Pierre’s Pirouette

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth met 12 Canadian prime ministers over the years, starting with Louis St. Laurent (“Uncle Louis”) in 1951, when she was still Princess Elizabeth.

These meetings, always warm in affection, also personified soft power at play. And one did not want to trip up during what was, in effect, a diplomatic dance, did one?

Source: Douglas Ball, CP, from CTV website

Pierre Trudeau took it literally when he did a pirouette behind the Queen in Buckingham Palace on May 7, 1977 during the G7 Summit meeting.

The cheeky moment was famously captured by CP photographer Doug Ball. As he told CTV years later, it all happened so fast that his camera wasn’t even in focus. “I just fired… because I thought it [the G7 Summit] was over.” 

Some people saw PET’s pirouette as harmless fun, while others felt it was insulting.

Whatever it may have been, it was a great photo. 

And, in the hands of two Canadian historians, it was also a metaphor for an insouciant foreign policy that stood in sharp relief to that of Trudeau’s predecessor, Lester “Mike” Pearson.

In their book Pirouette: Pierre Trudeau and Canadian Foreign Policy, Jack Granatstein and Robert Bothwell posit that the pirouette was largely born out of PET’s “flighty” interests in issues beyond Canadian shores. “Pierre Trudeau, we argue, had little long-term consistent interest in foreign policy.”

The pirouette was a turning point, of sorts, in Canadian-British relations. And was a very memorable event in the Queen’s longstanding connections to a country she visited more than any other outside of the UK in her long reign.

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