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The Queen’s relationship with each US President: From Truman to Trump

Queen Elizabeth shared warm relationships with many US presidents

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Sunday 18 September 2022 11:36 BST
Joe and Jill Biden meet Queen at Windsor Castle

Over her 70 years as monarch, Queen Elizabeth II met every sitting US president, with the notable exception of President Lyndon Johnson.

Even before she ascended to the throne, she met President Harry Truman when she was heir and also met President Herbert Hoover when she was monarch, 20 years after he had left office.

Against the backdrop of the Cold War, the economic crises, societal changes, scientific breakthroughs, and military campaigns that have shaped the bond between the US and the UK, the Queen has been a constant and friendly soft power figure that was an important part of the special relationship.

Here are some of the notable moments of her meetings with US presidents.

Harry Truman

Princess Elizabeth of England, the future Queen Elizabeth II, poses with American President Harry Truman (AFP via Getty Images)

In late 1951, while heir to the throne, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Washington DC. The royal couple were on a tour of Canada at the time and took a side-trip to see President Truman, gifting him a candelabra, an oil painting, and an ornate mirror.

Mr Truman is said to have told the princess that he hoped “when you leave, you will like us even better than when you came”. The visit occurred as British and US troops were fighting communist insurgents in Korea at the dawn of the Cold War, just six years after the end of the Second World War.

Dwight D Eisenhower

Queen Elizabeth II is welcomed by President Eisenhower, 18 October 1957 in Washington (INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTOS (INP)/)

The Queen made her first state visit to the US in 1957, attending a dinner at the White House on 20 October hosted by President Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie. Mr Eisenhower wore a British Order of Merit that was awarded to him by the Queen’s late father, King George VI, following the war.

At the time, relations between Britain and America were in a poor state following the Suez crisis in Egypt, during which the UK had kept the US in the dark about collusion with the French and Israelis.

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan asked the Queen to visit Washington to generate some goodwill between the two nations.

John F Kennedy

President John Kennedy (right) and his wife Jacqueline (second left) pictured with Queen Elizabeth II (second right) and the Duke of Edinburgh (left) at Buckingham Palace (PA)

The Kennedys attended a banquet in their honour at Buckingham Palace during a tour of Europe in the first year of his presidency, meeting the Queen on 5 June 1961.

It is said that the young monarch was intimidated by the glamorous Jackie Kennedy.

After returning to Washington, President Kennedy sent the Queen a birthday message, adding at the end of his letter: “May I also at the same time say how grateful my wife and I are for the cordial hospitality offered to us by your Majesty and Prince Philip during our visit to London last Monday. We shall always cherish the memory of that delightful evening.”

Mr Kennedy’s father had been US ambassador to the UK, and as something of an anglophile, the relationship between Britain and America was restored after the upset over Suez, with the Americans agreeing to share nuclear technology as the Cold War intensified.

Following President Kennedy’s assassination, the Queen sent a letter of condolence but did not attend the funeral as she was heavily pregnant, with Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh representing the royal family.

The Queen did not meet President Kennedy’s successor President Lyndon Johnson.

Richard Nixon

The Queen with Prime Minister Edward Heath and American President Richard Nixon and his wife Pat Nixon (PA)

President Nixon and first lady Pat Nixon came to Buckingham Palace in 1969 and returned to the UK again on 3 October 1970 when the monarch hosted them at Chequers, the country home of the British prime minister, then Edward Heath.

There was gossip that Mr Nixon had tried to set up his daughter Tricia with a then-bachelor Prince of Wales. The meetings between the Queen and the president came as the US was deeply mired in the war in Vietnam and successive prime ministers had refused to send British troops in support.

Gerald Ford

President Gerald Ford and Britain's Queen Elizabeth dance during a state dinner (REUTERS)

Following the resignation of President Nixon in 1974, President Ford took office as preparations were underway for the 1976 bicentennial, and a royal visit to Washington was on the cards.

Mr Ford threw a gala state dinner at the White House on 7 July to mark 200 years since the American Revolution. At the dinner, the Queen danced with Mr Ford to an unfortunately-timed rendition of “The Lady is a Tramp”, in an evening that was fondly recalled by first lady Betty Ford in her memoirs.

Jimmy Carter

The Queen with President Jimmy Carter (PA)

The Queen hosted President Carter in May 1977 on his first overseas trip at a dinner for Nato leaders at Buckingham Palace. It was also the Queen’s silver jubilee year.

Reportedly, as Mr Carter stood with the Queen and other guests, he noticed the arrival of Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, and ever the Southern gentleman, he broke away, took her by the hand, and escorted her to the assembled line of guests.

Famous for his informality, the president nevertheless ate chicken mousse off a gold plate and seemed excited by his dinner seating between the Queen and her sister, Princess Margaret, and across from Prince Charles, Prince Philip, and the queen mother.

Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan rides horses with Britain's Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle (REUTERS)

The Queen and President Reagan are said to have bonded over their mutual love of horseback riding when they met at Windsor Castle in June 1982, riding side by side on an eight-mile, hourlong tour of the grounds. Mr Reagan was the first president to stay at the 11th-century castle.

Mr Reagan and his wife Nancy became the only presidential couple to host the Queen at their own home when they had the monarch and Prince Phillip stay at their ranch near Santa Barbara, California, in 1983. Poor weather meant there was no horseriding, but the Reagans served a lunch of regional staples, including enchiladas and tacos.

On the same trip, the royals were treated to a state dinner in San Francisco at the MH de Young Memorial Museum. The bad weather continued and during her remarks, the Queen joked: “I knew before we came that we had exported many of our traditions to the United States. But I had not realised before that weather was one of them.”

Over the president’s laughter, she added: “But, Mr President, if the climate has been cool, your welcome and that of the American people have been wonderfully warm.”

The Queen made Mr Reagan an honourary knight in recognition of America’s covert assistance to the UK during the Falklands War. Their meetings came at a time when the bond between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Mr Reagan was one of the strongest of any transatlantic parings of the special relationship, and at the height of the Cold War.

George HW Bush

President George Bush talks to Queen Elizabeth II during a 14 May 1991 welcoming ceremony at the White House (AFP via Getty Images)

The Queen made her third state visit to the US in May 1991, visiting Washington, DC, and becoming the first monarch to travel to Texas, where she toured the Alamo.

In a particularly memorable moment, only her white-striped purple hat could be seen above the microphones when she spoke at an arrival ceremony on the White House grounds when someone forgot to adjust the lectern after the much taller President Bush spoke.

The Queen carried on and later joked when addressing Congress: “I do hope you can see me today from where you are.” Mr Bush later apologised and said he felt bad for not pulling out a step for her to stand on.

When President Bush passed away in 2018 the Queen released a statement fondly recalling the days they spent in Texas with Mr Bush and his wife Barbara.

Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton meets Britain's Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace (PA)

The Queen first hosted President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, aboard the royal yacht, Britannia, in June 1994, during the premiership of John Major.

Docked at Portsmouth Naval Base the ship was home base for the Clintons as they attended the Queen’s dinner at Guildhall for leaders of Allied nations whose troops participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy 50 years earlier.

The Clintons spent one night aboard the boat before being ferried to the USS George Washington aircraft carrier as it prepared to sail across the English Channel, from Portsmouth to Normandy, for D-Day anniversary celebrations. The Clintons also visited Buckingham Palace in November 1995.

President Clinton had a cordial relationship with Mr Major but found a kindred intellectual spirit in Prime Minister Tony Blair when he moved into 10 Downing Street in 1997, working closely together on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Toward the end of his second term in December 2000, Mr Clinton visited the UK and Ireland for a three-day visit in which, accompanied by Hillary and daughter Chelsea, they had tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

George W Bush

President George W Bush looks over at Queen Elizabeth II while giving remarks at the White House (AFP via Getty Images)

The Queen first met President Bush and his wife, Laura, over lunch at Buckingham Palace on 19 July 2001. Later that year, on the day after 9/11, in solidarity with the American people she ordered the US national anthem to be played outside Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard — breaking 600 years of tradition and protocol.

Mr Bush had a close, but controversial, relationship with Prime Minister Blair, and the UK and US were in lockstep in the War on Terror. To much controversy following the Iraq War, President Bush was given a full state dinner in his honour at Buckingham Palace in November 2003.

In return, the Queen made her fourth state visit to the US in 2007, during Mr Bush’s second term. During the welcoming ceremony, Mr Bush made a slip of the tongue, accidentally referring to her visit for the bicentennial in 1976 as 1776, to a ripple of laughter.

Pausing to check whether or not he had offended her, the president said with a smile: “She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child.”

Later, at a dinner at the British Embassy, the Queen retorted: “I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, ‘When I was here in 1776,’” she said to laughter.

Barack Obama

Queen Elizabeth speaks next to President Barack Obama during a State Banquet (REUTERS)

President Obama and the Queen first met in April 2009 at a reception for world leaders attending the G20 summit in London, hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown during the global financial crisis.

First lady Michelle Obama memorably broke protocol by briefly putting an arm around the Queen’s back as they commiserated about their achy feet. While this is generally not done to touch the monarch, the Queen returned the gesture.

The Obamas were invited for a state visit in 2011 that included a two-night stay at Buckingham Palace and a lavish banquet in the president’s honour on 24 May. When delivering a toast to the Queen, Me Obama kept going when the band assumed that a pause in his remarks meant he had concluded and launched into a rendition of “God Save the Queen”. The president continued talking and the band fell quiet.

The Queen hosted the Obamas a third time, at Windsor Castle, towards the end of his second term in 2016 and during David Cameron’s premiership. The visit came a day after her 90th birthday as the president conducted a farewell tour of Europe.

Judging by body language, there was an apparent warm bond between the Obamas and the Queen and Prince Philip. The royal consort even drove the first couple in the Queen’s Range Rover.

Donald Trump

Queen Elizabeth II and US President Donald Trump (AP)

Given the public feeling toward the 45th president, the meeting of President Trump and the Queen in July 2018 at Windsor Castle was always going to be controversial. There were large anti-Trump protests in central London with a giant balloon depicting him as a baby.

Mr Trump was criticised for breaking protocol by briefly walking in front of the Queen — instead of alongside her — and then turning his back on her while they reviewed an honour guard.

The president later said he thought of his late mother, Mary Anne, who was born in Scotland and who loved the royal family, when he and his wife, Melania, had tea with the monarch. He indiscreetly said he had discussed Brexit with the Queen and that she had described it as “complex”. Most heads of state keep their private conversations with the Queen private, and she does not discuss political matters.

The Trumps returned in June 2019 for a three-day state visit in which he was greeted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace and hosted a state banquet. They then travelled to Portsmouth for D-Day anniversary commemorations.

Joe Biden

Queen Elizabeth II with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden (Getty Images)

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden met the Queen in June 2021 at a reception for G7 leaders in Cornwall.

Following the summit meeting, the Bidens joined the monarch for tea at Windsor Castle as their three-day visit to the UK drew to a close ahead of a Nato summit and US-EU summit in Brussels, and a meeting between the president and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Having recently celebrated her 95th birthday, the Queen still asked Mr Biden about how the meeting in Cornwall had gone and about his upcoming conversation with Mr Putin.

Mr Biden told reporters the Queen “reminded me of my mother”.

He added: “I don’t think she’d be insulted but she reminded me of my mother, the look of her and just the generosity.”

With reporting from the Associated Press

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