LONDON — To celebrate Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States, the famous Madame Tussauds wax museum in the U.K. capital is waiving admission fees for any American on Jan. 20.
As a bit of self-promotion, the free pass ranks with anything that the even more publicity savvy Harrod’s department store has generated in recent years. It also reflects Britain’s general satisfaction with the soon-to-be new American president, who has high approval ratings here. One of the daily tabloids recently featured Obama dressed in a Superman outfit, ready to save the world.
While stories about the transition are scattered throughout the British media, there are at least as many news items in this celebrity-infected culture about Obama’s family, his diet and his sporting habits.
For example, when Obama met with the other four presidents over lunch, the content of the discussion did not get as much ink as the content of the meal, which was served at the Navy Mess and Wardroom. Brits love their working class and nearly any association with it, and eating mess-hall food would qualify, although food from the White House larder might be more uptown than they imagine.
Michelle as a paper doll
Even the somewhat staid London Times jumped on the Obama train with a special section featuring Michelle Obama as a paper doll. Dresses and other wardrobes were available for cutting out and trying on. “Will Mrs. O be a First Lady or a Worst Lady?” asked the headline, implying that her career rests on her choice of clothing.
It’s not news that President Bush is generally disliked; the Guardian ran a special goodbye George section in early January with a cutout Bush mask on the cover and several pages of his gaffes inside, including a photo of his impromptu shoulder massage of a highly startled German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2006.
The British press thinks Bush has a Churchill complex, and Churchill is their icon, not ours. U.K. politicians have their own problems — an international network of pollsters found that the British public has less confidence in its banking system than even Iceland, which is bankrupt — and they tend to shy away from any association with the outgoing president. This week, however, ex-prime minister Tony Blair was in Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bush. This put him in eclectic company, with Dick Cheney, James Cagney, Arthur Ashe, Cesar Chavez and B.B. King. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from that group.
Looked a little uncomfortable
Blair did not speak at the ceremony, which was overshadowed here by the Hillary Clinton nomination hearings, but he did manage to look a bit uncomfortable at the moment of the conferring. “It will strengthen the feeling the British people have about him being Bush’s poodle,” said Denis Healy, the 91-year-old ex-chancellor. And Healy is a member of Blair’s own political party.
Perhaps an encouraging sign came from the current prime minister, Gordon Brown, who had a telephone chat with Obama recently. The local press reported that the two share a love of tennis and may schedule a match someday.
Perhaps they will grab some ship’s biscuit at the Navy Mess when they finish.