We often forget that world leaders were human before they took office and politics overrode their mortal souls. But it’s sometimes fun to remember the softer side of presidents, prime ministers and kings, allowing you to relate more closely to them over shared interests, or just getting joy out of how lame/cool/weird they are. And while we’ll usually know a leader’s policies, religious affiliation and high school transcript grades, here are some surprising hobbies you might not have known about.
Junichiro Koizumi was a big fan of Elvis
Former Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, was already known to be an eccentric, only due in part to his seriously lush head of grey hair. But beyond that, he was a die-hard Elvis fanatic, going so far as to release a CD collection of The King’s greatest hits. The two share the same birthday (can you say kismet?), and he has been found more than once to belt out his favorite tunes when the opportunity arose.
Who even collects stamps anymore? Oh, Nicolas Sarkozy does
Enthusiastic stamp collector and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy had pages and pages of stamps in books, and his hobby was well known among his peers. In fact, Queen Elizabeth II even gave him a set of stamps from the English post office as a gift, which I’m sure the avid philatelist was thrilled with. Not the most exciting hobby on the list, but nerdy enough for a mention.
Saddam Hussein: The real Nicholas Sparks
One wouldn’t think of the ruthless former President of Iraq as having a penchant for romance, but he has penned (or hired ghost writers to pen) several books that deal with love, although not in an entirely normal way. One book, “Zabibah and the King,” deals with a beautiful girl (Zabibah) and a king who fall deeply in love. However, the book is more of an allegorical tale of the history of Iraq, as the girl is attacked by her cruel husband, widely thought to represent the U.S. It’s not the greatest love story ever written, nor is it subtle, but it is a creative side to Saddam that most wouldn’t have thought existed.
Kim Jong-il wanted to be an NBA star
Former President of North Korea and Dear Leader Kim Jong-il was a passionate basketball fan and had hopes of turning his country into a basketball haven. Unfortunately, that never came to light and he had to settle for watching every recording of every game that Michael Jordan ever played with the Bulls. He even invited MJ for a visit, who sadly declined, most likely due to the human rights violations and diplomatic difficulties that would have ensued. Unfortunately, Dennis Rodman never got the memo.
Joseph Stalin likes to draw…naked men?
Apparently, Stalin was a big doodler in his free time. He would sketch drawings of naked men, often adding remarks about people underneath, for unclear reasons. It was briefly argued that the drawings weren’t his, but after being authenticated by experts, the truth came out. Psychologists have studied the drawings, and have made statements claiming there were no “expressions of homosexuality” in the pictures, for whatever that’s worth.
King Abdullah is nothing more than another Trekkie
When you have unlimited power and resources, you can make your hobbies come to life. Avid Star Trek fan King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein of Jordan actually got the chance to star in his own episode of “Star Trek: Voyager,” an opportunity most Trekkies would kill for. Though he didn’t get any lines, it was still a glorious moment for the king. It probably helped that he already had a closetful of uniforms so he could dress the part.
Vladimir Putin: judo master
Vladimir Putin is absolutely one of the most fascinating world leaders out there, and whether you agree with his policies or not, he’s fun to watch in his free time. A little known fact about the Russian president: he has a black belt in judo, having practiced the sport since age 11. Just in case it wasn’t enough to have your fists classified as deadly weapons, he also has a black belt in karate and is a sambo champion – it’s a Russian martial art.
Jacques Chirac was a sumo star in another life
Former French President Jacques Chirac had a bright future before he decided on the dicey and dark world of politics. He has admitted to magazines that he thinks he was a sumo wrestler in another life, but has settled for watching dozens of tapes sent from Japan. An enormous fan of the ancient sport, he likes to kick back with a good Mexican beer (what?) to watch the bouts.
Even the leader of the world’s biggest superpower loves Spider-Man
President Barack Obama usually comes across as a member of the cool crowd, whether he’s balling it up on the basketball court or skeet shooting out at Camp David. But his secret nerdy side came out early in his presidency when he admitted to being an avid Spider-Man and Conan comic-book collector. And though it has yet to be proven, there’s a fair chance the Comic-Con vote was the electorate that swung the 2012 election.
Silvio Berlusconi – it’s not what you think
One might expect the king of scandal to have a hobby not fit for print. But in fact, he is an accomplished musician, playing the piano, guitar and double bass, as well as singing. In fact, he even performed on cruise ships while working his way through college, and has worked on writing and producing a CD of love songs with friends. Luckily he doesn’t have the pesky job of prime minister of Italy anymore, so he’s free to pursue his real passion.