Perhaps this goes without saying, but world leaders take great interest in their own image. Whether they see themselves as dignified and wise or as authoritative and all-knowing, powerful people love cultivating a certain public persona to portray to their adoring subjects. However, few leaders were born with power in their grasp. And – judging by their early photos – even fewer seemed immediately cut out for a life in politics. In fact, these famous – and infamous – leaders are so unrecognizable in their early images, you might need to look twice.
20. Winston Churchill
After graduating from the British Royal Military College in 1895, Winston Churchill joined the Fourth Hussars aged 21, where this image originates. But while his tenure in the armed forces was short, it did have a huge impact on his political career. Indeed, his military knowledge surely served him well as the U.K.’s defiant Prime Minister throughout World War II.
19. Josef Stalin
At first glance, this photo seems to depict a young poet or artist struggling to make ends meet. However, the shot actually shows a 24-year-old revolutionary named Josef Stalin who was then 20 years away from becoming the Soviet Union’s most infamous dictator. Suddenly, though, he doesn’t seem so dashing now.
18. Vladimir Putin
From one of Russia’s most famous leaders to its most recent, Vladimir Putin has been serving as the nation’s president since 2000. Nevertheless, this candid shot shows a schoolboy Putin whose authority is seemingly a million miles away. It certainly cuts a stark contrast to the hardened image he cultivates now.
17. Donald Trump
While he doesn’t have the service record of some other notable U.S. presidents, Donald Trump nonetheless spent his youth in military institutions. From 1959 to 1964, the current leader was educated at New York Military Academy where he earned the title of “Ladies Man” in his senior yearbook. We’re surprised he doesn’t talk about it more often.
16. Queen Elizabeth II
During the Second World War, everybody in England was expected to help out with the war effort. Even royalty wasn’t excluded and so – before her 1953 coronation – Elizabeth II served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a mechanic. Here, the 19-year-old monarch can be seen behind one of the Austin ambulances in her care.
15. Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Although many leaders on this list came from humble origins, King Salman of Saudi Arabia was very much born into power. Before succeeding his half-brother King Abdullah in 2015, the monarch gained his first taste of authority as the Emir and Mayor of Riyadh in 1954, and at only 19 years of age.
14. Fidel Castro
Sometimes facial hair can make or break a person’s appearance. Indeed, an 18-year-old Fidel Castro – pictured here attending high school in 1944 – looks completely unrecognizable without his trademark mustache. In fact, it’s hard to believe that 14 years later this young lad would topple the Cuban government and lead the country until 2008.
13. Margaret Thatcher
Before she became the U.K.’s first female Prime Minister, a young Margaret Thatcher was already breaking ground in British politics. At only 26-years-old, Thatcher was the youngest candidate to run for a seat in the town of Dartford. And although she lost both the 1950 and 1951 elections, she went on to assume the highest seat of office in 1979 for 11 years.
12. John F. Kennedy
Many associate John F. Kennedy with his 1963 assassination, but the 35th President accomplished much in his short time in office. During his tenure, the head of state eased nuclear tension between the U.S. and USSR and helped recognize the burgeoning civil rights movement. In this Harvard graduation photo from 1940, Kennedy already showed promise even as a 23-year-old.
11. George W. Bush
While this shot may show an average college scene, its subject is far from typical. In fact, this fresh-faced student is none other than George W. Bush who gained fame for his hilarious malapropisms throughout his 2001 to 2009 presidential run. However, the future president, seen here during his 1964 to 1968 tenure at Yale, at least looks like he can take a joke.
10. Hugo Chavez
This photograph, which was snapped in 1971, shows a young cadet in training at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences. But perhaps unknown to the photographer at the time, this unbecoming 17-year-old – aka Hugo Chavez – would use his army credentials to stage a failed coup 20 years later. And afterward, Chavez went on to govern Venezuela from 1999 until his 2013 death.
9. Boris Yeltsin
Although he served as Russia’s first democratic president, Boris Yeltsin was still a decisive figure in his native country. Indeed, his 1991 to 1999 leadership led to inflation while his drinking habits earned him a buffoonish public image. This surprisingly sober portrait of the future leader at around 18 years of age, however, is a far cry from that rambunctious persona.
8. Bill Clinton
Perhaps best known for his scandalous affair with Monica Lewinsky, 42nd U.S. President Bill Clinton left a libidinous legacy upon departing office in 2001. Still, this high school yearbook photo – dated at around 1964 – creates a totally different impression of the politician. Awkward to a tee, Clinton here looks a world away from the lady’s man he’d later become.
7. Richard Nixon
Throughout his much maligned 1969 to 1974 presidential tenure, Richard Nixon never really came off as particularly strong or charismatic. But this shot of a shockingly buff 20-year-old Nixon playing football at Whittier College tells a different story. Although he never actually made his alma mater’s team, the future-President nevertheless looks like he packs a powerful punt.
6. Theresa May
Who’d have ever thought that this sweet schoolgirl would grow up to be one of the world’s most powerful women? This countryside side shot shows a 13-year-old Theresa May with ambitions of authority seemingly miles away. And yet just under 50 years later, she’d become the prime minister of Britain.
5. Saddam Hussein
One of the most notorious dictators of all time, Saddam Hussein left terror in his wake as Iraq’s President from 1979 to 2003. During his reign, the despot committed countless atrocities and killed tens of thousands of civilians. As a result, this undated picture of a young Hussein serves as a chilling foreshadowing of things to come.
4. Benjamin Netanyahu
By all means, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was fortunate to have gained any seat of power. As a young soldier in the IDF, the 20-year-old almost died during a mission against Egyptian forces in 1969. After being discharged in 1972, however, Netanyahu began his long road to leadership and eventually assumed office in 2009.
3. Benito Mussolini
Alongside Adolf Hitler, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was a key instigator in the Second World War. But even before his 1922 rise to power, the Fascist leader had already gained a reputation for political dissent. For example, this 1903 mugshot of a 20-year-old Mussolini was taken shortly after his arrest for not presenting authorities with the proper documentation.
2. Barack Obama
Remember kids: smoking isn’t cool. Even Barack Obama – who lead the U.S. from 2009 to 2017 – took 30 years to kick this nastiest of habits. However, we can’t help but notice how stylish the then-19-year-old politician makes it look. This photograph was snapped during Obama’s freshman year in 1980, and it’s perhaps the most chilled out a president has ever looked.
1. Mahatma Gandhi
While his trademark glasses and dhoti have become iconic parts of his character, Mahatma Gandhi didn’t always dress so modestly. In fact – as an 18-year-old law student – the Indian civil rights leader wore surprisingly decadent Western attire. Of course, Gandhi would ultimately abandon his former garb 35 years later in 1921 as a show of solidarity with the Indian people.