When US presidents and UK prime ministers met for the first time – from hand-holding to ‘political soulmates’

When US president Joe Biden spoke to Sir Keir Starmer on the telephone following his UK election victory, he referenced the “special relationship” between the two countries – and now the prime minister is in Washington DC to cement that bond.

It is a relationship between nations that is embodied by that between the two leaders, and getting off on the right foot can be important.

President Biden is hosting Sir Keir at the White House as Nato leaders gather in Washington for the alliance’s 75th anniversary. He plans to “underscore the importance of continuing to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom”, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Here is how first meetings between premiers have gone in recent times.

When former prime minister Theresa May went to meet Donald Trump, it is likely she didn’t expect to have to call her husband, Philip, to warn him that images of her holding hands with the US president were imminent.

“He held her hand going through the colonnades, which took us all by surprise, and as it turns out, took Theresa by surprise,” Fiona McLeod Hill, the former joint chief of staff at No 10, told documentary maker Norma Percy.

The former PM revealed she was puzzled by his gesture, and admitted she doesn’t know what pushed him to do it.

The pair first met in January 2017, and Ms May was the first foreign leader to meet Trump after his inauguration.

According to a book published by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, Mr Trump asked Ms May: “Why isn’t Boris Johnson the prime minister? Didn’t he want the job?”

Ms Haberman noted that “for May, getting Trump to focus on any issue was impossible”.

Barack Obama’s first term came towards the end of Gordon Brown’s premiership.

The pair met at a time of economic turmoil, shortly after the global financial crisis gripped the world.

In March 2009, Downing Street proudly boasted that Mr Brown was the first European leader President Obama had met.

The then US president insisted that the UK was one of America’s “closest and strongest allies” and vowed to work with Mr Brown to revive the world economy and assist each other with issues on national security.

Tony Blair and George Bush’s first meeting came just months before the 9/11 attack – an event that would come to define UK and US relations.

Mr Bush praised the “wisdom” and “strategic thinking” of Mr Blair in their first meeting in his book Decision Points.

In February 2001, the pair met at Camp David, the US president’s official retreat.

The former president dubbed Mr Blair “a pretty charming guy”, saying: “He put the charm offensive on me – and it worked.”

When a reporter asked whether the two men had forged a personal bond, Mr Bush announced: “Well, we both use Colgate toothpaste.”

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