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David Cameron defends Mandela memorial ‘selfie’

Barack Obama (R) and David Cameron pose for a picture with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt. Picture: AFP

Barack Obama (R) and David Cameron pose for a picture with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt. Picture: AFP

David Cameron has defended himself against criticism for posing for a “selfie” photograph at the memorial service for former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

The Prime Minister was pictured with US president Barack Obama and Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt - the daughter-in-law of former Labour leader Lord Kinnock - as the three bunched together and smiled for a cameraphone snap in the FNB Stadium in Soweto.

Some reports suggested that Mr Obama’s wife Michelle was unimpressed by their behaviour, judging by her stern expression as she sat by her husband’s side, though this account has been scotched by the photographer responsible for the image.

Many Twitter users were scathing about the light-hearted snap, as it went viral on the social media website.

Mr Cameron was challenged over the photo at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons by Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood, who cheekily asked him: “Has the Prime Minister had the opportunity to discuss international mobile phone usage with any other European heads of government over the last day or so?”

To laughter from MPs, Mr Cameron replied: “You could say, in a roundabout way. Perhaps in my defence, you should always remember that the television cameras are always on.

“But in my defence I would say that Nelson Mandela played an extraordinary role in his life and in his death in bringing people together. So of course when a member of the Kinnock family asked me for a photograph, I thought it was only polite to say yes.”

At a daily Westminster media briefing, Mr Cameron’s official spokesman was asked whether the PM felt his actions were appropriate to the occasion.

The spokesman said: “I think what the PM would say about yesterday is it was very much a celebration of Nelson Mandela and his life and his achievements.

“I am sure many of us were watching the pictures from it and I think it did come across, and rightly so, as a marking and a celebration of Mr Mandela’s life. You had plenty of words from the Prime Minister and leaders from around the world that attest to that.”

Asked if the PM regretted distracting attention away from the tributes to Mr Mandela, the spokesman said: “What the media may choose to report is a matter for yourselves and your colleagues.”

The photographer who took the picture of the three leaders posing for the selfie, Roberto Schmidt of news agency AFP, said that he felt the trio were “simply acting like human beings”.

Writing on the AFP correspondent blog, Mr Schmidt said: “I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have.

“At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony-faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium.

“For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural.”

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