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.

39 thoughts on “Trudeau’s Pirouette

  1. “…He created a new Canadian-controlled Constitution and Queen Elizabeth II’s coming to Canada in 1982, to proclaim it was Canada’s crowning moment….”

    …and that, is what P.E. Trudeau accomplished.

    I mean, really, who the heck cares if he did a pirouette, or the Irish jig in 1977 ?
    There was nothing “outrageous” about it.

    • When where you born? Were you even alive in 1977? I think you are looking at his actions from the perspective of one who is jaded and has been bombarded by images from TV and the internet. Back then in the 70s this was a radical move, believe it or not. I thought it was great actually since I was a teen back in the 70s 🙂

    • Actually Trudeau himself commented how impressed he was on the amount of thought and insight the queen offered in private when the matter of patriation came up. I think she probably has taken more interest in Canadian affairs than most Canadians.

  2. This is probably the most famous photo ever taken of Trudeau.The “pirouette behind the Queen” story has been repeated so often that nobody even realizes that it’s just not true. The woman in the picture is actually Princess Margaret – the Queen’s sister.You can tell this by looking at the official photo of the reception. The Queen is clearly in another part of the room wearing a totally different dress.This media inaccuracy was probably more of a source of amusement to Trudeau than the pirouette itself!Oh well, it has been a good story for over 30 years.

    • D griffiths,
      Can you tell me where to find information on that to cite. I never knew that it wasn’t the queen and I am doing a research paper on photography and would love to havea source saying its not the queen!

    • Given I’m just catching up to this site a year after some of these comments were made. I thouht I might point out that the most famous photograph of PM. Trudeau is the photo of him sliding down the banister railing arms held on high 1968 in the Chateau Lauier Hotel in Ottawa, Canada while I was on assignment for WEEKEND MAGAZINE!

      It was shot with a manual focus Leice M4 range finder camera, TRI-X film pushed to ASA 800. This is the first frame, the 2 following out of focus. Besides you only ever need one that is right!!!! 🙂

      Dr. ted Grant……… who shot the picture! 🙂

  3. Sorry, I totally forgot I had even made a comment on this site! I stumbled across the site again the other day. The “pirouette photo” was taken at a Buckingham Palace reception for the “G8” leaders. The official portrait shows that the woman Trudeau had pirouetted behind is not the Queen but Princess Margaret. Who cares really -but it is kind of interesting how something that was incorrectly reported has become accepted as fact.I’ll try to upload a copy of the photo.
    I have a copy of the official portrait but I can’t seem to paste it to this reply. I’ll try again.

      • hi doug how are u ..i have a picture of george harrsion taken by lynn in concert in 1964 just trying to find out more about it..

        thanks terry hurley

      • Hello Mr. Hurley. I would be very interested to see the photo of George Harrison in concert taken by your friend. I Was really enjoying your thread about the history of the Trudeau photos. I studied at Humber. I am a very big photo buff and also a huge George Harrison fan. you can contact me at thank-you so much. (The bannister shot is my favourite.)

  4. I am glad he is dead… now if only his son would hurry up and die. I not much of a monarchist but it irritates me to no end the effect his legacy has had on Canada. Multiculturalism sucks… I think it is Americanism in disguse… I have no stomach for this Harvard educated stooge. Don’t trust anyone from Harvard… their minds are not their own.

    • Dear “Joe Canada” – sadly, your comments ring of a smug arrogance and (doubly sad) ignorance far more disturbing than anything Trudeau ever said or did. His college/university education began in Quebec in 1932 and ended in London in 1948, when he was 28 years old. Less than two years were spent at Harvard (from the fall of 1944 to the spring of 1946) and he left, still evolving and still questioning, after he’d “frequently resisted the Anglo-American liberalism that pervaded it in the mid-1940s.” (Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 22). Multiculturalism is hugely admired around the world, perhaps less so in Canada, but your assertion that it’s “Americanism in disguse (sic)” is beyond absurd. And given you’re happy that a brilliant man historians rate as one of the greatest prime ministers in the history of Canada is dead and despite your vile wishes for one of his sons, perhaps it’s not too late for you to pull your head out of yer arse. It’s been up there too long. ‘kay?

      • Wow Joe Canada, that was pretty bad. I don’t like multiculturalism either, I hope nobody’s glad when I die because of my personal view. It was a disgusting thing to say, bet you never said it out loud but only in the smug confidence of being obscure on this kind of communication. Shame on you.

      • Hey Marie – thanks for your reply but you do know I’m not Joe Canada, right? I just responded to his post.

        Why don’t you like multiculturalism, btw?

  5. I remember seeing pictures of Trudeau touching up the Queen on one of her Royal the 70’s.

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