Tuesday 11 December 2018

Michelle Obama begins arena tour in talk with Oprah

The crowd of 14,000 roared as the former first lady stepped on to a stage in Chicago.

Michelle Obama is introduced by Oprah Winfrey (Ashlee Rezin/AP)
Michelle Obama is introduced by Oprah Winfrey (Ashlee Rezin/AP)

By Michael Tarm, Associated Press

Michelle Obama began her 12-stop book tour by sitting with Oprah Winfrey before an audience in Chicago, speaking on everything from piano lessons and washing socks to crying the day her family moved out of the White House.

The crowd of 14,000 roared as the former first lady stepped on to a stage at the sold-out United Centre event, which felt part talk show, part political rally and part rock concert, complete with 35-dollar (£27) T-shirts emblazoned with her face and the title of her just-released memoir, Becoming.

Family pictures of Barack Obama and their children flashed on a screen over her shoulder as she spoke.

When I got on the plane, I sobbed for 30 minutes. I think it was just the release of eight years trying to do everything perfectly Michelle Obama

During a more than 90-minute conversation in the Obamas’ home city, she never directly criticised Donald Trump. Crying on the plane leaving Washington on Inauguration Day 2017, she explained, had nothing to do with the president.

“When I got on the plane, I sobbed for 30 minutes,” she said. “I think it was just the release of eight years trying to do everything perfectly.”

She told the crowd she turned to her husband, who had just become a former president, and said: “That was so hard, what we just did. That was so hard.” She said she did not mention that episode in her book.

She did not criticise Mr Trump directly at the event despite being outspoken in her book.

She writes in Becoming that his “loud and reckless innuendos” about her husband’s birth certificate stirred people up and put “my family’s safety at risk”, adding: “I’d never forgive him.”

Mr Trump responded last week, saying Mrs Obama “got paid a lot of money to write that book and they always expect a little controversy”. He said he would never forgive his predecessor for making the country “very unsafe”.

When Winfrey, who selected Becoming for her influential book club, introduced Mrs Obama she referred to the divisive political climate, also without directly naming Mr Trump.

“So many people are feeling uneasy… afraid of the impending darkness,” she told the audience. “But you all being here tonight is a testament to the light.”

Becoming describes Mrs Obama’s upbringing on Chicago’s South Side and her transition to college at Princeton University. As she does in her book, she recounted being raised in a family that struggled economically, but with parents who encouraged her to be successful.

When she was a child, she said her father would complain to her mother that she was not teaching her children how to wash socks, because he had had so few socks growing up that he had to wash them and dry them on a radiator himself.

“My mum said, ‘I’m not teaching them how to wash their socks. I’m going to teach them to go to college, so they can buy a washing machine’,” Mrs Obama told the audience.

She also talked about learning to play the piano on a rickety instrument and her surprise at seeing her first piano that was in good condition.

“You mean there are perfect pianos out there?” she recalled thinking. “I didn’t even know about it.”

The memoir, officially released on Tuesday, is already a bestseller. It topped Amazon’s bestseller list throughout the weekend.

The tour will move on to US cities including Los Angles, Washington and Detroit, as well as Paris and London, before ending next month in New York City.

Press Association

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