Editor-in-Chief


Monday 8 November

I’d heard rumours that Obama was to be making an appearance; rumours that had started circulating over the weekend but which had so far come to nothing. I did as always and scrolled through the Daily Programme posted by the UN at the start of each morning. Was there anything about him there?

The “Obama remarks” finally caught my eye. 2pm, in one of the plenaries. I wondered if other people had known prior to the publication of the Programme. It was no doubt going to be mobbed: Obama was as much a celebrity as he was a politician (I suppose all American presidents are to a degree) and I was no exception to the fanbase. Sidling up to the information desk, I tried not to seem too desperate asking for details of the event, and requesting my name be put on the list. The secretariat nodded indifferently, pulling out the longest media list I’d seen so far in the conference. I groaned inwardly; to have your name on the list wasn’t necessarily a guarantee for entry, and if they were doing it first-come first-served, judging by the paper she held, I was definitely not gaining access.

"The secretariat nodded indifferently, pulling out the longest media list I’d seen so far in the conference."

Returning to my seat upstairs, I passed the photographer desk. Saying hello, one of them told me there was chat of Obama making an appearance slightly earlier than the afternoon. For what, God knew, but I noted the time and when I saw them prepping to go down, I went with them. 

The crowds in the atrium were already huge - similar to how they’d been at the methane talks. I squeezed myself in next to one of the photographers, ideally - if predictions were correct - exactly adjacent to where Obama was due to come down the stairs. And, if that prediction were true, he’d be only metres away. In terms of the “newsworthiness” of the sighting, it was probably minimal. But at the same time: nothing else was going on (bar side meetings) and I rationalised, rightly or wrongly, that jumping onto where the other reporters were flocking to was all part of the experience. 

There was a tall, balding guy standing next to the stairs. No one dressed in suits bar the ministers and world leaders, generally speaking, but he looked exceptionally casual, kitted out in khaki cargo shorts and mountain boots. He gestured over in our general direction, but waving at no one in particular, and then proceeded to climb over the rope that bounded Obama’s walkway. This did not appear to bode well with the UN security guard who, though a couple inches shorter, was definitely more built, and significantly more intimidating. Following a frantic discussion, he was allowed over to our side, clumsily joining us behind our own roped-off section.

"[He] then proceeded to climb over the rope that bounded Obama’s walkway. This did not appear to bode well with the UN security guard..."

On closer inspection, I noticed he was sweating profusely. Was he just nervous? I wondered. It didn’t feel that warm. He seemed friendly, though, and was certainly adept at talking fluent spiels of nonsense aimed at no one but which perforated the conversations of just about everyone around him. “Can I stand on the desk here?” he asked one of the UN security guards. She frowned at him: “What? On the desk? You? Stand?” He nodded, serious. “To get a better angle; birdseye.” He said it loudly, maybe to show the other photographers his creativity outdid theirs. “If you stand on that desk,” she said, pointing at him with nothing short of malevolent intent, “You will leave this premises, and you will never return.” His smile faded. 

“Where are you from?” I asked, feeling bad for him that hardly anyone had so far responded to his pointless comments. “I’m independent,” he told me. “Here just for me.” I nodded, unsure what “here just for me” meant, but too aware of my own amateurishness to enquire further. I soon discovered what “here just for me” meant, though, when he started avidly selling himself to some Iranian delegates behind me.

“Iran? Yeah, no, not got any pictures of people from Iran yet,” he mused. “Trust me, I’d make them good. What bits of Scotland do you like? Edinburgh Castle -  now that would make a nice backdrop. Aw, hardly a trek. Some nice coastal bits too; I could do you some good ones there. Look - here’s my card. Yeah, no, take it. Honestly - yeah, take it, my number’s there - I’d do a good deal. Anywhere - you name it. The Highlands? Anywhere.”

The guys next to me smirked, and I think we were all trying to contain ourselves at the same thought of this 6-foot-8 sweaty, over-enthusiastic man taking these unwitting Iranian climate ministers on a tour of Scotland for a rural photoshoot during COP. Before much more could be said on the matter, there was a flurry of movement, and one of them motioned to me. “Think that might be them,” he whispered. As he spoke a mass of about ten people started down the staircase in front of us.

"We were all trying to contain ourselves at the same thought of this 6-foot-8 sweaty, over-enthusiastic man taking these unwitting Iranian climate ministers on a tour of Scotland for a rural photoshoot during COP."

The mechanical clicking of cameras was mesmerising. I followed their lead, but with the universal COP26 face masks worn by them all, I felt like I was back playing Where’s Wally. John Kerry was unmistakable at this point - I felt I’d seen him so much over the last week that it was like recognising an old friend. It was just then that I spotted Obama. 

---

Getting into the Obama remarks was, as I’d expected, going to be difficult. The crowd that swarmed the “Media Meeting Point” stretched back miles, and immediately we were told that if our names weren’t on the list there was no chance we were getting in. I had that covered then, at least. Secondly, though, Tim pointed out, somehow managing to simultaneously look all 50 of us sternly in the eye, he only had a limited number of passes for the event. “Once they’re handed out,” he said, “that’s it. Finito. No one else.”

I was maybe only a metre away but my eyesight - as per - failed me as I squinted to double check the list. I was losing hope as names were being called, tickets were being handed out, and I was still empty-handed. “I’ll try and see if you can take a spare of ours,” one of the photographers whispered. Just as I was mid-appreciative nod back, my luck came in. We hurried off to join the rest of the crowd anxiously crowding the outer door. 

We had been assigned a side of the stage each, but I had completely forgotten mine almost as soon as I’d been told it. For that reason, I picked out the photographers I’d met once more, and stuck around them. The process was slowly becoming more familiar to me now: we would stay in the pool area at the stage edges, and then - at whatever time Tim decided was appropriate - we would get to run out, in groups of four or five, to the very front of the stage to get a good shot. This would put us in direct eyeline of Obama and, as I keep saying, only a couple of metres away. I felt like pinching myself. 

Credit: Lucy Dunn

At risk of sounding like I’m just fangirling - if that hasn’t already come across several hundred times - his speech was brilliant. He’s not without his downsides and I’m not going to pretend that politically he's flawless, but he was a fantastic speaker. Whilst Boris tries to engage with the audience by cracking out-of-date jokes and ruffling up his suits to appear more of a family man, Obama was cool, calm and collected. Finding the balance between anecdotal humour and straight-faced commentary, he commandeered the audience expertly. After I’d taken the first few pictures, I sat and listened to the rest - almost annoyed when Tim told us it was our time to go up and get some pictures straight-on. 

One of the Getty photographers I’d been standing next to earlier squinted at my camera, checking the brand. He turned to another guy beside us taking pictures for The Daily Mail. “Hey,” he whispered over to him, as Obama was discussing his daughters’ sustainable shopping habits, “Give young Lucy here a shot of your lens.” 

“Why my lens??” the guy moaned. I thought the first one just meant for him to pass the camera over to me, but the second started unscrewing the 50cm long telescope projecting from his camera. “All Nikon’s fit their lenses,” the first guy told me knowingly. “Right, come on - take it.”

I’d hoped to make obvious the fact I wasn’t a photographer and actually knew next to nothing about the composition of a good picture, never mind the technicalities of expensive cameras. Clearly, I had been unsuccessful. I took the long lens, my hand bobbing under its weight. How on earth does this work? I wondered, at first attempting to somehow stick it onto my already pre-existing lens. Then I realised I’d have to unscrew mine too, something that in the six years of owning the contraption I had never done. 

"I’d hoped to make obvious the fact I wasn’t a photographer and actually knew next to nothing about the composition of a good picture, never mind the technicalities of expensive cameras. Clearly, I had been unsuccessful."

Unscrewing it, I had it loosened, but it wasn’t coming off. It seemed you had to press a button but in the dim lighting, and with what felt like several kilos of professional equipment in one hand, I was struggling. Biting the bullet, I asked the second guy to help. He rolled his eyes semi-jokingly: “You better not break my stuff.”

Having it attached, I raised the camera to my eye. It felt similar to when you use binoculars for the first time: everything is so zoomed in it takes a while to re-recognise the scene in front of you. The detail was amazing, though. Snapping a few, but conscious the guy next to me was actually getting paid for his photos, I passed the lens back after a few minutes. “This costs £15,000,” he murmured to me. “Imagine if you’d dropped it.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Similar posts

No related posts found!