Who knows what they were talking about? Perhaps President Macron was scolding MBS for missing the hotel’s cooked breakfast by oversleeping. ‘I told you.’ ‘Yes you told me.’ ‘You never listen to me.’ Or perhaps he was instructing him about something altogether more sinister. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is what communications wonks call the ‘optics’ – how the conversation looks to the wider world. In that respect it doesn’t look any more or less toe curling – camp weed Macron giving it the steely-eyed tough guy mere inches from the beard of the Middle East’s current most terrifying despot – than any of the other toe curling moments these kinds summits never fail to throw up. There’s nothing, nothing, like a G20 meeting for seeing what dreadful hams our world leaders are.
Every delegate, of course, is madly excited, which is why they seem such berks. For each of them, being there is as good as it gets – rubbing shoulders as equals in some heavily fortified, god-awful conference centre with the most potent men and women on the planet is the dirty power orgy dream that lurks in every politician’s heart.
Remember Macron’s jostling in last year’s moneyshot – sorry, group photo – somehow finagling his way from the back row down to the front to stand next to President Trump? Or Trump himself unleashing the inner line backer we all knew was in there to bodycheck the prime minister of Monte Negro out of a promising photo opportunity? They behave like this, I think, because they’re absolutely beside themselves and struggling to conceal it. If there were no cameras, I strongly suspect they would from time to time roll around on the floor ecstatically shaking their arms and legs in the air.
Yes, it’s fun to see President Putin and MBS high fiving like Maverick and Iceman at the end of Top Gun – ‘You are still dangerous’ – while Trump, wearing the universal expression of the forlorn cuckold, gazes on by the light switch. But it’s the missed handshakes we live for, like the time Poland’s First Lady left Trump hanging, or the little moments of human fallibility that demonstrate these puffed up decision-makers aren’t really so different to you and I. Who can forget Chancellor Merkel’s eye-roll as Putin launched into a mansplain? Or the forlorn figure cut by Theresa May when none of the other kids wanted to play with her during break time?
For my money, former Italy PM Silvio Berlusconi, he of Bunga Bunga glory, let us all know how seriously we should take these mad political get togethers when he surprised Merkel – a woman it was rumoured he had only recently referred to as ‘an unfuckable lardarse’ – by jumping out from behind a column in Trieste while shouting ‘cuckoo’ at her. He later explained he had learned the gag from the best. ‘She enjoyed it,’ he told Jeremy Paxman. ‘A few days earlier I had been to St Petersburg to visit Putin. Putin hid behind a pillar and did cuckoo to me from behind… When she came to Trieste, I thought of what Putin had done and I basically hid behind a monument and did the same thing. It was funny.’
G20 is a show they put on for us, the little people. We shouldn’t begrudge them it just because they clearly love it so much. If it really is lonely at the top then these occasional jamborees must be succor for the hardened soul. Enjoy them for what they are – one long photo op – but don’t take any of it too seriously. The people there certainly don’t.