Michelle Obama Recalls the Backlash Surrounding Her Putting an Arm Around Queen Elizabeth
Despite intense public scrutiny, Michelle Obama believes Queen Elizabeth had no problem with the former first lady's warm gesture
Obama recalls her first meeting the monarch in 2009 in her book, Becoming, out Nov. 13, when photos of the women with their arms around each other during a Buckingham Palace reception dominated headlines.
“I couldn’t have known it in the moment, but I was committing what would be deemed an epic faux pas,” she writes. “I’d touched the Queen of England, which I’d soon learn was apparently not done.”
Obama feared that the criticism was distracting from the purpose of her visit with husband, Barack Obama, yet she doesn’t feel she insulted the royal with her warm gesture.
“If I hadn’t done the proper thing at Buckingham Palace, I had at least done the human thing,” she shares. “I daresay that the Queen was okay with it, too, because when I touched her, she only pulled closer, resting a gloved hand lightly on the small of my back.”
The moment stemmed from a simple bond between the first lady and the Queen: their uncomfortable shoes.
“At some point toward the end of the party, I turned my head to find that Queen Elizabeth had surfaced at my elbow, the two of us suddenly alone together in the otherwise crowded room,” Obama writes. “She was wearing a pair of pristine white gloves and appeared just as fresh as she’d been hours earlier when we first met. She smiled up at me.”
- Can’t get enough of PEOPLE’s Royals coverage? Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!
Obama recalled that Queen Elizabeth commented on her height, and the first lady responded by joking her Jimmy Choo heels helped give her an extra few inches.
” ‘These shoes are unpleasant, are they not?’ [the Queen] 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,” according to Obama. “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.”
She continues, “Forget that she sometimes wore a diamond crown and that I’d flown to London on the presidential jet; we were just two tired ladies oppressed by our shoes. I then did what’s instinctive to me anytime I feel connected to a new person, which is to express my feelings outwardly.”
In addition to several more visits between the leaders during Obama’s presidency, Queen Elizabeth has shown her close relationship with the couple more recently. While receiving the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar for an audience at Windsor Castle in July, the Queen donned the American State Visit Brooch. The vintage ornament, a small green flower, was a gift from the Obamas during their state visit in 2011.
The Obamas reportedly hand-picked the personal gift — which featured 14-karat yellow gold, diamonds and moss agate — at Washington D.C.’s Tiny Jewel Box store.