Preident Obama this afternoon addressed members of both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. He is only the fourth foreign dignitary to do so following President Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela and the Pope.
The Hall was packed. I got an aisle seat. This was deliberate as I saw on the programme that the President would leave by the North Door, which meant he would be walking the length of Westminster Hall, so I thought I would get a close-up view. What I didn’t anticipate is that he would shake the hand of virtually everyone sat at the end of of each row, me included. It is the first time I have been introduced to a serving President.
The speech kept everyone rapt, but there was a problem when an MP, sat towards the back of the Hall, collapsed. The doorkeepers immediately went to his assistance. Baroness Finlay of Llandaff – a doctor – was sat next to me, realised what had happened and went to provide medical aid. The Member was then taken out by wheelchair. (Apparently, he will be fine.) Baroness Finlay got back in time for the President walking down the aisle, but she had a problem when he reached us as she wasn’t sure if she should shake his hand – she had not had time to wash her hands since attending to the medical emergency and didn’t want to run the risk of giving the President of the United States an infection!
Sat behind me during the ceremony were Lords Carrington and Heseltine. While we were waiting for proceedings to get under way, Lord Carrington recalled the occasion that President de Gaulle spoke in the Hall. He said translations of the speech were available on each seat before de Gaulle arrived and that when he spoke he did so without notes and said, word for word, what was on the printed script. As Lord Carrington noted, clearly a remarkable memory.