Obama’s celebrity star power

Barack Obama.
Barack Obama
Former United States president Barack Obama left New Zealand yesterday  for Australia after a short tour of a very small part of this country.

He saw two golf courses, met  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and was "in conversation" with Kiwi star actor Sam Neill.

Air New Zealand is understood to have hosted Mr Obama.

Mr Obama was, until he left the Oval Office, the rock star of global politics. He and his wife Michelle were an incredibly powerful couple who launched other stars on to the political path of stardom,  particularly Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr Obama led a movement for change which probably helped with the election of Ms Ardern as the leader of a Labour-led Government.

Bringing Mr Obama to New Zealand can be seen in several ways. He did promise former prime minister Sir John Key he would visit but could not manage it when both men were leaders of their respective countries. Sir John is now on the board of Air NZ and, as a former minister of tourism, he will be fully aware of how global superstars can help with the promotion of this country as a destination.

Sir John and Mr Obama played a couple of rounds of golf together and there were a few photos posted on social media. However, what really helps is when the celebrity hits social media with rave reviews of the country and activities. That does not seem to have happened.

One of the most important visits for Mr Obama was with Ms Ardern. As a new prime minister, Ms Ardern will no doubt be eager to learn from someone as experienced in international affairs as the former president. And while international affairs are hugely important, so is managing domestic issues. Mr Obama did not bring in all of the major changes he promised and the ones he did, like healthcare for people unable to afford it otherwise, is being unwound by  President Donald Trump.

Another celebrity soon to hit our shores is former Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who failed to beat Mr Trump, and promptly blamed many others rather than her failure to campaign successfully.

A full house of admirers will pay between $195 and $495 to hear Mrs Clinton speak in Auckland. Cynically, to paraphrase a former finance minister, "he won, she lost, eat that".

Golfer Tiger Woods came to New Zealand in 2002 as a  favour to  his then caddy Steve Williams. It is possible US golfers then followed on to play some of New Zealand’s most scenic courses because of  Woods’ visit.

One of the most powerful visits was by former US president Bill Clinton, the husband of Hillary, who came for Apec in 1999 and was mobbed wherever he went. He went shopping in Auckland accompanied by a large security detail and crowds of fans. He visited Queenstown and the resort  went  mad. In fact, one restaurant even advertised diners could book the same table at which Mr Clinton dined.

If New Zealand really wants global publicity, having Mr Trump visit  would do just that, as unlikely as it is he will come to New Zealand or Australia — in this term at least.

New Zealand has its own share of stars who probably do more for this country’s image than anyone from overseas. Think Lorde, Sam Neill himself, Sir Peter Jackson, Scott Dixon, Dame Valerie Adams for a start.

And one of the most endearing fans of New Zealand must be Nigella Lawson who is currently enjoying the delights of Waiheke Island. Her chocolate advertisements for a New Zealand manufacturer hit the right spot, particularly when her star power encourages other recognisable faces to take part.

So thank you Mr Obama for your visit. Please be sure to pass on your memories of your visit to your friends and colleagues. Encourage Mrs Obama to come and visit, and your daughters. And do not forget your 101 million followers on Twitter.

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