Edinburgh gives Barack Obama a warm welcome

Barack Obama on the golf course in St Andrews.Picture: PA
Barack Obama on the golf course in St Andrews.Picture: PA
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It was a gaze up at the sun-drenched sky that was to set the tone of the day – when former US president Barack Obama jetted into the Capital’s airport with his trademark smile on his face.

Emerging from a small private jet yesterday casually dressed in a sports T-shirt and dark casual trousers, he made his first visit to Scotland.

Members of the public wait outside the Edinburgh International Conference Centre ahead of the Barack Obama's arrival. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Members of the public wait outside the Edinburgh International Conference Centre ahead of the Barack Obama's arrival. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

He took time to shake hands with airport officials before being whisked off in a cavalcade of cars with blacked-out windows.

And on one of the hottest days of the year so far, the political icon made sure he soaked up not only the sun but many of the country’s most famed delights.

He tried his hand at the home of golf where he charmed delighted spectators – before being introduced to Scotland’s other national drink, Irn-
Bru.

As he practised on the putting green at St Andrews’ Old Course he shouted to the crowd: “I understand the weather is always like this in Scotland. You are very lucky.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell (left) arrive at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell (left) arrive at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Thrilled onlookers started cheering and clapping before Mr Obama took off his hat and acknowledged their applause, raising his cap.

His tense-looking caddy reassured him there was “no pressure, sir” before he was seen teeing off the third.

Keen golfer Mr Obama said: “Well, going by those shots I shouldn’t feel any pressure.” And after his shot, he said: “Oh, that wasn’t so pretty.”

He then took time to wander over to the growing crowd who had been following him round the course and shook their hands.

Half way round the course, in 26C degree heat, Scots tycoon Sir Tom Hunter – who had invited Mr Obama to Scotland to speak at a charity dinner last night – took him to a snack bar for some refreshments. It was here he was introduced to a bottle of Irn-Bru. Pictures emerged of him being handed a sugar-free bottle of the orange drink, but no-one could confirm whether he tasted it.

St Andrews University student Danielle Clark Bryan, 26, was stunned to have met the former White House 
resident.

“I was the first person to shake his hand, he came over and said, ‘How’s everyone? Let’s shake some hands’.”

“You could hear him joking with his friends, it sounded like he’s having a really good time.”

Philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter, who accompanied him round the course, said: “That was the very first time I’ve met him, he was very cool. He was pretty relaxed and spoke to everybody.

“I’m not really someone who gets too excited – I’m on a pretty even keel – but today, yeah, this is an exciting one for sure.”

And last night Mr Obama had a crowd of business leaders and politicians transfixed as he spoke about some of the things most important to him in life, including his mother – and dental floss.

Mr Obama gave people an insight into his life when he addressed a charity dinner at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in aid of the Hunter Foundation, set up by philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter, and the Obama Foundation, established by the former president and his wife, Michelle.

Tickets for tables of 10 went on sale from about £5,000 – with some tables paying far more for the added extra of meeting the former president personally.

Dressed in a black tuxedo, Mr Obama spoke about a range of topics and described how “Democracy was hard” and said “Our way of life is a garden that needs to be nurtured”.

He also told the 1,000 guests his priorities were tackling terrorism and making new economies work for all with increased globalisation and new technologies making it harder for people to get decent wages.

And he said that finding new clean energy and tackling climate change could not be ignored.

He also tackled migration, saying it had to be done “in a way which is compassionate and respectful of the law”.

And, in what could be seen as a stab at his successor, he said fake news was now an issue that had to be watched and that “too many people base facts on their opinions rather than basing their opinion on facts”.

And the room erupted in laughter when he vowed to return to Scotland so that he can try “the full rainy experience” and later said he never gets too up or too 
down “because he’s from Hawaii”.

He also told them how he believed “wisdom comes from unlikely places” and for everyone “there is someone in your life who grounds you – and for me that was my mother”.

And Mr Obama, who spent eight years at the White House, shared a proud moment with the audience when he revealed his greatest achievement was raising his two daughters to become “fine people”.

Asked for his best piece of advice, the statesman – who is known for his beaming smile – replied: “Floss”.

All guests – which included singers, politicians, sports people and business figures – had been banned from using their mobile phones during the event and had been vetted almost a month in advance.

The recent Manchester attack had clearly led to heightened security as more than 40 uniformed police officers guarded all entrances and exits to the centre.

And above flats across the road, two very visible snipers watched over events while a police helicopter circled overhead.

Around 250 people lined the street outside – and several people hung out of Morrison Street flat and office windows – in the hope of catching a glimpse of the global icon, who left them disappointed by venturing in through a back door away from public view.

One of the first to arrive at the venue was comic Kevin Bridges, who was performing at the fundraiser. Asked if he was looking forward to seeing Mr Obama he said: “I’m excited, aye, should be good.”

Annie Lennox and Scots rockers Texas, who were also performing, also avoided the front door as did Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson and Labour leader Kezia Dugdale were among attendees.

Obama fans who had travelled to the Capital captured the mood of the visit when they said that even though they did not see the man, they were still huge admirers.

Jody Mulvey, 20, said: “I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see Obama but I understand after everything that’s going on right now.”

And mother-of-three Rachel Osbourne, 36, of Bruntsfield, said: “He is the king of cool and it is so cool he is here in Edinburgh.”

While student Steven Whittles, of Portobello, said: “For some folk you get annoyed in the city when streets close and you can’t get away, like for most politicians or celebs, but for Obama, well, he is worth it.”

Stewart Kermack, 61, had travelled up from Prestwick wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt his son had bought him on a trip to the US eight years ago.

He said: “I came especially to see Obama. I think he is a great guy and was a very charismatic leader. I have never worn this T-shirt before and was never going to. But when I heard he was coming I had to wear it.

“Am I sad not to see him? Yes. But he was here, in Scotland doing what he does best – inspiring. That’s enough for me.”

The Hunter Foundation has previously arranged for US politicians and actors including Bill Clinton, Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney to come to the Capital to raise money for charity.