How they met
George Bush’s memoirs reveal that the film MeetThe Parents broke the ice between the two world leaders.
FOR an American president to bond with a British prime minister over a Hollywood movie is nothing new. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill shared a deep love of the stiff-upper-lip wartime film Mrs Miniver.
But there is something just so horribly perfect about the movie with which George W. Bush is said to have broken the ice with Tony Blair when they first met in February 2001.
According to the president’s new autobiography Decision Points, the Bushes and Blairs settled down to a viewing of the wacky comedy Meet The Parents. This stars Ben Stiller as a young liberal guy with the unfortunate name of Gaylord Focker, coming to meet his fiancée’s mom and dad.
The man he must impress is his future father-in-law, a ferocious former CIA operative played by Robert De Niro, who disconcertingly combines machismo with a bizarre streak of folksy sentimentality. Nervy and overeager, Stiller enters a world of ingratiation and humiliation.
Tony Blair in those days had a full head of dark hair, not looking so very different from Ben Stiller, while Bush had a shorter, greying cut, like De Niro. Blair must have felt every bit the prospective sonin-law on trial in the Bush household, looking to make an advantageous marriage with American power.
Their backgrounds were very different. Bush was once member of the exclusive Skull and Bones club at Yale; Blair was a member of the rock band Ugly Rumours at Oxford, and, like Stiller’s character, was probably uneasily aware of saying the wrong thing.
In the movie De Niro reveals how he loves the song Puff The Magic Dragon, and Stiller makes a misjudged attempt at jokey liberal irony – telling him about the song’s rumoured drug reference. De Niro reacts with hostile disgust and disbelief – just the sort of nightmare culture-clash scenario that a grinning Blair must have striven at all times to avoid.
Like Bush, De Niro’s character adores animals, in this case his pet cat Jinxie, which he embarrassingly fawns over, actually crooning to it, to the tune of What’s New Pussycat?: “Jinxie-cat, jinxie-cat, where are youuuuu?”
Bush was devoted to his dog Spot, photographed with the two men when they went for a walk at Camp David, and was famously pictured making a goofy attempt to salute while cuddling his other favourite pooch, Barney.
In the film, the embarrassment reaches its nadir when Focker’s girlfriend’s parents cheerfully insist on a pool party, and Stiller has to borrow a revealing pair of Speedos.
Poor Blair – thenceforth committed to a foreign policy of someone else’s making – was to be stripped all-but-bare himself. – Guardian News & Media 2010
Male bonding: Blair meeting Bush for the first time was like a scene out of the movie