LONDON – The morning after Barack Obama's election triumph, the front-page headline in Britain's Metro newspaper read: "The Day America Became a Little Bit Cool Again."
As Obama was sworn-in as president 3,600 miles away today, there were few signs of such widespread ardor waning in London.
Morning newspapers vied for the best coverage of an event that hadn't even occurred yet with The Independent devoting no fewer than 23 pages to the looming inauguration. Tuesday's Guardian came complete with a section featuring Obama's "finest" speeches.
|Jason Cumming/ msnbc.com|
|Emma Betsy, 21, left, and Whitney Calvert, 24, right, celebrating Obama's inauguration at a London pub.|
How Obama could – or couldn't – change the world was practically the only topic being discussed on Britain's talk-radio stations, while the BBC devoted much of the day to events in D.C.
But in a society where many people don't need an excuse to enjoy a pint, the sheer number of pubs showcasing a uniquely American piece of political theater was perhaps the best illustration of how Obama has captured the imagination of many Britons.
It was anything but business as usual at the Texas Embassy Cantina, near Trafalgar Square. The American-themed bar-restaurant was packed with hundreds of loud, passionate revelers, including many Britons who'd fled work early to witness history on big screens.
Victoria Scott, 29, may be a supporter of the U.K.'s right-leaning Conservative party but she wasn't unhappy at the thought of George W. Bush leaving the White House.
"I can't help but think of the phrase, 'Things can only get better,'" she said. "If Obama does half of what people think he's going to do it'll be fantastic.
"He's certainly going to be better than the last one. Apart from the wars and Guantanamo Bay, I could never get behind anyone who mangles the English language like Bush did."
Wende Guastamachio, 54, formerly a California-based lawyer, was dressed to the nines in preparation for an inaugural ball and vowed her night would involve "eight years of deferred partying."
"This is just a celebration of so much," she said. "Being in London, I finally get to feel good about being American. British people used to say to me, 'You're okay but your president is an idiot.'"
|SLIDESHOW: Worldwide celebrations for Obama's inauguration|
Whitney Calvert, 24, who is originally from Peoria, Ill., likened watching Obama's speech to key moments in U.S. history.
"Being abroad you see it's not just the U.S. excited about a change," she said. "It surprised me how much about the election was on television over here and all day long there's been stuff on the inauguration on the BBC.
"I'm not sure whether people would be as excited if they weren't so upset about the previous administration and the things that happened. A lot of Europeans hate Bush."
Dance studies student Emma Betsy, 21, from Northampton, admitted she never imagined the U.S. would elect an African-American president in her lifetime. But she added, "He's only one man, he can't change the world. Change is not going to happen overnight."
'Hope he can live up to expectations'
At the Sir Paul Pindar pub on the edge of London's City financial district, dozens of business-suit-clad workers gathered in reverential silence around screens usually reserved for soccer matches.
When the sound of a ringing cell phone broke their spell, dirty looks were shot at the Blackberry's suddenly sheepish owner. Applause rang out across the bar as Obama finished by simply stating "God bless the United States of America."
Carroll Carter, Jr., head of sales for a financial technology firm, was among those mesmerized by Obama's words. "If you argue there's only one superpower left, he's a man who's representing the world," he said. "Obama's set the bar high, now he's got to jump over it. We have to pull together as a world. The challenges are not just American challenges but global challenges."
Nigerian-born Viviennisi Adeboye, a 28-year-old IT professional, described Obama's speech as "a captivating and emotional moment." She added, "America believes so much in him and Obama believes in them. I hope he can live up to expectations."
'American beer, pretzels and cheerleaders'
Elsewhere, some normally free London venues were seeking $25 cover charges as they hosted inauguration parties targeting both British fans and the 250,000 expatriate Americans who reside in the U.K.
The Tricycle Theatre in the traditionally Irish Kilburn area of the capital promised "American beer, pretzels and cheerleaders" as it broadcast the inauguration on a full-sized cinema screen to a sell-out crowd.
Democrats Abroad U.K. was hosting a $150-per-head inaugural ball at the ritzy Royal Lancaster Hotel. The group was also holding a luau party – complete with limbo contest – about 50 miles away in Cambridge.
And Madame Tussauds' wax museum, which last week added an Obama figure to its collection which already boasts icons like Elvis Presley, Tom Cruise, David Beckham and Ronald Reagan, was allowing anyone with an American passport to dodge the usual $36 entry fee.
Even the bookmakers got in on the action, taking bets on what color Obama's tie would be as well as whether words and phrases including "John McCain," "Hillary Clinton," "credit crunch" and "Britain" would feature in his speech.