Out of the 7.5 billion people on Earth, very few are more recognizable than Queen Elizabeth II. For 67 years, the Queen has served as a beacon of hope and guidance for the U.K., and has traveled far and wide in hopes of making the world a better place. Along the way, the British monarch has broken bread with people of all walks of life, including the most powerful world leaders.
At 92 years old, the Queen has seen 13 U.S. presidents take office, met with 12 of them, and outlived all but five during her reign. And while you’d think that meeting the Queen of England would be a simple task, you’ll be surprised at which American leaders slipped up — and how they paid the price.
Queen Elizabeth made her first trip to the United States in 1951, though at the time she still held the title of Princess. Her father, King George VI, had taken ill, and so the 25 year old met with President Harry Truman on behalf of the Royal Family.
The future queen and Prince Philip only stayed in D.C. for two days, but, according the president, the couple made a lasting impression: “Never before have we had such a wonderful young couple, who have so completely captured the hearts of all of us.”
White House History / Twitter
Elizabeth returned to the U.S. in 1957, only this time she had a crown to call her own. The new queen charmed President Dwight Eisenhower and his fellow politicians, with one congressman calling out, “we have all fallen in love with the Queen, Ike!”
The Queen returned the favor by inviting Eisenhower to the Royal Family’s Scotland home, Balmoral Castle, in 1959. For future king Prince Charles (right), this would be his first official meeting with a U.S. president.
1961 saw JFK and Jackie Kennedy visit Buckingham Palace for a state dinner and banquet in their honor. Kennedy had only been president for a few months at this time, but upon arriving in England, he and Jackie were greeted by a crowd of over half a million people.
Rumors suggested tensions arose, however, after Kennedy’s sister, Lee Radziwill, was left off the guest list; though Radziwill later got an invitation, the Queen supposedly prevented Kennedy from meeting Princess Margaret and Princess Marina out of spite.
But the rumors proved unfounded, and the Queen was one of the first to offer her condolences following JFK’s assassination in 1963. The British government subsequently established the Kennedy Memorial Trust, and Queen Elizabeth herself oversaw the dedication of the Kennedy Monument in Runnymede.
“The unprecedented intensity of that wave of grief… which swept over our people at the news of President Kennedy’s assassination, was a measure of the extent to which we recognized what he had already accomplished,” read the Queen.
Her Majesty met with President Richard Nixon in 1969. Nixon played guide to the Queen and Prince Philip during their time in the U.S. and also attended the dedication of the American Memorial Chapel in London.
As president, Nixon paid an informal visit to Buckingham Palace where he and the Queen exchanged signed pictures of one another. The President so enjoyed his time with the Royal Family that he returned a year later in a more formal manner.
The Queen returned to Washington in 1976 to celebrate America’s 200th birthday and to honor the relationship between the U.S. and Britain. “The United States [has] never forgotten its British heritage,” remarked President Gerald Ford.
A great banquet was also thrown in the Queen’s honor, though the event was almost ruined by inclement weather. Just an hour before the event, a torrential downpour began and threatened to wash away the outdoor gathering.
“Fortunately, I’d insisted that our tent have a floor,” First Lady Betty Ford recalled in her memoir. “We’ll have a floor and a carpet; it will be just like a room.” The tent effectively kept the weather at bay and the banquet was a success.
Betty Ford was heavily involved in the organization of the visit, and the two grew close during the Queen’s time in D.C. Ford even went out of her way to wear British-style hats around the monarch, something she did rarely under normal circumstance.
It was also during this time the Queen met Jimmy Carter, who was campaigning as the Democratic nominee for the upcoming election. Later that year, the former Georgia Governor defeated Ford and was elected the 39th President.
Carter paid a visit to Buckingham the following year, though it soon became evident the president knew little about royal etiquette. As the Queen Mother greeted Carter and his family, he shocked everyone by placing a kiss right on her lips!
The kiss was a total blunder on the president’s part, and he was never invited back to Buckingham Palace again. “Nobody has done that since my husband died!” cried the Queen Mother in regard to the incident.
Provincetown Library / Twitter
Luckily, the United States redeemed itself thanks to the charm of President Ronald Reagan. The Queen so admired him, in fact, that she invited he and the First Lady to Buckingham Palace in 1982.
Reagan’s time spent with the Queen was nothing short of a dream come true, and the two even rode horses together in their downtime. The president wrote in his memoir that the trip to Buckingham was one of the best experiences he had while in office.
A year later, Her Highness paid a visit to the Reagans at their home in Rancho Del Cielo, California. The visit was plagued by heavy downpours, but, like the bicentennial seven years earlier, the weather did little to spoil the trip.
During the visit, the Queen gave an address that left President Reagan in stitches. She remarked: “I knew before we came that we had exported many of our traditions to the United States. But I had not realized before that weather was one of them.”
After his presidency ended in 1989, Reagan was knighted by the Queen in a ceremony held at Buckingham Palace. Not one to miss an opportunity to poke fun at her longtime friend, Her Majesty warned Reagan “not to drop” the box containing his insignia.
George H.W. Bush had big shoes to fill when he met the Queen that same year, but the former vice president did everything right during his visit to Buckingham. Although this was Bush’s lone official visit to the palace, the two leaders met again later…
When Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip came abroad in 1991, President Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush brought the royal couple to a baseball game! The 65-year-old monarch was treated to a matchup between the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland As.
During this trip, the Queen paid a visit to the U.S. Congress, becoming the first British monarch to address the legislative body. The Bushes also hosted a lavish banquet for Her Majesty at the White House and made big plans for the following day.
That’s right: the Queen planted a tree! Her father, King George VI, had planted a tree in that very same spot during his visit in 1937, though it was destroyed in 1990. To honor his memory, the Queen concluded her trip by replacing the foliage.
The White House
President Bill Clinton’s first meeting with Queen Elizabeth was in 1994 at a banquet honoring the 50th anniversary of D-Day. He’d return to Buckingham six years later, though this time instead of dinner he’d be met with tea.
Alongside First Lady Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea, President Clinton capped a three-day tour of Britain, Ireland, and Northern Ireland by sitting down for a morning drink with the Queen.
“I always marvel when we meet at what a keen judge she is of human events,” Clinton said of the monarch. “I think she’s a very impressive person. I like her very much.”
George W. Bush’s 2003 visit to Buckingham, however, didn’t go quite as well. As he exited Air Force One, the president was met by a crowd of over 100,000 protestors who were angered by America’s involvement in the Iraq War.
Security for the Bushes cost the U.K. millions, but in the end, the Royal Palace looked past the public outcry. Upon arriving at Buckingham, the president and First Lady Laura Bush were honored with a 41-gun salute and an extravagant dinner.
However, a slip up by President Bush during his welcome speech in 2007 definitely didn’t sit well with Her Highness. When speaking of the Queen’s familiarity with the U.S., Bush nearly insinuated that she was over 200 years old!
“After all, you’ve dined with 10 US presidents,” Bush quipped. “You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 – 1976.” Though the audience got a kick of the flub, the Queen wasn’t amused. “She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child,” the president chuckled shortly after.
The Washington Post
President Barack Obama made amends in 2011 when he presented Her Majesty with a handmade photo album during his London visit. But this wasn’t just any photo album: inside were dozens of pictures and memorabilia from her parents’ early trips to the U.S.
This gesture moved Her Majesty greatly, but then Michelle Obama accidentally broke protocol by touching the Queen! The First Lady quickly realized her mistake, recalling that since the Queen had put a hand on her back first she figured it “was the nice thing to do”.
Later that night, however, President Obama made a mistake of his own. During dinner, he raised a glass and proposed a toast: “Ladies and gentlemen, please stand with me and raise your glasses as I propose a toast. To her majesty the Queen.”
Unbeknownst to him, this was the orchestra’s cue to play the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen.” To everyone’s surprise, Obama actually continued talking over the anthem (a major sign of disrespect) before realizing his error.
The Globe and Mail
But as far as royal meetings go, none was more widely publicized than President Donald Trump’s visit to Buckingham in 2018. And like George W. Bush’s trip in 2003, things did not go as planned.
Over 250,000 Londoners filled the street to protest Trump’s visit, more than double the crowd that marched against Bush fifteen years earlier. They even flew the famous “Trump Baby” balloon over the city to irk the American president.
The Architect’s Newspaper
Trump didn’t help his case much, as he made two significant errors during his time with Queen Elizabeth. Not only did he turn his back on her while addressing the colour guard, but he also walked in front of the Queen for most of their meeting!
But the Queen isn’t one to take an insult – intended or not – lying down, and many referenced her brooch as a sly dig at the president. A gift from President Obama several years prior, it’s quite coincidental that she chose to wear this specific brooch for her meeting with Trump, don’t you think?