Once upon a time, the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors of this world were just like you. They went to college, they worked, they played; some of them were cool. Yet as their college days ceased, and their pursuit of the top job began, they relinquished personal style for sartorial homogeny. In pulling on a grey suit and a plain tie, or, if they’re a woman, a knee length skirt and a court shoe, they deftly limit our ability to jump to conclusions about who they really are. Seeing how they looked when they were young is more revealing.
Barack Obama, US President
In February 2010, doctors told Barack Obama to quit smoking. Yet, although he apparently uses nicotine replacement therapy to curb the cravings, he still hasn’t kicked the habit. We hope he gives up for the sake of his health, but somehow his addiction makes him seem human. The charismatic way he holds the cigarette in this picture, while looking straight into the lens, straw hat plumb on his head, foretells his presidency-clinching ability to engage with the public.
Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister
Here’s Gordon Brown looking goofy. The windswept hair, heavy jacket, floral tie and squiffy shirt tell of a man with better things to think about than elegant apparel. It may seem quirky now, but the floral tie was standard fare at the time; his reluctance to stand out emphasised by his apparent discomfort at being photographed. The nervous hands and sideways glance suggest his motivation for entering politics was something more substantial than mere glamour.
Nicholas Sarkozy, French President
No man wears a scarf like a French man. Here’s Nicholas Sarkozy pulling off the look with nonchalant aplomb. The mane and open shirt did more for him then than his stacked shoes and upright hair do for him now.
Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister
The Italian premier, who once joked that Barack Obama ‘has a good tan’, is known more for his misjudged gaffes, love of women, and alleged bribery then he is for his political convictions. We think this photo, in which he looks like a suave, joking Mafioso, has captured him well.
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
A young, smiling Angela Merkel looks grounded in this shot, sitting, as she is, on a rock. While the wives of the world’s leaders spar for best-dressed accolades, the German chancellor is famously dowdy. Here, in her long skirt and short crop, she looks motherly, pragmatic, without artifice – qualities which have assured her popularity in the political arena.
Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe
Here’s Robert Mugabe looking like butter wouldn’t melt. We’re not sure what portents this picture reveals, though the white gloves betray a love of pomp and ceremony.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian Prime Minister
The Iranian Prime Minister is a picture of self-possession in this photograph, looking at once serious and kind. During his political career he has become known on the one hand for his vehement rhetoric and confrontational attacks on the West, while on the other for nurturing a reputation as the ‘people’s friend’, speaking often about empowering women in Iranian society.
Vladimir Putin, Russian Prime Minister
We couldn’t find a picture of Vladimir Putin at College age, but here he is as a young boy. Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, once described Russia as ‘a riddle wrapped inside an enigma’, a statement which applies equally well to the country’s current leader. While the one-time judo champion appears cool and elusive in adulthood, in his youth he looked more vulnerable – a slip of a thing.
Kevin Rudd, Australian Prime Minister
We think Kevin Rudd was probably born wearing glasses and a neatly knotted tie.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spanish Prime Minister
Affable Zapatero looks on top of the world in trainers and ripped jeans. With one hand on his hip, the other relaxed, he looks, more than any other on this list, like a regular guy. Little surprise then that during his leadership term he has legalised gay marriage, brought in fast-track divorces, created laws to promote gender equality and tackle domestic violence, and introduced an amnesty for undocumented workers: in short, championed the everyman.