Titanic: 100 Years On

Graphic showing how the Titanic sank

More than 1,500 people died when the Titanic sank. So why is the centenary of its launch being proudly celebrated in Northern Ireland, asks Tom de Castella.

No other ship comes close to rivalling the gigantic shadow cast by the Titanic. A hundred years after its completion, it's still the most iconic vessel to have set sail.

Its tragic maiden voyage has become shorthand for catastrophic hubris – the "unsinkable" ship that hit an iceberg and sank, causing the deaths of 1,503 passengers and crew. And yet in one corner of the UK, the Titanic is a byword not for disaster but a source of pride and nostalgia.

When its hull was launched at Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyard on 31 May 1911, it was the largest ship in the world, measuring 886ft (270m) long.

And in Northern Ireland that's where the story ends, says Mick Fealty, editor of the news site Slugger O'Toole.

Rather than a maritime disaster, the Titanic is an engineering triumph. There's a common Belfast joke, says the Irish writer Ruth Dudley Edwards, that taps into this feeling: "It was fine when it left us."

Behind the joking there's a serious point, Fealty says. The shipyards in those days employed tens of thousands of workers while Belfast also had the world's largest rope works and the huge textile machinery firm Mackies.

"The pride is about looking back to the golden days. The Titanic was the pinnacle of Belfast's industrial glory," he says. This was in the days before partition when the majority Protestant city wore industrialisation as a badge of pride, differentiating itself from the agrarian, Catholic and rural south.

"Its industrialism was a real exception on the island of Ireland. Dublin was Edinburgh to Belfast's Glasgow," says Fealty.

Not only that, its industrial might made Belfast a crucial partner in the British empire, says Jonathan Tonge, professor of politics at Liverpool University. "Many northern Irish Protestants say the empire was built on the Northern Irish ship building industry."

Dudley Edwards, author of The Faithful Tribe, about the Orange Order, says the Titanic is a link to a time when the Protestant working class built things.

East Belfast, where the shipyards were located, was staunchly unionist.

Contrary to legend, Catholic workers were involved in building the Titanic. It wasn't until 1920 that Catholics were forced out of the shipyards en masse. But they had been a minority in a mainly Protestant workforce, and were typically in unskilled roles.

Under the effective segregation of the workforce, many skilled industrial jobs were reserved for the Protestant working class.

Catholic communities without such guaranteed industrial jobs encouraged their children to better themselves through education, Dudley Edwards says. But protestant east Belfast, where the shipyards were located, relied on their privileged access to industrial jobs.

"It's all gone now. Those communities are now in a pretty terrible state," says Dudley Edwards. "Everyone in this community is very nostalgic about it."

The achievement of building the liner has not always been celebrated by everybody.

There was hostility to the Titanic legacy from Catholics, says Liam Kennedy, professor of history at Queen's University Belfast. The fact that most of those who worked on it were Protestant was significant. But at a deeper level it was a rejection of the industrial achievements of east Belfast's Protestant business class and workers, he says.

Prof Kennedy remembers how he first heard about the Titanic at school in County Tipperary, in the Republic of Ireland, during the early 1960s.

"The schoolmaster gave us the shipping number of the Titanic and said if you look at in the mirror it says 'No Pope'. And I remember it really did look like that."

Prof Jonathan Moore, lecturer in Irish politics at London Metropolitan University, recalls the experience of an American student who recently visited Belfast's Titanic exhibition.

"She'd gone to the Falls Road and was talking to some Sinn Fein supporters about how brilliant the exhibition was. One of them turned to her and said 'Excuse me, that's not part of our history'."

There are some who might wonder if the celebration of a ship associated with such loss of life is "baffling and bizarre", argues Prof Tonge. "Here's a ship that took three years to build and two-and-a-half hours to sink. Yet 100 years later people are celebrating it. It's jaw dropping."

Far from an engineering triumph the ship's design was flawed. Paul Louden-Brown, vice president of the Titanic Historical Society, has written of how the design was a clumsy scaled-up version of smaller vessels and ignored the cutting-edge technology of Cunard's liners.

And the builders' claim that it was "practically unsinkable" had totally ignored the effect of an iceberg colliding with the side of the hull.

But you won't hear that side of the story much in Belfast, notes Dudley Edwards.

In the long run that might be for the best. The ship's fame has spawned the Titanic Quarter, a £7bn development which began in 2006 to turn the old shipyards into a mile-long waterfront of shops, offices and bars.

"They're trying to give status to an area and pay homage to its history before it's forgotten. And put something on there that's aspirational and looking to the future," says Fealty.

Over the years the gruesome history has been rebranded into a global franchise and never more successfully than in James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

The film, which was the highest grossing movie until Avatar leap-frogged it in 2010, is due to be re-released for the centenary of the ship's sinking next year.

And who can blame Northern Ireland for trying to offer a different story to tourists than the Peace Walls and bloody history of the Troubles, says Fealty. "If we're famous for where that ship came from then that's no bad thing. The story we've been telling the world for the last 40 years is a much worse one."

Kung Fu Panda 2 Criticised In China

Campaigners in China are calling for the new film Kung Fu Panda 2 to be boycotted amid accusations it could brainwash cinema-goers.

Kung Fu Panda 2 premiere

Some artists say the film has apparently 'twisted Chinese culture'

Some Chinese artists and scholars have reportedly claimed the animated children's film has "twisted Chinese culture and serves as a tool to 'kidnap' the mind of the Chinese people".

Zhao Bandi, an artist in Beijing, has begun a campaign to boycott the DreamWorks film by putting adverts in newspapers across the country.

He is being backed by academic, Kong Qingdong of Beijing University, who called Kung Fu Panda 2 a "cultural invasion".

Kung Fu Panda 2 Premiere

The film stars Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Manu Payet and Dustin Hoffman

In 2008, when the first Kung Fu Panda appeared on screens, Zhao sued the film's producers for its depiction of China's national symbol.

He said the green eyes of Po, the animated panda, were a conspiracy because green is an evil colour, and Po's father an insult to all Chinese as he is a duck.

However, the film proved popular there and set an animation box office record.

Whereas the first movie was designed from books and online research, the sequel is based on trips to China.

DreamWorks's Raymond Zibach said he digitally created the film's look using photos he took of architectural and landscape details from the Forbidden City, Pingyao, Chengdu and elsewhere in China.

The art director also went to a panda breeding facility to study and draw from the movements of an actual baby panda.

Ash Detection Technology Developed

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As concerns grow over the threat of the latest volcanic eruption in Iceland, scientists believe new ash detection equipment may allow aircraft to 'see' ash in the atmosphere.

The AVOID system (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector) is being developed by researchers in Norway who are working with commercial airlines, including easyJet.

Dr Fred Prata, senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research told Sky News: "It is an infra-red device that goes on board the aircraft so it sits outside the wing or the tail fin and views the scene ahead of the aircraft.

"It can image very rapidly so it can provide information on whatever is in front of the aircraft be it normal clouds, clear air or volcanic ash."

The infa-red device is designed to function both in daylight and darkness and gives the pilot time to avoid anything that may be in its path.

Dr Prata added: "We think it has a range of about 100km at a cruise altitude of 37,000ft it should be able to see all the way to the horizon.

"A pilot armed with this device could manage the aircraft efficiently by seeing the hazard ahead of the aircraft in good time, perhaps six to 10 minutes and then very slightly manoeuvre the aircraft around the hazard so it could keep flying."

The scientists are hoping to fly further test flights with the device this week, possibly from the UK, to test the equipment when they know that ash particles are in the atmosphere.

Dr Prata is hopeful that the AVOID system may be used on commercial flights within the next year.

15 Million Set To Hit The Road For Spring Bank Holiday

Rainyholiday

The spring bank holiday getaway began this morning, with travellers having to put up with the first bout of widespread unsettled weather for a while.

With the first of an estimated 15 million cars taking to the road, forecasters warned of cooler and showery weather, with possibly strong winds in Scotland and Northern Ireland on Sunday.

The weather was likely to put a dampener on the host of sporting events and music festivals taking place over what will be the last bank holiday for three months.

The biggest event is the Champions League football final at Wembley between Manchester United and Barcelona, a match that will bring travel congestion to north west London on Saturday evening.

Twickenham in the south-west of the capital will also be busy as the ground is staging the Aviva Premiership Rugby final on Saturday.

Motoring groups predicted that the traffic build-up would begin around lunchtime, with tomorrow also expected to be a busy day on the roads.

The AA said routes to south-west England and coastal resorts would be among the busiest.

The Highways Agency has suspended or completed 107 miles of roadworks on England's motorways and major A roads.

Restrictions were being lifted at 20 sites from 6am until midnight on Monday.

Among sites where roadworks would be staying in place for safety reasons were the M1 junction 2 to 4 just north of London where repairs are continuing following the under-viaduct fire which led to serious disruption last month.

Various M25 roadworks will also remain, as will a 3.5 mile stretch of the M4 near Newbury in Berkshire where moderate delays are expected.

Engineering work will affect a number of mainline train services over the weekend, but the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said 8% more trains would operate than during the spring bank holiday weekend last year.

Some of the planned Network Rail (NR) work on the West Coast Main Line will not be going ahead to keep Anglo-Scottish services running.

Atoc predicted that more than five million passengers would travel by train over the weekend.

Extra train services are being laid on to
Southend-on-Sea in Essex for the annual airshow.

Officials at the Port of Dover in Kent said they expected 500,000 passengers and 110,000 cars to travel to the Continent during half-term week.

They said their busiest day will be this Saturday, when around 62,000 passengers and 13,000 cars will use the port, equating to 43 passengers a minute.

The Press Association's weather company MeteoGroup said there would be "variable cloud" today with rain and drizzle in places.

Tomorrow is likely to be rainy and drizzly as well, while there would be scattered showers on Sunday with strong winds in Scotland and Northern Ireland where the showers could be heavy in places.

Aseeda Bobar

Aseeda

Aseeda bobar is made using pumpkin.

Ingredients (Serves 5)
1kg red pumpkin
2 litres water
400g roasted wholewheat flour
150g honey
1g saffron threads
1/2tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp rose water 

How to 
 – Wash and peel the pumpkin and cut into large chunks, then place in a large pot and cover with water. Cook until soft (this should take about 25 minutes). Strain the pumpkin and let it drain.
 – Mash the pumpkin and blend with the roasted wholewheat flour. Add honey, saffron and cardamom until it becomes a smooth mixture.
 – Cook again slowly for 10 minutes, gently mashing the pumpkin from time to time until it becomes tender and fluffy.
 – Add the rose water. Continue cooking on low heat for a further 10 minutes.
 – Spoon it onto a serving plate, and smooth over with the back of a spoon, allowing the outside edges to form a border.
 – Garnish with a few saffron threads (optional) and serve warm.

Champions League: The Final Countdown – Manu & Barca

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Image text here

Ferguson: Admits it will not be easy to tell players they will be left out of Man Utd's squad to face Barcelona.

Sir Alex Ferguson admits it is not going to be easy to leave players out of the Manchester United squad to face Barcelona.

United are hoping to avenge a 2009 UEFA Champions League final defeat by Barcelona when the two European giants meet at Wembley on Saturday.

Ferguson is finalising his team for the showdown and is preparing himself for the difficult task of informing some players they will not be involved.

The likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Owen and Darron Gibson could all miss out on places on the substitutes' bench and Ferguson acknowledged he faces a thankless task.

"It is not easy picking a team because you are dealing with the human side of the game," said Ferguson.

"Players have worked ever so hard for the team all season and it has been a squad game for us anyway. Unfortunately there is one person who has to tell them and that is me.

"It is not an easy job but it has to be done because we want to win the game. They all understand that.

"I pick the team for the right reasons and I pick the substitutes for the right reasons as well."

Meanwhile, Ferguson feels the tribal nature of English football will ensure United do not receive the unqualified backing of 'home' supporters against Barca.

"In 1968, everybody was behind United, even in Scotland because of the links with Sir Matt Busby," Ferguson recalled. "I was one of them. It was a fantastic feat.

"To lose most of his team in 1958 (in the Munich air disaster), then rebuild it to win the trophy 10 years later was incredible.

"When Celtic won the European Cup in 1967, I was with the Scotland team in Hong Kong. But I know from my part of Glasgow everybody was behind Celtic because it was an incredible achievement for Jock Stein to build a team of players, all Scottish, from within 20 miles of each other.

"It is a different story with United. We are in a country with a lot of tribalism, so you will never get unilateral support. But that is not a problem for us."

Image text here

Messi: Believes this is the best Barcelona side he has played in.

Lionel Messi has claimed this is the best Barcelona side he has ever played in, ahead of their Wembley showdown with Manchester United on Saturday.

The Argentinian's words come as a warning to United who, having been defeated by Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final, already know the threat of the Spanish giants.

Furthermore, Messi's statement comes in a season when Pep Guardiola's side have consistently been dubbed the best ever and the striker alone has scored 52 goals in all competitions.

Messi said: "This is definitely the best Barcelona team I have ever played in, that's for sure.

"A lot of the players in the team are the same as a couple of years ago, but we are all older and more experienced.

"We have the best coach because Guardiola is just as loyal to Barcelona as the players from the academy. He always does what's best for Barcelona and not for himself. He is a symbol of the way Barcelona wants to play and behave.

"You have to remember that our success is carefully built up through many years. This is the result of years of hard work with the academy players and also getting the right players in the squad.

"It's much deserved that we are winning all these titles and I don't think you will see this team fall down for many years ahead."

And the 23-year-old, who is already being named one of the best players in history, admits he has huge expectations for the final this weekend, regarding the Champions League as the finest competition for any player.

But while confident of an exciting game on Saturday, a glimmer of hope for United's defence is that Messi – who has already drawn comparisons with footballing icons Pele and Diego Maradona – has incredibly not yet scored in England.

Messi said: "To me, Champions League is the greatest tournament you can play in, besides the World Cup.

"It has the best players in the world and usually it's the two best teams that reach the final. So it's always a huge privilege to be part of a Champions League final.

"I have big expectations for this match. I have got older and more experienced. I have been in many of the situations before and I take more wise decisions now on the pitch.

"I know what I'm capable of and that means a lot. And I'm playing with a huge self-confidence. I get strange ideas in my head during a match but I'm brave enough to try them because I have this confidence."

Messi added: "I don't know if I'm up there yet with Pele and Maradona. These great players have won so much with their national teams as well and I lack that. Also, it's really hard to compare periods in football.

"I don't have the ambition that I need to hear people say I'm the best in history. If I'm remembered as an important player of this fantastic Barcelona team in 50 years, then I'm very proud."

How Satellites Map Our Ancient Past

The-pyramid

Satellites using infra-red imaging are disclosing hidden archaeological treasures such as entire ancient Egyptian cities.

Archaeologist Sarah Parcak says she has discovered thousands of ancient sites in Egypt, from pyramids to a detailed street plan of the city of Tanis, an A-to-Z of the region's northern capital – all thanks to images from satellites orbiting 400 miles above the Earth. The infra-red pictures are capable of tracing structures buried deep in the sand. "It just shows us," she adds, "how easy it is to underestimate both the size and scale of past human settlements."

Parcak had studied at Cambridge and taught in Swansea before returning to the US, where she is now at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her special interest is analysing satellite images for unseen archaeological remains, and she's on to a winner. In theory there's not much you can see from a satellite that you can't from an aeroplane – and with today's technologies, there is a very great deal you can find from both. But in practice, the satellites, with publicly available image libraries, score in reduced cost and in reaching inaccessible areas, such as Egyptian deserts, Easter Island . . . and Wales.

Wales? In 2009 a stone-walled ancient fish trap was spotted on Google Earth in the Teifi estuary. The ancient landscape of Britain is laid out before us as never before. One of the first archaeological satellite studies showed prehistoric earthworks near Stonehenge; these had already been mapped, but we make real discoveries as we tour the globe.

In the near east and in Siberia, 3D images are helping to understand remote landscapes and archaeological sites. The roads on which the statues were moved across Easter Island have now been mapped. And in Peru vast ancient "geoglyphs" have been seen, land art in the form of animal shapes created when people moved earth and stones about. The last is a warning. Last year Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, a physicist in Turin, claimed to see birds and snakes outlined in the sinuous walls and field boundaries of ancient landscapes around Late Titicaca. These designs would never have been visible from the ground, and even from above require much faith as you pick along one wall and ignore many others to end up with a very wobbly looking fauna (mysteriously including a hedgehog).

Satellites are powerful tools. At the end of the day, though, you still need to get down on your knees before you can be really sure what you are seeing.

Mke Wa Makamu Wa Rais Mama Aisha Bilal Azindua Mfuko Wa ‘Pamoja Tushikamane’ Wa Kusaidia Wazee Wasiojiweza

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Mke wa Makamu wa Rais wa Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania, Mama Asha Bilal, akizungumza wakati akisoma hotuba yake ya uzinduzi rasmi wa Mfuko wa kusaidia Wazee wasiojiweza wa ‘Pamoja Tushikamane’ ulio chini ya Taasisi isiyo ya Kiserikali ya Tushikamane Pamoja Faundation. Hafla hiyo ya uzinduzi ilifanyika jijini Dar es Salaam jana Mei 24.

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Mmoja kati ya wageni waalikwa, Bi. Eshe Sururu, akizungumza kutangaza kiasi alichotoa kuchangia mfuko huo jana, ambapo alitangaza kuchangia Sh. 500.000.

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Mke wa Makamu wa Rais wa Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania, Mama Asha Bilal (katikati) na Mwenyekiti wa Taasisi isiyo ya Kiserikali ya Tushikamane Pamoja Faundation, Rose Mwapachu (kulia) wakipiga makofi kuwashangilia watu waliojitolea kuchangia wakati wa hafla ya uzinduzi wa mfuko huo iliyofanyika kwenye Hoteli ya New Africa jijini Dar es Salaam jana Mei 24.

08

Baadhi ya wageni walioalikwa kuhudhuria hafla hiyo.

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Mtunza hazina wa mfuko huoakionyesha kidani cha Silver alichonunua kwa Sh. 750,000 baada ya kupigwa mnada, ambacho thamani yake halisi ilikuwa ni Sh. 150,000.

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Mke wa Makamu wa Rais wa Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania, Mama Asha Bilal, akizungumza jambo na Balozi Juma Mwapachu, baada ya kuzindua rasmi mfuko wa Tushikamane Pamoja Faundation, iliyofanyika kwenye Hoteli ya New Africa jijini dare s Salaam.

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Mama Asha Bilal (kushoto) akiongozana na Mwenyekiti wa mfuko huo kuingia ukumbini baada ya kuwasili kwenye Hoteli ya New Africa.

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Mmoja kati ya wafanyakazi wa mfuko huo akibofya kitufye cha Kompyuta kuonyesha baadhi ya picha za watu waliofanikiwa kuwatembelea.

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Baadhi ya Masister waliohudhuria hafla hiyo walioongazana na mmoja kati ya wazee wasiojiweza wanaomlea katika kituo chao Msimbazi.

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Hawa ni baadhi ya wafanyakazi wanaojitolea kufanya kazi katika mfuko huo wakiwa katika hafla hiyo.

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Baadhi ya wageni walioalikwa kuhudhuria hafla hiyo.

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Baadhi ya wageni walioalikwa kuhudhuria hafla hiyo.

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Baadhi ya wageni walioalikwa kuhudhuria hafla hiyo.

Source: Michuzi Blog

Row Over Volcanic Ash Cloud As Most Flights Resume

Volcanic-ash-cloud

The head of British Airways and Iberia has joined the clamour over the handling of the volcanic ash cloud after claiming that a BA test flight "found nothing" after flying through a smoke plume deemed by regulators to be too dangerous for normal commercial flights.

Echoing criticism from Ryanair, Willie Walsh said the plane flew through an ash "red zone" for 45 minutes over Scotland and northern England on Tuesday and encountered no difficulties. The chief executive of International Airlines Group, the parent of Britain and Spain's national carrier, spoke as the cloud from the Grímsvötn volcano moved away from UK airspace and began to affect travel in Germany.

Walsh told BBC4's Today programme on Wednesday that the flight operated at different altitudes, through a zone designated by the Met Office to contain high densities of ash – a level at which no commercial carrier has received safety clearance to operate. "Initially it flew over the north of England, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, back to Newcastle. The aircraft then returned and has been examined. All the filters were removed and will be sent to a laboratory for testing. The simple answer is that we found nothing."

Travel plans for thousands of people are getting back on track as the ash cloud moves out of British airspace. Some airline passengers face continuing disruption as flights have been cancelled to destinations in Germany.

About 500 flights were halted – and others delayed – across Europe on Tuesday as the eruption of the Grímsvötn volcano in Iceland caused havoc at airports in Scotland and northern England. The transport secretary, Philip Hammond, hopes this weekend's UK bank holiday getaway will not fall victim to similar travel chaos, although the Met Office has warned possible changes in wind direction could bring back the ash by the end of the week.

A Met Office spokesman said concentrations of ash would reduce significantly over the next 24 hours. But much of the UK could be affected by the ash cloud on Friday if the volcano continued to erupt at current levels. "There's a risk of seeing high concentrations of volcanic ash above 35,000ft on Friday."

Passengers are being warned to check with airlines as carriers return to near-normal services. British Airways cancelled one London-Hamburg and two Hamburg-London flights, while easyJet cancelled some German flights. EasyJet said Hamburg airport would be closed until 2pm UK time and Berlin's Schonefeld and Tegel airports were expected to be shut.

EasyJet said more of its flights could be cancelled later. Ryanair cancelled all its flights in and out of the German airports of Bremen, Lubeck and Magdeburg until 1pm UK time.

There were other delays caused by the knock-on effects of Tuesday's disruption.

Despite the better volcanic and weather forecast, the Barcelona football team, who play Manchester United at Wembley in the Champions League final on Saturday, brought forward their journey to London from Thursday to Tuesday.

After chairing a meeting of Cobra, the government's emergency planning committee, Hammond said the ash plume was getting smaller and less intense. He was "cautiously optimistic" that south-west winds would clear the remainder from British airspace over the next couple of days. "In the short term it is reasonably positive news," he said.

Hammond and O'Leary, head of Ryanair, have clashed over the airline's claim that one of its planes flew safely through airspace condemned as dangerous by the Civil Aviation Authority. The minister said the aircraft had only gone through a zone already redesignated safe.

The British Airways test flight was to help determine procedures to continue flying in accordance with recommendations developed by ICAO, the global aviation governing body, over the last 12 months.

Hammond said the blanket flight bans imposed by UK authorities last time there was a volcanic eruption were a thing of the past. The new system in the UK allows individual carriers to apply for permission to fly in different environments depending on their capabilities.

This meant fewer flights had been cancelled and airports closed this time around. "We're red-lining a much smaller proportion of total ash cloud this year compared to last," Hammond said.

Other countries within the EU have different arrangements for managing flights and airspace during such crises.

Queen Welcomes Obama At State Banquet

Obamas

The Queen has hosted a banquet at Buckingham Palace for US President Barack Obama, attended by 171 celebrities, politicians and dignitaries.

Film star and producer Kevin Spacey, Virgin founder Richard Branson, actress Helena Bonham Carter and former Prime Minister Tony Blair were among the high-profile guests at the Palace.

In her welcome speech to Mr Obama and his wife Michelle, the Queen celebrated the special relationship between the US and Great Britain, highlighting their "shared history, common language and strong intellectual and cultural links".

She spoke of having "fond memories" of her first meeting with the Obamas at the G20 conference in London in 2009 and later hosting Michelle Obama and their two daughters.

The Queen's warm welcome was reciprocated by the President, who said he brought with him the good wishes of tens of millions of Americans with British heritage.

Queen Elizabeth, Barack and Michelle Obama and Prince Philip at the state banquet

The Royals warmly welcomed the Obamas at a state banquet

He also referred to the friendly relationship established between the two families, saying: "I bring warm greetings from Malia and Sasha who adored you even before you let them ride on a carriage on the Palace grounds."

The US president and his wife had travelled to Number Ten earlier in the day after laying a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey.

Guests at the banquet listen to a speech by the Queen

High-profile guests listen to the Queen's speech at the banquet

Mr Obama also visited the Globe Academy in Southwark, where he partnered Mr Cameron for a doubles game of table tennis against two teenagers.

During a busy day, the President had a "warm and friendly" discussion with Labour leader Ed Miliband and also met met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their first official engagement since their wedding.

Mr and Mrs Obama chatted with Prince William and his new bride Kate at the Palace in private for around 15 minutes.

The Obamas were not at the Royal Wedding last month but told Prince Charles on his US visit how America had been fascinated by the nuptials.

Barack Obama and David Cameron 'high five' during a table tennis match

The leaders lost a doubles game of table tennis against two teenagers

The meeting was William and Kate's first Royal duty as a married couple, who only returned from their honeymoon in the Seychelles at the weekend.

The new Duchess looked tanned in a coffee-coloured cap sleeved dress from the high street store Reiss. 

Demand for the dress crashed the shop's site after the Duchess' appearance and it sold out within hours.

The Obamas had arrived in the UK 12 hours early from Ireland amid fears the volcanic ash cloud could disrupt their schedule.

Barack Obama and Prince Philip inspect the troops at Buckingham Palace

Prince Philip led Barack Obama in an inspection of the troops

At the Palace, they are staying in the luxury Belgian Suite where aides have brought their own glass for the windows for extra security.

It is the same opulent set of rooms where Prince William and his wife Catherine spent their first night as a married couple.

At the Palace, the Obamas, the Queen and Philip, Charles and Camilla all watched a 41-gun salute.

Barack and Michelle Obama with Kate and William at Buckingham Palace

Mrs Obama and Kate chat while the president talks to William

Mr Obama then inspected the troops with Philip while his wife and the Queen remained on the steps.

They later had a private lunch with the Queen and Philip and a viewing of a special exhibition in the royal picture gallery.

In the traditional exchange of gifts, the Obamas gave the Queen a collection of rare memorabilia and photos chronicling her parents' visit to the US in 1939.

First Lady Michelle Obama (right) talks with the Duchess of Cambridge, at Buckingham Palace in London, on the first day of President Obama's three-day state visit to the UK.

The two women share a joke as they chat in the Palace

They also gave Prince Philip a custom-made set of Fell Pony bits and shanks and original horseshoes from the recently retired champion carriage horse Jamaica.

Prince Charles and his wife received plants and seeds from the gardens of Mount Vernon, Monticello and the White House and jars of honey from its beehive.

The Royals gave the Obamas copies of letters from the Royal Archives between various presidents and Queen Victoria. Mrs Obama was also given an antique coral broach.

On Wednesday, the President will hold more formal talks with Mr Cameron at Number Ten before addressing both Houses of Parliament.

Both leaders, in a joint article for The Times, stressed the importance of the Anglo-American relationship as the three-day visit began.