Trudeau’s Pirouette

Buckingham Palace, May 7, 1977. Known for his cavalier flamboyance, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau drove sport cars, dated celebrities (of both sexes, it was alleged) and was also accused of using an obscenity during debate in the Canadian House of Commons, to which he oft went wearing sandals. But his most controversial moment was when the photographer Doug Ball caught him spinning a pirouette behind an oblivious Queen Elizabeth during a G7 summit Conference in London, England. “The picture expresses his maverick anti-conformism, his democratic disdain for aristocratic pomp,” noted Ball.

Years later James Coutts, one of Trudeau’s aides, noted that far from being spontaneous, the pirouette, like many other attention-getting gestures, had been planned and even rehearsed by the prime minister: “He planned it hours before because he strongly opposed the palace protocol that separated heads of state from heads of government. The well-rehearsed pirouette was a way of showing his objection without saying a word.”

He was iconoclastic, but maintained good relations with the Great Britain and the Queen, articulating his own vision of federalism, and first balancing, then dismantling Quebecois liberation movements. In a sense, he indeed proved to be a transformational leader he promised to be when he first campaigned amidst a movement known as Trudeaumania — a political equivalent of the paroxysms evoked by the Beatles.

And thus began Canada’s own Camelot Years. He punched above his country’s weight on the international stage, and his staid countrymen, while discomfited by his and his wife’s antics, kept sending him back to 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of the Canadian Premiers which he occupied for nearly 16 years.

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