LONDON — She was not bemused.
Queen Elizabeth, whose life is defined by royal protocol, didn't appear to flinch when Michelle Obama seemed to depart from it. Thursday's papers in Britain delighted in a grainy photo from a gathering Wednesday at Buckingham Palace showing the American first lady with her arm around the queen.
Touching the royal person is normally a no-no. When former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating did it, in 1992, the obstreperous British press dubbed him the "Lizard of Oz."
But the queen wasn't fazed by the first lady's affectionate gesture. In fact, the British monarch had apparently slipped her arm around her visitor's waist first, leading Obama to lay hers briefly across her royal hostess' shoulders.
"We don't issue instructions on not touching the queen," said a royal spokesman who asked not to be identified because of palace policy. The Associated Press reported that he said he could not remember the last time the queen had displayed such public affection with a first lady or dignitary. "It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection."
The Times of London splashed the photo on its front page and gushed, "The queen and the first lady seal a new special relationship."
Inside the paper was a similar shot of President Obama with his arm on the back of Prime Minister Gordon Brown as the two men left a photo op at 10 Downing Street. That may have been a friendly gesture too, but at least one British commentator grumbled that it seemed Obama was ushering Brown out of his own room.