Obama: Shaking hands with the most powerful man in the world

I felt the power coursing through his veins


Saturday morning saw hundreds of young Londoners pile into Westminster’s Lindley Hall for a Q and A “town hall-style meeting” with the one and only US President Barack Obama.

As one of those who’d won tickets in the US Embassy’s ballot for seats, I joined the long queues snaking through the streets early in the morning. Gun toting policemen surveyed the scene as burly US agents with lapel pins, earpieces and reflective shades kept the crowds in line.

After an hour long queue and a thorough frisking from the Metropolitan police, we were allowed through. Inside, the building was full of Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes.

Celebrities galore thronged the VIP area, with actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Stanley Tucci seated near Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and Apprentice star Karen Brady.

Stanley Tucci and Karen Brady

The buzz began to build as US Ambassador Matthew Barzun came on stage as the President’s warm up act, snapping panoramic pictures of the crowd and speaking of the importance of transatlantic relations. Shortly before half ten the man of the moment came to the stage, to a roar of approval as the crowd clapped him in.

Flashing smiles and oozing authority, he joked of how the British had “burned my house down” in 1812 and spoke of the march of progress throughout history, quoting JFK- “our problems are man-made therefore they may be solved by man”.

The President went on to speak of his affection for Prince George- “he’s adorable”- and the Queen- ‘I hope that I am still such an engaging lunch partner when I am 90” before opening the floor up to questions. Despite waving my arms like a windmill, the President somehow missed me- sadly I’ll never know whether he thinks he could beat Trump in a game of golf.

Photo Credit: Emma Rose Day

Rolling up his sleeves, the President adroitly handled questions ranging from the Northern Ireland peace process and EU relations to American racial profiling and how to achieve change in the political process. In a question on transgender rights, York university student Maria Manir even came out as non-binary, choosing to announce this news to the leader of the free world before Maria’s own family were aware.

Shortly after the hour mark, the President made his move to exit. The crowd rose as one in a standing ovation before a mad scrum ensued as guests scrambled down the stairs to the barriers. High heels kicked, elbows flailed and cameras flashed as the President toured the stage.

As Obama came closer, desperate arms outstretched to shake his hand. Eagerly I held up my iPhone, ready to take a selfie. Reaching our section of the barricade, the President clasped my hand for a second, grinning broadly. I grabbed my phone, all set for a picture with the most powerful man in the world – only to find the bloody thing had died in my hand. And with that, the President gave one last wave and departed the stage to the strains of “London Calling.”