Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

How warm-up act Michelle Obama stole show from Barack as she mesmerised Belfast

Michelle Obama, the wife of the US President Barack Obama, speaks at Waterfront Hall in Belfast, ahead of the G8 summit
Michelle Obama, the wife of the US President Barack Obama, speaks at Waterfront Hall in Belfast, ahead of the G8 summit
US First Lady Michelle Obama has visited the Wicklow Mountains National Park with her daughters Malia (centre) and Sasha
US First Lady Michelle Obama has visited the Wicklow Mountains National Park with her daughters Malia (centre) and Sasha
McBurney/G8 Barack Obama visit to Belfast 

Pictured US First Lady Michelle Obama embraces Rebecca Johnston (15) from Victoria College Belfast after US President Barack Obama's speech

Pictured date: Monday 17th June 2013
Location: Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX
Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney
+44 7837 685767
liammcburney.com
McBurney/G8 Barack Obama visit to Belfast Pictured US First Lady Michelle Obama embraces Rebecca Johnston (15) from Victoria College Belfast after US President Barack Obama's speech Pictured date: Monday 17th June 2013 Location: Waterfront Hall, Belfast Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX Liam McBurney +44 7837 685767 liammcburney.com

It was meant as a joke – a crowd-pleasing, light-hearted jibe about allowing her husband to join her on big trips.

But the joke wasn't lost on Michelle Obama's enrapt audience who, while excited about the arrival of the main speaker, were left in no doubt over who the real star of the show was.

"I think it would be a good opportunity for me to introduce someone who accompanied me here today," she said to laughter from the Waterfront Hall crowd.

"I let him travel with me every now and then."

The US President himself had to concede defeat before he even began his speech.

"Well, hello, Belfast!," Barack Obama said after embracing his wife whose role had been to introduce him to the city yesterday morning.

"You now know why it's so difficult to speak after Michelle - she's better than me."

And by the end of his rather long speech no one was arguing with one of the most powerful men in the world.

While his rhetoric and aspirational messages were delivered in spades in Belfast (with a few pronunciation fluffs), it was the First Lady's words that will linger longest in the memory.

Michelle's powerful touch with young people is renowned. The mother-of-two sparkled with sincerity and passion as she reached out to Northern Ireland's youth and urged them to be the best they can.

"I have never felt more optimistic. We believe in each and every one of you.

"We are so proud of you," she added, and you got the feeling she meant it.

Michelle spoke of hopes and dreams, hard work, honesty, fairness and education – buzz words sent directly to the hearts of her target generation.

"We always do our best to meet with young people just like all of you," the 49-year-old said.

"In fact, you all might just very well be some of the most important people that we talk to during our visits, because in just a couple of decades, you will be the ones in charge.

"You'll be the ones shaping our shared future with your passion and energy and ideas."

With students' phones held aloft capturing every word, the First Lady gazed intensely from face to face as she recounted the couple's own story of reaching the White House from humble beginnings.

And although she has spoken of this determination many times, Michelle delivered it with undiluted feeling and emotion.

"I never dreamed that I'd be standing here as First Lady of the United States," said the lawyer and writer.

"And I know that my husband never thought he'd be President, either. Neither of us grew up with much money. Neither of my parents went to university.

"Barack's father left his family when Barack was just two years old.

"There were plenty of people who doubted that kids like us had what it took to succeed – people who told us not to hope for too much or set our sights too high."

The American guest also urged young people to step outside "your comfort zone to explore new ideas".

"It's about rising above old divisions. It's about treating people the way you want to be treated in return," she told the mainly teenage crowd.

"You have a fresh perspective that can help you find solutions to age-old problems." Michelle's inspirational address wasn't without fault. She had a pronunciation fluff of her own and her much-discussed bangs have now grown to an irritating length to hang over one eye.

But it's churlish to point out minor things when such magic was sprinkled on a young audience who went home believing that nothing stands in the way of their dreams.

It wasn't just the young people of Belfast who fell for Michelle.

Twitter – that modern barometer of the younger generation's chit chat – saw her name trend worldwide, alongside Northern Ireland.

Barack himself didn't get a look in.

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