LONDON – Of all the G-20 moments, it was always tipped by those of us in the know as the meeting to watch, because the unthinkable could always happen. And it did.
It wasn't President Barack Obama talking to Prime Minister Gordon Brown about how to bail out the world's economies. Not the nuclear discussions with those tricky Russians either. Nor even what the Axis of Evil might get up to in London (France's Sarkozy and Germany's Merkel, that is!).
|VIDEO: First lady touch, a royal faux pas?|
No. It was a simple touch.
It came when the first lady of the United States of America met the first lady of Great Britain – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of State of the United Kingdom and of 15 other Commonwealth realms. She is our Head of the Armed Forces, Fount of Justice and Defender of the Faith.
The queen's been on the world stage for more than five decades; Michelle Obama for about five minutes – but all of them quite dazzling.
Yesterday she showed Britons why.
It wasn't only President Obama who slayed Britain with his charm. His wife was also successful, standing head and shoulders above the best.
She strode across the plush Buckingham Palace carpet to shake the queen's hand with the kind of courteous informality that characterizes Americans. Unlike the British royals, they don't do "stuffy." And they don't curtsey much either.
The queen – accustomed to pomp and protocol at every step – seemed surprisingly at ease too. She took hold of Mrs. Obama's hand firmly – not her usual end-of-fingertips, don't-come-too-close handshake.
She gave the Obamas a signed and framed photograph of her and her husband Prince Phillip.
In return, the first couple gave her majesty an iPod. Not the most obvious gift for a monarch in her 9th decade, you might think – but then I guess they realized that those little ear-phones are just perfect when wearing a crown.
But there was more to come.
Over centuries those around the royals have drawn up a list of do's and dont's. Among them: Keep your hands off.
Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was dubbed the "Lizard of Oz" by British tabloids when, in 1992, he was photographed with his arm resting on the queen's back. Simply not done, old chap.
|Mark Wilson / Getty Images file|
Queen Elizabeth II gives President George W. Bush a withering look post-wink.
So I hid behind the sofa when I saw Mrs. Obama slide her arm around the queen yesterday.
But then the biggest surprise of all.
The queen returned the gesture, and placed her own arm gently on the first lady's back.
Whatever next? You could almost hear Michelle inviting the queen to come over for a clambake. Another Buffalo wing, your majesty?