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Stars come out for White House dinner honouring Nordic leaders

Published 14/05/2016

Will Ferrell and his wife Viveca Paulin arrive at the White House (AP)
Will Ferrell and his wife Viveca Paulin arrive at the White House (AP)

Hollywood star Will Ferrell and US talk show host David Letterman were among the guests at a White House state dinner honouring the leaders of Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Denmark and Norway.

Ferrell, who has parodied former US president George W Bush on Saturday Night Live, told reporters that his wife Viveca Paulin was born in Sweden as he arrived for what he said was his first White House dinner.

"I hope we don't do anything wrong," he told reporters.

Other guests with Nordic ties were Marcus Samuelsson, the Sweden-raised chef who was a guest chef for President Barack Obama's first state dinner seven years ago, and Joel Kinnaman, a Swedish-American actor who starred in House Of Cards.

The Nordic party was a twist for the White House - state dinners typically celebrate a single head of state. But Friday's affair capped a multilateral US-Nordic summit, a gathering Mr Obama used to laud the Nordic states as model global citizens on climate change, security, humanitarian efforts and economic equality.

Hours later, Mr Obama used the dinner to tease the leaders about their countries' all-too-perfect reputation.

As he toasted the leaders on the South Lawn, Mr Obama promised the night would not deliver any entertainment as crazy as the popular Norwegian television programme National Firewood Night. And he mocked their internal fights over which country is happiest or which is the true home town of Santa Claus.

"These are fierce debates that take place," Mr Obama said, before raising his glass to toast President Sauli Niinisto of Finland and Prime Ministers Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson of Iceland; Lars Loekke Rasmussen of Denmark; Stefan Lofven of Sweden; and Erna Solberg of Norway.

In his toast, Mr Rasmussen noted the region's many gifts to the US - including Scarlett Johansson, whose father is Danish, and Uma Thurman, whose mother is Swedish. Norway, he said, can claim Republican Party strategist Karl Rove. The joke was a hit in a room largely filled with Democrats.

On a more serious note, Mr Obama added his own gratitude for the strong cultural influences the five nations have had in the US, in particular the Danish pastor NFS Grundtvig, whose education philosophy inspired Tennessee's Highlander Folk School, where several prominent civil rights leaders trained.

Mr Grundtvig's work "ended up having a ripple effect on the civil rights movement," Mr Obama said, adding he "might not be standing here" were it not for his teachings.

The White House used the dinner to laud Nordic cuisine, design and even climate.

Instead of sitting around circular tables, the guests dined at wooden farm tables set with white china, crystal candlesticks and soaring ice vases with white field flowers. The sleek white chairs had a clear Ikea vibe. The dinner was held in a tent with a transparent ceiling, giving guests a view of the sky that cleared just in time for the event.

The White House said the decor was meant to evoke the "cycle of northern lights and shadows".

The meal had nods to the modern simplicity of Nordic cuisine, with American twists. Appetisers included salt-cured fish - but Florida tuna, instead of whitefish. The waffles were to be served with chicken. The main course was braised beef short ribs from Nebraska, with creamy dumplings.

Dessert was an homage to the fishing industry in the form of a blue, glowing, edible fishing boat, displayed with elderberry custard pie, raspberry kringle and gooseberry cookies.

First Lady Michelle Obama did not keep up the theme with her choice of gown. She wore a blush-coloured, off-the-shoulder dress by Naeem Khan, an Indian-American designer.

Pop singer Demi Lovato provided the after-dinner entertainment, belting out her songs Stone Cold and Confident.

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