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From the Suez crisis to the Iraq war, charting modern history through Queen’s meetings with US presidents

·7 min read
The Queen inspects a guard of honour with Donald Trump in 2018 (Getty)
The Queen inspects a guard of honour with Donald Trump in 2018 (Getty)

Over her long life the Queen has entertained almost every president that served during her lifetime, the only notable exception being Lyndon Johnson, who in fact never visited Europe during his time in office, his energies in foreign policy being almost entirely focused on Vietnam.

Including President Truman, whom she met when she was heir to the throne, President Hoover, whom she encountered after he’d retired, and now Joe Biden, she’s done her bit for the special relationship with a total of 14 of these statesmen. The only other person alive today who might rival that claim is Henry Kissinger.

At any rate, she has had to smooth over the difficult times and make the absolute most of the good times. As a hereditary monarch – descendant of the kings that used to rule the American colonies – and major celeb above all party politics, she holds a special place in the special relationship, able to offer a friendly hand to a president who may be annoyed and disappointed in a British prime minister, which has been a more common situation than many assume.

A toast, then, to 14 very special relationships…

Princess Elizabeth and Harry S Truman

Princess Elizabeth and Harry Truman (AFP/Getty)
Princess Elizabeth and Harry Truman (AFP/Getty)

Sadly, by the time the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip went on a tour of Canada her father, George VI was ill with the cancer that was soon to take his life. At just 25 she and Philip nipped down to Washington to be entertained by President and Mrs Truman.

British and US troops were then fighting together in a UN force against communist insurgents in Korea. It was the coldest of times in the Cold War, and one when the Americans were distrustful of sharing their nuclear secrets with the British.

The Queen and Herbert Hoover

The Queen with Herbert Hoover in 1957 (Popperfoto/Getty)
The Queen with Herbert Hoover in 1957 (Popperfoto/Getty)

The elderly Hoover had left the Whitehouse in 1933, but was around long enough to be parked next to the Queen at a dinner in her honour during her visit to see Eisenhower.

The Queen and Dwight Eisenhower

The Queen with Dwight Eisenhower, in 1957 (AFP/Getty)
The Queen with Dwight Eisenhower, in 1957 (AFP/Getty)

“Ike” was an almost grandfatherly figure to the Queen and by the time they met in 1957 Anglo-American relations were in a poor state. The British had kept America in the dark about their collusion with the French and Israelis in the Suez crisis and invasion of Egypt. The Americans sold sterling until the British gave up their imperialist delusions, and remained suspicious of Britain’s unreliable spies. Prime Minister Macmillan deployed the Queen to spark some goodwill.

The Queen and John F Kennedy

With JFK in 1961 (PA)
With JFK in 1961 (PA)

Understandably enough, the Queen felt a little overshadowed by the super glam Jackie Kennedy, but Jack had spent plenty of time in London before and during the war, when his father Joe served as US ambassador, and was at ease in the Queen’s company. Something of an Anglophile, Kennedy let the British have US nuclear weapons technology, and security cooperation was at last restored.

The Queen and Richard Nixon

The Queen and Nixon, in 1970 (PA)
The Queen and Nixon, in 1970 (PA)

There is some gossip to the effect that the president tried to pair his eldest daughter Tricia off with Prince Charles, which would probably have made for some quite dramatic stories and conspiracy theories later on. The Prince of Wales wasn’t up for it. Nixon’s relations with Labour’s Harold Wilson were friendly enough, even though he’d been a nasty figure for the British left, and Nixon was honoured to attend a cabinet meeting.

With Wilson’s successor Heath, the man who took Britain into Europe, Nixon was puzzled by Heath’s coldness, which was partly down to the prime minister’s odd personality and partly to his faith that the UK’s destiny lay across the channel rather than the Atlantic, and didn’t want the French to think Britain a mere Trojan horse for American ambitions. The Wilson government had long refused to send British troops to Vietnam, which spoiled the special relationship, and Heath didn’t do much to repair it.

The Queen and Gerry Ford

Meeting Gerry Ford in 1976 (PA)
Meeting Gerry Ford in 1976 (PA)

Ford followed after Nixon’s resignation and was another prospect charmed by the Queen. Notoriously clumsy and no one’s idea of an intellectual, (Lyndon Johnson remarked that Ford couldn’t fart and chew gum at the same time), Ford nonetheless gracefully accompanied the Queen on the dance floor – only for the band to strike up “The Lady is a Tramp”. The British were soon after a multimillion dollar loan from the US, but it was not forthcoming.

The Queen and Jimmy Carter

The Queen and Jimmy Carter in 1977 (PA)
The Queen and Jimmy Carter in 1977 (PA)

Carter disliked pomp and was the most informal of presidents, so much so that he reportedly gave the Queen Mother a big smacker on the lips when he was introduced to the old girl at the palace banquet. A good friend to Britain, Carter got on well with prime minister James Callaghan, a fellow Baptist, but couldn’t hit it off with Margaret Thatcher.

The Queen and Ronald Reagan

Meeting Reagan ‘at home’ in 1984 (PA)
Meeting Reagan ‘at home’ in 1984 (PA)

The only presidential couple to host the Queen “at home”, Ronald and Nancy Reagan had the Queen and her consort over to the Reagan ranch in California. The attraction seems mainly to have been the horses, and Queen and president enjoyed their horseback sightseeing in Windsor Great Park. The Queen was happy to make Reagan an honourary knight in recognition of America’s covert assistance to the UK during the Falkands War. The relationship between Reagan and Thatcher was probably the strongest of any of the transatlantic pairings, even more than the original special relationship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

The Queen and George HW Bush

With George Bush snr in 1991 (AFP/Getty)
With George Bush snr in 1991 (AFP/Getty)

Bush and John Major had the common, and unhappy, experience of following two much more charismatic figures, Reagan and Thatcher, which may have deepened their simpatico. The Queen’s job was to help keep the Bush White House focused on Britain as its principal European ally, at a time when Germany’s industrial power suggested a change of tack. Bush took her to a ball game, and her visit was memorably parodied in a Naked Gun movie.

The Queen and Bill Clinton

The Queen meets Bill Clinton in 1994 (AFP/Getty)
The Queen meets Bill Clinton in 1994 (AFP/Getty)

John Major’s Conservatives made the mistake of offering their help to the Bush campaign of 1992, and to try and dig up any embarrassing intelligence about the Democrat candidate Clinton’s time as a student in Oxford. They didn’t find much, Clinton won the election, and his personal relations with Major were no more than correct. He did, however, rate the Queen, speculating later that she’d have made a fine politician or diplomat. When his mentee Tony Blair became prime minister, the special relationship acquired some intellectual depth – third way centrist/triangulating politics – and priceless practical purpose in the Irish peace process.

The Queen and George W Bush

With George W Bush in 2006 (AFP/Getty)
With George W Bush in 2006 (AFP/Getty)

Few British prime ministers would be able to get on close terms with presidents as contrasting as Clinton and “Dubya”, but Blair did, much to the disappointment of any in his party and the country when it led us to war in Iraq. The Queen’s meetings with Bush were less controversial than his summits with Blair.

The Queen and Barack Obama

The Queen and Obama in 2011 (PA)
The Queen and Obama in 2011 (PA)

If the body language and the affectionate rhetoric were anything to go by, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh seemed very fond of the Obamas – despite the president making his speech of thanks for the lavish banquet during the national anthem, which was a rare gaffe. When Michelle put an arm round the Queen, a breach of protocol, the Queen defused the anxiety of assorted flu kids and flaks by returning the gesture of support to the First Lady. The warmth made up for Obama’s lack of interest or rapport with Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

The Queen and Donald Trump

With Trump in 2019 (Getty)
With Trump in 2019 (Getty)

The Palace threw just about everything at the almost-state visit of Donald, Melania and assorted Trumps but, in the end, the trade deal that Theresa May and then Boris Johnson craved wasn’t forthcoming. But the selfies were great.

The Queen and Joe Biden

When the Queen meets the 46th president, he will be her 14th president, and, at a mere 78 years of age, something of a youngster by Elizabeth II’s standard of longevity. Given that Biden and Boris Johnson aren’t really a match made in heaven, the tensions over Brexit and Northern Ireland, and that Johnson has already publicly downgraded the special relationship, the Queen is well aware that she and Prince Charles will have to turn on the charm when Joe and Jill turn up to try and repair whatever damage her prime minster has inflicted. One of her tougher assignments.

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