen had displayed such public affection with a first lady or dignitary.

“It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection,” he said. “We don’t issue instructions on not touching the queen.”

When the 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.” In 2007, President Bush gave the queen a sly wink during a visit she paid to the United States.

The Daily Mail said the “two women clearly took to each other.”

Wednesday’s reception was followed by a dinner at Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Downing Street home, where the leaders’ spouses were joined by notable British women, including “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling and Olympic gold medal runner Kelly Holmes.

“Michelle walks in and she is as she seems,” Holmes told reporters Thursday. “So warm, engaging, a beautiful, beautiful lady – and I quickly got my photo in the middle of her and Sarah Brown,” the prime minister’s wife.

Mrs. Obama also seemed to win over the often feral British press.

The last time a first lady made such a hit in Britain was last year with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife, the former fashion model wife and songwriter Carla Bruni.

But on Thursday, London’s Times newspaper wrote “Carla who?”

The BBC described Mrs. Obama as her husband’s co-star rather than supporting act – appropriate for a Harvard-educated lawyer.

“She seems to be a good role model,” said onlooker Rebecca Smith, who waited outside Buckingham Palace Wednesday to catch a glimpse of the Obamas.

“A strong, intelligent woman, I think she’ll go down very well here,” Smith told the BBC. “Michelle Obama has a strong aura about her, a bit like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.”

Mrs. Obama attended a rehearsal at the Royal Opera House on Thursday with the other spouses and guests. The program included music by Handel and a dance performance by Ballet Black, a troupe set up to give performing opportunities to black and Asian classical dancers.

Wearing a bright blue dress by Jason Wu – who designed her inauguration gown – Mrs. Obama posed for photographs with Sarah Brown, Therese Rein, wife of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso’s wife Chikako Aso, and Laureen Harper, who is married to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the stage of the opera house.

Mrs. Obama had other events in London planned for later Thursday. She visited a cancer center with other spouses Wednesday.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.