Mrs May became Prime Minister after David Cameron quit when the UK public voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. She was brimming with happiness on the steps of 10 Downing Street before her first day in the job but three years on, was reduced to a defeated leader. Body language expert Judi James told Express.co.uk: “May began her reign in a strong place. Her signals as she took office suggested victory and confidence and certain body language traits even hinted at an open, inclusive personality with the ability to fight her corner.
At the end her intrinsic, inner steel-hawser strength was visible in the way that the last words ‘I love my country’ exploded out of her in an angry shout despite the obvious misery etched on her face
“She inspired because she looked inspired and that made her narrative for the future seem congruent and believable. Voters had taken their moment of control and voted for Brexit and now a strong pair of hands would sort the chaos out and make it all safe and secure again.
“Unlike other political leaders she really did stick to her guns with her Brexit deal but by then we had a culture that saw that focus and determination as fatal stubbornness.
“If you compare her first speech as Prime Minister with her last her body language unsurprisingly shows an inspired, energised leader deflated and reduced to tears.
“But even at the end her intrinsic, inner steel-hawser strength was visible in the way that the last words ‘I love my country’ exploded out of her in an angry shout despite the obvious misery etched on her face.”
Theresa May’s body language has changed dramatically as the pressures of Brexit took their toll
Theresa May was all smiles on her first day as the new Prime Minister
Picture 1: Theresa May waves on the steps of 10 Downing Street on July 13, 2016 on the day she formally took over as Prime Minister.
Ms James highlights several positive elements to Mrs May’s body language which clearly show her resounding joy at becoming Prime Minister, with strong signals of openness and honesty.
She said: “May looked joyous and confident here, plus surprisingly extrovert in the way that she adopted a very open pose to share her moment with the camera in a manner that she never achieved since.
“Here eyes form twin crescent shapes, implying genuine pleasure and her mouth smile is wide and open with a relaxed-looking top lip. Her chin is also pulled into her neck, suggesting she’s sharing her happiness and even her fun with the public.
“Her waving hand is at head level and the fingers are splayed and relaxed, suggesting she’s comfortable with the attention here. Her flat palm pointed to the camera suggests openness and honesty.”
Theresa May encountered a nightmare during her speech at the Conservative Party Conference
Picture 2: Theresa May is interrupted by prankster Simon Brodkin (aka Lee Nelson) when delivering her keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference on October 4, 2017.
The infamous conference saw Theresa May continuously struggle with a cough and handed a P45 by prankster Simon Brodkin midway through her speech.
But despite the calamities feeling symbolic of her short career as Prime Minister thus far, the body language expert argues Mrs May still had the know-how to deal with the disastrous situation.
Ms James said: “If a week is a long time in politics a year must have felt like a decade to May. Her ill-fated conference speech with the coughing, this heckler and the letters falling off the wall behind her might have been sold as an eye-rolling joke if her position had been stronger, but here it felt symbolic of her career as Prime Minister.
“Ironically it was probably one of her strongest body language moments. She battled on bravely against the odds, cracking small jokes and with not one body language signal of anger or self-pity, even smiling politely here despite the fact that anyone rushing the stage like this could easily have been brandishing something much more dangerous than a P45.”
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Theresa May’s meeting with Donald Trump at Chequers provided plenty of talking points
Picture 3: Donald Trump holds Mrs May’s hand at Chequers on July 13, 2018. The President had been quoted as saying her plans for a soft Brexit could end hopes of a trade deal with the US.
It was a momentous occasion for the UK and US, with Mrs May hosting Mr Trump as they held crunch talks over a possible trade deal between the two global super powers after Brexit.
Although the Prime Minister initially dealt relatively well with Mr Trump, who Ms James says provides a “huge body language challenge for all world leaders”, the moment he grabbed her hand clearly showed signs of huge embarrassment and awkwardness.
She added: “May did pretty well against him during this first meeting, using some firm but friendly body language rituals and emerging from their meeting with a declared draw in terms of power-posturing displays.
“Unfortunately, though the money shot came a moment later when Trump grabbed May’s hand, making it look as though they were having some furtive tryst around the side of the While House.
“May’s smile here does suggest some embarrassment but the actual hand clasp shows this was not a signal of submission or even affection from May. The very speedy grip occurred on a step down and the way Trump has his hand on top over May’s wrist suggests he’s the one holding on for balance here.”
Theresa May brought back the ‘Maybot’ when she entered the stage to Abba hit Dancing Queen
Picture 4: The infamous ‘Maybot’ returns as the Prime Minister struts to Abba hit ‘Dancing Queen’ to deliver her leader’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference on October 3, 2018.
Mrs May was really starting to feel the heat, following a number of senior resignations, including that if former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, over her Brexit deal with the EU.
But while world leaders through the years, such as Bill Clinton, could pull off such recovery moves to deviate away from the chaos, it spectacularly backfired on the under-pressure Prime Minister.
Ms James said: “Bill Clinton was a great employer of this type of comedy comeback, where you laugh at yourself to destroy your critics, but May’s intrinsic awkwardness made this a risky ritual.
“It did show a sense of humour (which May does have although she seems to keep it under wraps) but it created more awkwardness for her audience as she clearly felt embarrassed doing it.”
The pressure was beginning to really show after Theresa May asked the EU for a Brexit extension
Picture 5: Theresa May speaks at a news conference in Brussels on April 11, 2019 after European Union leaders agreed to extend the Brexit deadline until October 31.
This was make-or-break time for the Prime Minister, who travelled to Brussels for a crunch summit to plead with the EU and the 27 leaders throughout the bloc for an extension to Brexit after her deal had been resoundingly rejected by MPs in Parliament three times.
Ms James argues Mrs May had not completely cracked at this stage as she was still demonstrating signs of determination, but certain aspects of her body language unfortunately did point towards signs of hopelessness as opposed to inspiration.
She said: “Her eye expression looks pleading here and the way the tendons in her neck are strained shows the effort she is putting into trying to persuade people with her core message. Her resilience and strength and determination under the most extraordinary pressure showed through during this and other speeches of the time though. Her ‘gimlet eye’ stare was still there and her head-batons to try to insist she was right.
“May’s congruent body language over her deal suggested she really did/does believe it to be the best path but her staccato gesticulation and her use of what could look like denial gestures like the pulling down of the corners of her mouth helped to project feelings of hopelessness rather than inspiration onto the viewer.”
Theresa May broke down in tears at the end of her emotional resignation speech
Picture 6: Theresa May breaks down in tears outside 10 Downing Street on May 24, 2019 as she announces she is resigning from the job that has been the “honour of my life to hold”.
The Prime Minister had finally accepted defeat, after changes she had made to her Brexit deal sparked monumental backlash from ministers across Westminster, who demanded her immediate resignation.
In one of the most dramatic speeches by a Prime Minister, an emotional Mrs May said: “I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honour of my life to hold.
“I do so with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love,” before breaking down in tears and walking back into 10 Downing Street.
Ms James said: “May struggled with tears from the end of the first third of this speech but she managed to hold her eye-leakage back at the cost of her voice and her crumpling face.
“The abiding memory will be this expression of utter tragedy, with her head bowed, eyebrows puckered and her mouth turned down at the corners although other moments of body language suggested she still had a desire to fight if she hadn’t been ousted.
“Her shoulder and hand shrug as she spoke about the trick of creating a deal with the EU suggested she thought anyone taking her job would end up in the same pickle and her last line about loving her country came out with hints of defiant anger despite her tears.”