Were you aware of how uncomfortable U.S. presidential guests made the late Queen of England feel?
It seems an odd quirk of history, seeing how we fought a war against her 3rd great-grandfather King George III and the idea of a monarchy, but a recent poll revealed that an astonishing 68% of Americans said they held a favorable view of the recently deceased monarch. With only 14% holding a negative view, Queen Elizabeth II was undoubtedly popular in America.
And the feelings seemed to be mutual as throughout her 70-year reign, the second longest reign in history behind French King Louis XIV, the Queen worked tirelessly to reinforce the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States. In an effort to maintain this crucial relationship, the Queen often traveled across the pond to pay a visit to the then sitting President or the then President went the other way.
Unfortunately, not every visit with the leader of the free world went exactly to plan as we will see with Queen Elizabeth’s 7 most uncomfortable Presidential meetings.
1. Jackie Kennedy vs Queen Elizabeth II
Only a few months after he had taken office, John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy would visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace in June 1961. However, when the two (arguably) most influential women of their time met, one-half of that equation was considerably unimpressed (Spoiler Alert! It wasn’t the Queen).
Firstly, there is a tradition that states (for some bizarre reason) that divorcées are not invited to State Dinners at Buckingham Palace. Jackie’s sister, Princess Lee Radziwill was on her second husband, Polish Prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł, and he was on to his third wife. This initially caused problems, but the Royal family eventually relented.
The drama didn’t end there as according to her friend, the writer and public intellectual Gore Vidal, the First Lady felt the Queen wanted to get her revenge, when two attendees Jackie had specifically requested, Princess Margaret and Princess Marina, were not invited to the party. The remaining attendees didn’t impress her either, with Jackie reportedly saying to Vidal about the guest list, “No Margaret, no Marina, no one except every Commonwealth minister of agriculture they could find.”
Vidal also stated that although Jackie thought Prince Phillip was a bit reserved but pleasant, she thought the Queen was “pretty heavy-going.” Vidal would later recount this description to the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret some years later, only for the dutiful sibling to reply tersely, that that was the reason why the Queen was there. Sadly, that would be the one and only visit the Kennedys would make before tragedy struck.
2. Queen Nixon?
The Queen met the famously socially awkward Richard Nixon long before he moved into the White House back in 1957 when Nixon, then Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower, acted as a tour guide for the Royal couple as they toured Washington D.C. They would meet one more time while he served as VP, but it wouldn’t be until 1969 when they were both world leaders that Nixon would be a little more forthcoming in their relationship.
The story of what happened wouldn’t come to light until three decades later when Prince Charles and his new wife Camilla visited then-President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at the White House. The Prince joked that the Bushes had better not try to fix up their twin daughters with his sons William and Harry recalling that back then he felt like the two were trying to set him up with the First Daughter, Tricia Nixon.
3. Not The Best Elevation
Although President Gerald Ford never visited the UK in his two-year tenure, the Queen paid him a visit at the White House and it would certainly be a trip to remember, probably not for the best reasons. When the Queen took to the dance floor to share a dance with Ford during a bicentennial state dinner on July 7, 1976, the choice of song the Marine Band accidentally struck up was not what you’d call appropriate. What was the song you ask? The show tune from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical Babes in Arms, The Lady Is a Tramp.
That wasn’t the only surprise the Queen got on her trip. While First Lady Betty Ford was giving the Queen a tour of the White House, they were waiting for an elevator. When the doors opened, there was Jack Ford (their secondborn) standing in the elevator wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. Apparently unphased by this, the Queen turned to an embarrassed First Lady and said, that she understands her since she also has a son of her own.
4. The Mother of All Kisses
When it comes to all the pomp and circumstance, and traditions that surround the British, there are many protocols visiting dignitaries have to follow when visiting the Queen and her family at Buckingham Palace. Leaning in for a kiss is pretty high on the no-no list. But that’s precisely what happened when President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn paid the royals a visit in May 1977.
Sadly the footage has never surfaced, but the story goes that when the President met the Queen Mother, he inexplicably leaned in and gave the then 73-year-old a kiss directly on the lips, leaving everyone in shock. None more so than the clearly mortified Queen Mother herself. She would later recount the incident, saying, “Nobody has done that since my husband died,” she said. “I took a sharp step backward – not quite far enough.” We can assume the Queen was less than pleased.
5. Hats Not Right?
The Queen’s 1991 state visit to the U.S. where she was met by then-President George H.W. Bush didn’t get off to the best of starts as after Bush had spoken at her arrival ceremony, they forgot to adjust the lectern for the much shorter Queen to address the nation. So, it looked like the speech was being given by a hat. The Queen did make light of the situation later when addressing a joint session of Congress by quipping that she hopes everyone can see her from behind the lectern and where they were seated.
They would later take the Queen to a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics and would meet all the players to shake their (rather sweaty) hands. Unfortunately, the announcers’ commentary was less than positive, with one commentator mentioning that bowing and scraping before royalty is just not the American way. Clearly not a royalist.
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6. Gaffe W. Bush
When President George W. Bush welcomed Queen Elizabeth II to the White House in May of 2007 at the start of her six-day east coast tour, he didn’t fare any better than his father when it came to sharing the stage with the Queen. President Bush’s gaffe was not as visual as his father’s, but more vocal as he addressed the awaiting dignitaries and press by adding 200 years to the Queen’s age.
During the official welcoming ceremony, President Bush (who was already stumbling through his speech) intended to compliment the Queen for helping celebrate the US bicentennial in 1976, but instead, he said 1776. The Queen would take it all in her stride as on the last day of her tour at a formal dinner at the British ambassador’s residence in Washington, she would open her speech by saying “I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, ‘When I was here in 1776…'” Everyone in attendance erupted into laughter, including the President.
7. Trumped By Trump
When the Queen hosted President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at Buckingham Palace in 2018 and 2019, it was always going to be a controversial visit for a President that was deeply unpopular in the United Kingdom. The massive protests that erupted on both occasions were clear proof of British feelings toward the 45th President. If that wasn’t bad enough, Trump would take the awkwardness to a new and unheard of level for an American President.
When Trump met the Queen for the first time in 2018, he was invited to join her in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle to inspect the Coldstream Guards, the oldest continuously serving regular regiment in the British Army. When the Queen gestured for him to walk with her, he instead walked ahead of her, leaving Her Majesty to face his backside, causing outrage in the UK, with one commentator likening the situation to the Queen trying to train one of her corgis. Trump wasn’t done as he would breach protocol again on his second trip when he placed his hand on her back, another massive no-no.
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