Story behind the image of Sunak and Macron's historic meeting: 'This one went crazy'
Photographer Stefan Rousseau has witnessed some of the most memorable moments of 2022. He picks out his five favourite images for Yahoo News UK at the end of a turbulent year in politics
Emmanuel Macron has never had a straightforward relationship with UK prime ministers.
From Theresa May (Brexit) to Boris Johnson (Brexit and small boat crossings) to Liz Truss (who said the “jury is out” on whether France’s president is a “friend or foe”), things have been fraught.
But it's safe to say it's been different with Rishi Sunak.
In fact, the moment that perhaps best sums up what many commentators were quick to call a potential "bromance" came when the pair set eyes on each other in the tourist hotspot of Sharm el-Sheikh last month.
Yahoo News UK spoke to Stefan Rousseau, chief political photographer of the PA news agency, who took the picture at the COP27 summit in Egypt.
Rousseau has taken thousands upon thousands of images that perfectly capture what has often been a turbulent period in UK politics, and he has identified the moment Macron actually runs towards Sunak to greet him as one of his favourite snaps of 2022.
Rousseau often posts his favourite shots on his Twitter account.
“Social media is now a great barometer of how popular your pictures are going to be," he says. "And this one went crazy.
“It was set up to be the usual shot of them shaking hands in front of a logo. But the best picture was this one beforehand, in front of a plain wall, showing Macron literally running to Sunak as if to embrace him as a long-lost friend.
“What it said to me was Macron thinking: ‘Finally, someone I can work with.’
"Bear in mind he hadn’t met Sunak before, but it came after Truss had said during the Conservative leadership contest that the jury was out on whether Macron was a friend or foe, which was an incredible thing for a UK leader to say about a close ally.”
Their meeting was followed by a fresh agreement on tackling small boats crossing the English Channel. A month later, they were exchanging affectionate Twitter posts ahead of England and France's World Cup match.
The pair both worked in finance earlier in their lives, with Politico dubbing their blossoming relationship "a bankers' bromance".
And Rousseau adds: “You can see, even from a visual perspective, they’re probably going to get on better. The plain background also highlights some of their similarities: similar height, similar expensive suits and they’re striding towards each other.
“For me, this picture tells you so much more than a boring shot of them shaking hands.”
Here are Rousseau’s four other photographic picks from another extraordinary year in UK politics…
'Our PM would never do this'
When prime ministers go on foreign trips, they often come down the plane to speak to assembled political journalists. Rousseau has been covering these trips for 20 years, but had never been allowed to photograph such a moment… until Boris Johnson’s trip to India in April.
It was at the height of the Partygate scandal and eight days after Johnson’s police fine – unprecedented for a serving PM – for attending a COVID rule-breaking gathering in Downing Street.
Rousseau says of the response to the picture: “A lot of Indian people picked up on it and said ‘this is a really important picture because our prime minister [Narendra Modi] will never do this’.”
The UK’s Westminster journalists – known as "the lobby" – have long been accused of being a little too close for comfort to the politicians and institutions they are reporting on, but Rousseau says this picture can also be seen from the perspective of a scandal-hit PM allowing journalists to literally surround him.
“They [the Indian people who got in touch with Rousseau] thought it was incredible to see Boris Johnson talking to journalists in this way, so I’m glad I took it. It’s a decent picture photographically but seemed to carry significance to some people.”
The picture that never came
As far as Tory leadership contests go, the summer iteration – which came down to Sunak and Truss – was particularly bitter. For Rousseau, it was embodied by this empty chair separating the pair at the announcement of the result in September.
“It hadn’t been a particularly friendly campaign and this picture captures that: they were sitting next to each other but with a chair in the middle. It was very obvious they weren’t pals and the chair is symbolic of that.
“It was also a bit awkward when the result was announced, Sunak applauded but Truss just stood up, didn’t acknowledge him and went straight up to the stage. I thought it was unusual as when a contest between two people comes to an end in any walk of life, they usually shake hands.
Read more: Stefan Rousseau's top five political pictures of 2020
“Even in the 2019 leadership contest, when Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt weren’t best friends, Johnson leant over to shake hands. That was the picture I was waiting for with Truss and Sunak, but it never happened. All she had eyes for was the podium to make her speech.”
What followed, of course, was arguably the most disastrous prime ministerial reign in UK history, with Sunak replacing Truss 50 days later.
“This was one of the second set of ‘family photos’ of G7 leaders I took at the summit," Rousseau recalls. "The first set was a little rigid, but this second set was taken after dinner, when everyone was a bit more relaxed.
“Typically, it was Boris Johnson leading the charge, mucking around, geeing everyone up. ‘Come on, let’s do this picture.’ And in the picture, he’s throwing his arms around the other leaders in a way you can’t imagine anyone else doing.
“Plus, his shirt is out and trousers are almost coming off. It was a classic Boris Johnson photo.”
Starmer watches England
This was the moment Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer celebrated Bukayo Saka's first goal in England's 6-2 World Cup win against Iran last month.
“They let me in to photograph it so they were obviously keen to be seen watching the football,” Rousseau says. “This was another I posted on social media and there were a lot of people saying the emotion was contrived, but it really wasn’t.
“Starmer is a big Arsenal supporter and still plays five-a-side with his mates. Lammy is a big Tottenham fan and Powell supports Manchester City. It was genuine stuff, not laying it on for the camera, and it shows in the picture.”