I spend most days writing for TIME, for the magazine, for the web, for that infernal Twitter thing. Today, I spent the day writing for Michelle Obama’s pool, which meant traveling around London and writing dispatches about the first lady’s day mostly on my Blackberry, not for public consumption, but for the dozens of news organizations that have traveled to London with the president. It was quite a day, hampered only by serious sleep deprivation.
Once upon a time, the general public would never see pool reports. But these are new days, and these things now get published online with some frequency. What’s more, I have a power reporters didn’t have a few years ago. I can publish whatever I want on Swampland, which is, among other things, a bottomless news hole. So as I sit down at my hotel in London to watch the President’s press conference and write a more formal news story on the first lady’s European adventure, I figured I would just post publicly my day’s product, warts and all. After the jump.
While the G20 leaders meet near the old docks, the G20 spouses are being hosted for a morning of minging, music and other entertainment at the Royal Opera House by Sarah Brown.
Your pool was led to the lobby of the Royal Opera House, a modestly gilded cream-colored room with a burgandy carpet and cherubs in the plasterwork on the wall. Guests began arriving just after 9:30 a.m. GMT.
Michelle Obama walked in a about 10:03. She was wearing, in the humble, considerably uninformed opinion of your pooler, a rather unconventional turquoise outfit, with a billowy skirt, matching low heels. The top, which was described as a cardigan, was cross hatched with white, black and burgandy fabric in a kind of rough pattern that looked youthful enough to be found on the racks at Barney’s COOP rather than the more stuffy racks at Saks. The ensemble was made by Jason Wu, a young designer who made the first lady’s inaugural gown. She wore pearls around her neck.
Sarah Brown wore a midnight (or dark navy) blue knee length skirt and top by “her favorite designer” Graeme Black, according to her press staff. She wore a simple necklace, of a dark pendant, by Pippa Small around her neck. (Your pooler wonders if anyone will ask POTUS who made his tie today.)
Brown stood in the lobby and greeted each woman as she arrived (full list of attendees below, with sked of entertainment). The women each paused briefly for photographs, before heading upstairs for mingling. Cookies. were served. And bottled water. And wine. (D’Arenberg The Olive Grove Chardonnay McLaren Vale, South Australia 2007; Loredona Monteray County Pinot Noir California, USA 2006). Though it did not appear that most of the G20 spouses were partaking when your pooler got a glimpse into the closed press event.
In addition to the G20 spouses listed below, Maggie Darling, the wife of UK Chancellor of Exchequer Alistair Darling, attended.
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, also came. She was set to do a reading from her work, The Tales of Beedle and the Baird, your pooler was told by UK press aides.
Notably absent on this list are the two first men of the G20, the husband of Germany’s Merkel and the husband of Argentina’s Kirchner. (I do not know if either are in London.)
Your pool is holding in an antechamber while the spouses mingle.
Following is a UK press release describing the attendees and programme:
Sarah Brown is hosting a visit for the G20 spouses to the Royal Opera House. During the visit they will hear /see excerpts from opera and ballet, as well as a reading by JK Rowling.
Below is the programme of music (and the performers)
The programme will be introduced by Mariella Frostrup.
Those attending are:
2.Ms Therese Rein — Australia
3.Mrs Laureen Harper — Canada
4.Mrs Margarida Barroso — European Commission
5.Mrs Gursharan Kaur — Republic of India
6.Mrs Chikako Aso – Japan
7.Mrs Kim Yoon-ok — Republic of Korea
8.Mrs Margarita Zavala — United Mexican States
9.Mrs Svetlana Medvedeva — Russian Federation
10.Dr Pimpen Vejjajiva — Thailand (ASEAN)
11.Mrs Emine Erdoğan — Republic of Turkey
12.Mrs Michelle Obama — United States of America
13.Mrs Ban Soon Taek — United Nations
Chance to Dance
Extract from The Firebird
Music Igor Stravinsky
Final Movement from Dépouillement
Choreography Will Tuckett
Music Sonata for Violin and Cello by Maurice Ravel
Dancers Hugo Côrtes, Chantelle Gotobed, Jade Hale-Christofi, Sarah Kundi, Cira Robinson and Jazmon Voss
The Royal Opera
‘Da tempeste il legno infranto’ from Giulio Cesare
Music George Frideric Handel
Libretto Nicola Francesco Haym
Soprano Danielle de Niese
Piano David Syrus
The Royal Ballet
Duet from Dances at a Gathering
Choreography Jerome Robbins
Music Frederyk Chopin
Dancers Yuhui Choe and Johan Kobborg
Piano Paul Stobart
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
First Movement (Allegro) from Concerto for Two Violins in A minor RV522
Music Antonio Vivaldi
Soloists Vasko Vassilev and Sergey Levitin
Violins Peter Schulmeister and Melissa Ball
Viola Andriy Viytovych
Cello Christopher Vanderspar
Bass Tony Hougham
The Royal Ballet
Duet from Infra
Music Max Richter
Dancers Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood
The Royal Opera
‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’ from Das Land des Lächelns
Music Franz Lehár
Libretto Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner
Tenor Ji-Min Park
Piano David Syrus
Pas de six from Giselle
Choregraphy Marius Petipa
Music Adolphe Adam, revised by Joseph Horovitz
Production Peter Wright
Dancers Ricardo Cervera, Bethany Keating, Iohna Loots. Ernst Meisner, Fernando Montano and Laura Morera
Piano Henry Roche
More to come, I’m sure.
The G20 spouses, henceforth to be referred to as the G20S, were led into a large room with an arched glass cieling adjacent to the main opera house chamber.
The G20S sat in the front row of three rows of chairs, facing a large black dancefloor and a black curtain. FLOTUS sat near the middle of the group, her legs and hands crossed, occassionally glancing at the program as the event got under way.
The program began with the reading by Rowling. (I am advised that the title of the book, which was noted in last pool report, was inexact. In your pooler’s defense, the title was verbated and spelled by a UK press aide. But your pooler recommends googling exact title and spelling before reporting.)
The performances are quite impressive, though given your pooler’s meager cultural knowledge and blackberry-typing technical limitations, your pooler is struggling to describe it all in any detailed way. Classic ballet, opera, a seven-piece string ensemble, and a more contemporary form of ballet-like dance all seem to be represented.
Also, your pooler apologizes for various mispellings in the last pool report, as well as an alarmingly unprofessional use of the first person.
The strings are playing now, at 11:20 gmt. They make your pooler think of running joyfully through a green field. The G20S all seem to be enjoying, though your pooler can only see the backs of their heads.
After the initial set of performances, Sarah Brown had all the performers come on stage. “I think I can speak for all the G20 spouses when we say thank you so much,” she said. “In this difficult time with the difficult summit taking place down the road, you remind us all about the part that culture plays in keeping us all alive.” The G20S gave the performers a standing ovation.
Then the G20S moved into the main opera house hall, where they watched a brief performance from Giselle by the Royal Ballet. According to a program available in the lobby, “Giselle is the quintessential Romantic ballet and one of the greatest and most popular works of the dance canon, at its heart is a story of betrayal, heartbreak and the power of love over death.” (Run-on sentence sic). This performance was closed press.
Afterwards, your pooler was ushered backstage with the still photographers for a group picture of the G20S, on stage with the opera house seats in the background. The prearranged order of spouses from left to right (from photogs view): UN, Japan, Canada, India, USA, South Korea, England (in center), Mexico, Russia, Turkey, EC, Australia, Thailand.
Michelle was by several inches the tallest of the G20S. As they stood on stage, FLOTUS chatted with Harper of Canada. “I’ll never be on this stage. This is my one and only chance,” said Harper, smiling and looking excited. Your pooler could not hear what FLOTUS said, but she was also smiling. Her cardigan, seen more clearly now, also had a stripe of sequins. Very fashionable. And far less conventional and far more adventurous than the other G20S.
The group was joined for more photos by dancers from various countries carrying small flags of the G20 nations. The Giselle performers also joined them on stage. “Everyone looking this way. Looking really happy,” called out one of the photographers. The G20S largely complied.
The G20S then moved to lunch, which was closed press. According to a menu, the offering was: “wild mushroom stuffed free-range chicken, rocket linguine, lemon and parmesan dressing.” Dessert: “mocha mousse cup with honey crunch; white chocolate beignets with sour rasberry dip; biscotti bruschetta topped with semi freddo and vin santo blueberries; cheese and biscuits.”
Since there were no more open press parts to the event, your pooler was at this point led away from the opera house to hold outside the school in a different part of London that FLOTUS will visit this afternoon.
Your pooler plans to make inquiries about events at the lunch and will pass on any details if they are forthcoming.
FLOTUS delivered her only prepared remarks of European trip at a girl’s school in London Thursday afternoon, at one point getting choking up with emotion during the delivery. Transcript coming from WH. Details below.
But first, some details from the closed press lunch today with the G20S. According to FLOTUS aide Katie McCormick-Lelyveld, Michelle Obama sat next to Mrs. Harper of Canada at the lunch, but she had a chance to speak with all of the spouses. Some of the conversation focused on upcoming events when world leaders, and spouses, might be gathering. At the end of the meal, Mrs. Medvedeva of Russia rose, and with the help of an interpreter, thanked all the other women for coming.
Then Obama returned to Winfield House for some downtime. She arrived around 3 p.m. GMT at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School. The first signs of her arrival were here-come-the-Beatles-like shrieks of delight from the street outside, where between 200 and 300 people had gathered, according to McCormick-Lelyveld. (Your pooler was already inside.) She arrived with Jean LeBaron, the wife of the U.S. Embassy’s Charge D’affairs in London.
About the school: According to documents compiled by the White House, 90 percent of the students are from minority ethnic backgrounds. Two thirds speak English as a second language. There are 55 languages spoken at the school. It is what Americans would call a “public” school, meaning it is primarily government funded. No ethnic group makes up more than 21 percent of the student body, which is almost 1,000 girls, ages 11 to 17. More than 200 remarkably behaved students sat patiently for nearly two hours in the auditorium waiting for Obama’s arrival. For much of that time the recent movie version of Mamma Mia was projected on the wall, allowing the girls to intermittently groove to old Abba hits, as sung by middle-aged actors. There is a dress code at the school: grey sweaters and skirts, black tights, flat shoes. Roughly ten percent of the girls in the auditorium wore Muslim headscarves.
The shrieking continued when Obama was introduced to the auditorium. She was welcomed by the school’s head teacher Jo Dibb, and took a seat on the right side of the stage with LeBaron to watch a series of presentations by the students, several of which were quite good. The program started with a solo performance by a talented young lady, who it was announced had already been accepted into an arts school to further her music. The song had a chorus with the phrase “There can be miracles when you believe.” Then a group of students came on stage and with the help of a Powerpoint-like presentation explained the “learning to lead initiative,” which included student-directed efforts at fundraising, and communications work. That was followed by a brief set of student-acted scenes from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with swords and a wine bottle as props. (The drama was disrupted at one point when one of the actresses accidentally crushed the fake boulder that was also on stage as a prop.) This was followed by a series of solo and group dance performances. One dance was set to “I Am Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. The senior choir was the last act, with a rousing rendition of a song called “I’m going all the way.” It had a funky groove, and Obama rocked her head to the beat and kept time by rocking her foot. After the song ended, Obama slapped the hand of the young soloist. The girl literally hopped with excitement, and then held her hand to her mouth, as if to hide a blush. The students presented LeBaron and Obama with gifts. And then Obama spoke, at a podium decorated with two vases of sunflowers. She took the microphone out of its cradle and held it in her hand.
A full transcript is forthcoming, but here are the phrases captured in the notebook of your pooler: “Wow, I can’t follow that. . . . I am just very touched . . . . My husband–you know him. He is going to be very jealous of my afternoon. . . . He is meeting with important people, but it is not as much fun as my afternoon. . . . There are diamonds like this all over the world [speaking of the school]. All of you are jewels.” At around this point, the girls said collectively “Awww.” It became clear that Obama was getting emotional, her voice beginning to crack. So she turned to her prepared remarks, alternatively reading off the podium and looking out into the crowd. She said that this was her first foreign trip as first lady and she was glad she had come to England. She said she had enjoyed her time with Sarah Brown.
“I’m honored to meet you,” she said to the audience. “The future leaders of Great Britain and this world. . . . Nothing in my life’s path would have predicted that I would be standing here” as the first African American first lady of the United States. “I was raised on the south side of Chicago. . . . I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by the people around them.” She told a version of the story of her courtship with POTUS, yielding lots of giggles from the girls. “He talked about the world as it is and the world as it should be . . . . You are the women that will build the world as it should be. . . . We need equal access to education for both boys and girls. . . . By getting a good education you too can control your own destiny. Please remember that. . . . I liked getting A’s. I liked being smart.” She told the story of the HMS Resolute desk in the Oval Office. “We are counting on every single one of you to be the best that you can be. . . . We know you can do it. We love you.”
With that she ended, and an extended hug-fest began. As she had spoken, 24 girls from the choir that performed the last song had remained on stage. She hugged each and every one of them, some of them multiple times. Then to the apparent surprise of the Secret Service, she moved to the front of the stage, and the unusual discipline of the audience broke down as the girls rushed forward to get hugs. Obama, at some points on her knees, on the elevated stage to reach the girls below, spent several minutes giving out hugs.
Then she waved goodbye and left the stage. And the girls, now visibly excited, and several of them shrieking with delight, filed out of the room.
And because I know someone will ask, No, FLOTUS did not change her outfit from this morning. And it still, in your pooler’s inexpert opinion, looked funky, oddly elegant and cool.