Queen Elizabeth II gave South African President Jacob Zuma a ringing welcome at the start of a state visit Wednesday, greeting him at Horse Guards Parade before a carriage procession to Buckingham Palace.
But the festive mood in Britain was offset by some rancor in South Africa about Zuma's treatment at the hands of the British press.
The queen, dressed in regal purple, was joined by her husband, Prince Philip, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the ceremony. As a sign of respect, Brown skipped his weekly "question time" session in Parliament to welcome Zuma, The Associated Press reports.
According to AFP, Zuma, 67, is escaping a damaging scandal at home over his 20th child -- a lovechild born to the daughter of an official organising this year's World Cup in South Africa.
"This is his opportunity to present himself as a statesman, leading Africa's most powerful nation," said South African political analyst Dirk Kotze.
Britain will lay on a lavish banquet and state splendour before getting down to talks about Zimbabwe, climate change and other pressing issues between the two Commonwealth countries.
Queen Elizabeth II, 83, usually hosts one or two visiting heads of state each year, when British pageantry goes on full display.