A dinner jacket for Dave, a tux for Obama: let the feast begin

Mar 14, 2012
Charles Laurence

There's an invite too for another Etonian, Damian Lewis, star of the First Family favourite, Homeland

WASHINGTON and Whitehall are equally confident that Prime Minister David Cameron will be donning his best Jermyn Street dinner jacket tonight for the feast President Obama is laying on at the White House, making sure there's no repeat of his "gone native" gaffe at last night's basketball game when he rolled up in a black polo short and blue jeans, considered a little undignified in Ohio where they expect their world leaders to look like statesmen.

Obama, of course, will be wearing a tuxedo tonight, illustrating once again the old idea of two great nations separated by a common language. Dinner jackets have been known as tuxedos in the States since the Jazz Age when the swells of the upper class suburb of Tuxedo Park brought them in from London for Saturday night soirees.

Language is proving problematic. Officially, we are told, tonight's glittering affair is only an Official Dinner because the term State Dinner could only be applied if the Queen were the guest of honour, she being Head of State. But Washington's State Department says that it is a State Dinner because President Obama is Head of State, and, anyway, he can call it what he likes.

The guest list is kept secret until the last moment in the age of Homeland Security, which makes it all the more ironic that among the first big names to leak was that of Damian Lewis, the Old-Etonian (they're everywhere) star of the counter-terror drama Homeland, which is a big favourite of the Obamas. Lewis blurted out the news himself last week on the Graham Norton Show.

It seems a sure bet that Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville will be on the red carpet, along with newly knighted Sir Jonathan Ive, the British-born design supremo at Apple, and Ulster's champion golfer Rory McIlroy.

But will George Clooney be there to stage a Princess Diana/John Travolta moment by offering Samantha Cameron, who is being billed as a British fashionista, the first twirl around the dance floor? He is in town to testify to a congressional committee on conditions in Sudan, potentially upstaging the elected leaderships.

British folk group Mumford and Sons will be providing the entertainment alongside the American R & B star John Legend, so dancing may be optional.

So far, it is all going rather well. First Lady Michelle Obama and the PM's wife seem to get along just fine, bonding over children and their diets, and the upcoming Olympics. It was nice of the Obamas to make the formal announcement of Michelle's leading the US delegation to London for the Games while the Camerons are in town.

The serious business of how to deal with crises in Afghanistan and the Middle East, yoked in the new term "essential relationship" coined by the PM and the President in their joint article for the Washington Post, will be well out of the way before dinner. William Hague, Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have had talks and lunch.

The drum rumbling ominously in the background came from the Murdoch affair, with the arrests back home of Charlie and Rebekah Brooks.

The American media is showing signs of catching on. The New York Times described Brooks as a "decades-long friend" of Cameron from their days at Eton, while the New Yorker magazine wrote that the relationship between the couple and Cameron reflected the "incestuousness" between Murdoch's News International and the British power elite.

CNN announced that the arrests were a "big embarrassment" which could spoil Cameron's "red carpet moment".

Not, it seems, so far.

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