Andy reviews a special evening full of gems with the former First Lady
Michelle Obama brought the European leg of her book tour for her memoir, Becoming, to London on 14th April in emphatic fashion. Stepping out at London’s O2 arena to Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’, the former US First Lady was met with rapturous applause and a standing ovation from a 15,000-strong audience of mostly women (unsurprisingly, there were very few men in attendance and even fewer white men). Having already failed to obtain tickets for her last visit to London, a somewhat impromptu December 2018 visit to the Southbank Centre, which sold out in minutes following the book’s November 2018 release, I was just grateful to finally be in the same building as Mrs. Obama. I was certainly not alone in my excitement and the audience’s collective enthusiasm was palpable as we hung on to her every word, listening to Michelle reflect on her life as decribed in Becoming.
In the wide-ranging interview, chaired by US late-night television host, Stephen Colbert, who did a good job of injecting humour and bringing necessary levity to proceedings, Michelle delved into all aspects of her life. Much like in the memoir, we are taken on a journey, from Michelle Robinson – the girl from a working-class family growing up on the south side of Chicago – to Michelle Obama – mother, philanthropist and First Lady, and all the trials and tribulations faced on the way.
For the memoir of a former White House resident, Becoming is surprisingly apolitical. Michelle Obama’s aversion to politics is apparent throughout the book – it’s not something she enjoys, more something that was thrust upon her. Although the conversation rarely strayed into political territory, when asked for her views on the current US political climate, Michelle said: “It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and, if we are not happy with the state of things then, in democracies, we have votes. We have to be engaged and we can’t take our rights and liberties for granted because, if we don’t vote, somebody else will.” This was a rather simplistic view that doesn’t tackle a host of political issues, including, for instance, when voters don’t feel represented by the policies of the options at hand. However, Becoming, and this event, are about much more than politics. I urge readers to put their political views on the Obama administration aside as there is something to be learned and inspiration to be gleaned from Michelle Obama’s story of motherhood and family.
Becoming is divided into sections, my favourite of which is “Becoming Us”, where Michelle dives into her relationship with Barack Obama – them meeting, eventually falling in love and how their relationship has evolved. The way she speaks so glowingly about Barack and the peace he brings her is wonderful and you can’t help but admire how pure their love is. Black love at its finest – it’s a beautiful thing! J. Cole should change the lyrics to his 2014 hit ‘No Role Modelz’ from, “I want a real love… that Jada and that Will love” to “I want a real love… that Barack and Michelle love”. All jokes aside, it is refreshing to see the human aspect of a couple that has dominated political conversation for the last decade.
I also particularly enjoyed the sections in which she described coping with the loss of her father and I would recommend those chapters for anybody struggling with bereavement. It’s comforting to know that, somewhere out there, somebody else is going through something similar and feeling what you’re feeling. Obama addressed the crowd’s reception, saying: “I think it’s a testament to how much we all have in common around the world. The fact that people are finding themselves in the story of this little girl, Michelle Robinson, on the south side of Chicago is not a testament to me and my story, but it’s a reminder that we’re OK, folks. We’re going to be OK.”
With this, Michelle perfectly captured the beauty of Becoming. I initially had my reservations about reading a memoir because I wasn’t convinced anybody’s life is honestly interesting enough for me to devote time to reading about. The only (auto-)biography I’ve ever enjoyed is Sir Alex Ferguson’s (I’m yet to read Malcom X’s but it’s next on my reading list) and that’s definitely got something to do with my Manchester United-bias. However, Becoming proved me wrong with its honesty and moments of vulnerability which are relatable for all readers.