How 12 American presidents rank meeting Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II got more than she bargained for when meeting President Donald Trump, but this wasn’t her first rodeo. The Queen has spent her entire life in the presence of US presidents throughout history, as this was the 12th POTUS she’s met.
The question is, “which POTUS nailed their visit with smooth talk and who totally flopped in the presence of Her Majesty?”
1. Ronald Reagan
No doubt about it, President Ronald Reagan’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth II went far beyond the simple formalities of two heads of state. Over the years, the Reagans and royal family developed a unique friendship that would last until the Reagans’ passing.
In June 1982, President Reagan made his first trip to the United Kingdom, staying the night at Windsor Castle. There, Reagan got a chance to go horseback riding with Her Majesty where he noted how impressed he was by the Queen’s riding skills.
By impressed, we’re talking totally blown away – it was one of the most memorable moments of his presidency, according to Reagan.
A strong first impression at Windsor Castle marked the first of what would be three official trips to the UK.
After Queen Elizabeth II played the host in her first meeting with President Reagan, it was her turn to be treated to a memorable visit. In March 1983, Her Majesty flew to California to spend time with the Reagans at their ranch in Santa Barbara.
While at a fancy dinner, it seemed like both parties couldn’t have cared less about adhering to royal protocol. The group threw back some fancy drinks with the Reagans yucking it up, leaving the Queen in stitches with laughter.
They had so much fun, it seems they were the only ones who didn’t notice Prince Philip’s sailor mouth that left the staff stunned.
After the Queen’s visit to California in 1983, Reagan was back to the UK in 1984, making it three straight years the powerful leaders paired up.
President Reagan’s final official visit to Britain came in 1988, but it was 1989 that marked a truly momentous occasion.
The (then-newly) former POTUS made a trip to Buckingham Palace for a special ceremony: He was going to be knighted. Reagan said how incredibly proud he was to receive such an honor, bringing some fittingly royal closure to their shared time as leaders.
This storybook ending made POTUS “Sir President Ronald Reagan.” Not too shabby.
2. Barack Obama
Even though they had a few slip-ups, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama undoubtedly take the cake when it comes to crushing the royal visit with Queen Elizabeth II.
April 2009 marked the Obamas’ first meeting with the Queen when they visited Buckingham Palace.
Obama’s wife may have made the world utter a collective gasp when she put her arm around the Queen (a royally big no-no), but it was met with nothing but love from Her Majesty. It turns out that the First Lady and the Queen had previously bonded over their disdain for painful heels when they first met.
The first meeting certainly couldn’t have gone too poorly, as the Obamas met with the Queen two more times.
When the Obamas made their second trip to visit Her Majesty in the United Kingdom in May 2011, it was Mr. President’s turn to make a mistake.
President Obama stood at a state banquet, stating, “I propose a toast to Her Majesty, the Queen,” signaling the orchestra to play Britain’s national anthem. Even though he gave the cue, he apparently didn’t get it, as he kept talking over the anthem for a bit before catching his mistake.
Obama joked that the music was like a soundtrack while he delivered the speech.
Along with the president’s gaffe, Michelle Obama froze up with a little moment of her own in 2016 when Prince Philip and the Queen picked the Obamas up for lunch at Windsor Castle.
While the president hopped in front to ride shotgun with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the First Lady wasn’t sure what she was allowed to do with royal protocol. Queen Elizabeth II waved her in, saying, “Oh, it’s all rubbish. Just get in.”
During their 2011 visit, President Obama and the Queen exchanged some sentimental gifts. Obama offered photographs of when the Queen’s royal parents visited the United States back in 1939. The Queen gifted a different glimpse into the past with letters exchanged between past monarchs and presidents.
When all was said and done, the Obamas had their share of whoopsies, but clearly made an incredible impression, as the Queen always remained all smiles.
3. Gerald Ford
In July 1976, Queen Elizabeth II visited the United States to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the United States’ Declaration of Independence (talk about coming a long way, that could be awkward). Unfortunately, it seems that when the Queen left Great Britain, she brought its weather along with her.
While pouring rain may have ended up ruining a whole bunch of the White House guests’ time, Betty Ford managed to save the day for their special guests. Insisting that their tent have a floor and carpet proved to be a godsend, as the festivities went off without a hitch. Phew!
While President Ford and his wife hosted a private meal with the Queen and Prince Philip in the President’s Dining Room, they also shared a much more public evening for the Queen’s dinner under the tent in the Rose Garden.
President Ford shared a dance with Queen Elizabeth II, making for an iconic photo op that was as stunning as it was powerful. President Ford and the Queen’s special dance together came to serve as a fitting symbol of the storied history shared between the United States and the United Kingdom.
Though President Ford was the face of the operation, it was his wife who got her hands dirty to make it happen.
4. Dwight D. Eisenhower
In October 1957, Queen Elizabeth II made her first state visit to the United States. At this point, it had only been four years since Her Majesty had been crowned, so her meeting with President Dwight D. Eisenhower was quite the new experience.
There was also weight to this visit, as 1957 marked an ever-rising point in the Cold War. Her Majesty masterfully balanced business with pleasure, as she made the rounds around the East Coast to attend various events while leaving a memorable impression with Eisenhower.
Of course, it probably helped that she had already met the president while she was still a princess.
The Queen had herself quite a visit in 1957. Eisenhower wasn’t even the only president she met! Along with a trip to Jamestown, Virginia (Britain’s first settlement in America) and a college football game, New York’s Astoria Hotel offered the opportunity for her to meet former President Herbert Hoover. Two-for-one? Not a bad deal at all.
The Queen made sure to return the favor, inviting President Eisenhower to visit the United Kingdom a couple years later. In 1959, Eisenhower journeyed across the pond to Her Majesty’s home in Scotland, Balmoral Castle.
From meeting a princess to visiting the Queen, Eisenhower’s relationship with Her Majesty was certainly unique.
5. Harry S. Truman
Of the 12 United States presidents whom Queen Elizabeth II has met, only President Harry S. Truman had the distinct honor of meeting the Queen before she actually became Her Highness.
Only 25 years old at the time, Princess Elizabeth II journeyed to the United States in October 1951 to replace her father, King George VI who was extremely sick at the time of the planned visit.
Princess Elizabeth, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, was years ahead of her time, carrying herself with a dignified class and infectious charm that has since captured hearts all around the globe. In other words, she absolutely nailed the art of the first impression.
As if it wasn’t enough for President Truman to be so enamored with the grace of Princess Elizabeth, she really hit it home with an unforgettable gift. Truman was a gifted a beautiful and intricate over mantel: A decorative mirror to be hung over the fireplace.
This elaborate masterpiece is really just a massive painting from the 18th Century that happens to have a mirror beneath. “Never before have we had such a wonderful young couple who have so completely captured the hearts of all of us,” Truman said of the visit.
The historic piece has been hanging above the White House fireplace ever since. So, yeah, it went pretty well.
6. Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon got his first opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth II in 1957 when he was Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower. One year later, Nixon traveled to Great Britain to attend a memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The 1958 service was held to unveil the American Memorial Chapel, a tribute to all of the fallen American soldiers who had fought alongside their British allies in World War II.
Along with his position at the time, Nixon was a fitting representative since he had served in the Navy during the war, making his attendance alongside the Queen all the more powerful.
It wasn’t until a trip to the United Kingdom in 1969 that he finally visited the Queen as President Richard Nixon.
Either Nixon really got a big head on his shoulder after tossing aside that “Vice” part of his presidential title or someone’s staff royally screwed up, because the gifts exchanged at Buckingham Palace were just plain weird.
President Nixon’s informal visit to the UK was capped off by he and the Queen exchanging… signed photographs? That’s right, the Queen and Prince Philip and the President – some of the most powerful figures in the world – exchanged some autographed pics of each other while cameras rolled.
The interesting gift exchange was all recorded by a film crew making a documentary of the royal family (cleverly named “Royal Family”) that would be air later the same year. Sure, it’s a little weird they signed autographs for each other, but maybe they just really appreciate one another’s work?
Fast forward to 1970 and President Nixon was back on a plane flying across the pond again. This time Nixon visited Chequers Court to visit the Prime Minister where Queen Elizabeth II was in attendance as well. Though Nixon’s presidency ended in an ugly way with his resignation, he always managed to keep it dignified with the Queen.
7. Bill Clinton
Due to President Bill Clinton’s heavy involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process, visits to the United Kingdom were always under close watch. Judging by some other run-ins with women Clinton had in the White House as the leader of the free world, the fact that his encounters with Queen Elizabeth II haven’t left a lasting impression is probably a good thing.
The first time Clinton met the Queen came in June 1994, in Portsmouth, England, for the 50th anniversary of D-Day in World War II. It was a busy day for both parties, as both parties were occupied by hectic schedules.
At the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, Clinton and the Queen did briefly spend some time at the celebratory banquet. After that, it wasn’t until another six years had passed that President Clinton visited the Queen on a trip to Buckingham Palace.
Clinton brought his wife, Hilary, and daughter, Chelsea along for what history looks back on as a royally uneventful tea time in Buckingham Palace.
Much like Nixon, looking back on the past with 20/20 vision, we can credit a complete lack of notable moments in his visit as a smashing success. Sometimes, no news is the best kind of news a guy can hope for.
8. George H.W. Bush
When President George H.W. Bush met Queen Elizabeth II in June 1989, it was pretty clear that going to visit the United Kingdom again would not be too high on his list for vacation destinations.
To be fair, President Bush’s visit with the Queen actually went off without hitch.
Better yet, after President Bush and his wife, Barbara, met the Queen, he went out of his way to repeatedly compliment her, paying nothing but the utmost respect. Even though their time spent went so well, it was another lady who made his trip to London so difficult: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
President Bush likely doesn’t have much competition when saying that his visit with the Queen of England wasn’t the most notable woman he met while in the United Kingdom.
When Bush traveled to the UK, he had suggested to Thatcher the possibility of reducing the military presence throughout Europe.
Thatcher responded to this by dishing out a “lecture on freedom,” which must have been like nails on a chalkboard to Bush, because he wrote all about how difficult she was in his memoir. Even though talking to Thatcher was a “one-way street,” Bush’s pleasant visit with the Queen resulted in another meeting.
This time when President Bush saw the Queen in May 1991, it was on American soil.
Since the Queen’s visit was in Washington DC, Bush decided to take her out to enjoy a slice of Americana in the DMV (that’s the DC, Maryland, Virginia area for you non-East Coasters), so they went to a baseball game.
Bush and the Queen went to a Baltimore Orioles game where she met both the hometown team and the visiting Oakland Athletics. One of the more notable moments came when the Queen shook all the players’ hands. Oakland star Jose Canseco figured he was pretty hot stuff too, not bothering to spit out the gum he was chewing.
Nonetheless, the elder of the Bushes fared well with the Queen, though his overall trip across the pond could’ve gone smoother.
9. John F. Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy only met with Queen Elizabeth II one time in June 1961 at Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty wasn’t just hosting Kennedy, but his wife, Jackie, her sister, Lee Radziwill and her husband, Prince Stanislaw Radziwill. This was problematic.
Lee Radziwill was on her second marriage, while her husband was on his third at this time. According to tradition, people who have divorced are usually not invited to Buckingham Palace, so the
Queen was really going out on a limb by eventually conceding to Jackie’s wishes and inviting them too. They may have been invited, but things didn’t go too smoothly.
There are a host of rumors and stories about snappy remarks made over the dinner table with the women on both sides being cold to one another.
Whether any of that is true or not doesn’t matter, because Jackie Kennedy DID make public comments about the Queen having poor fashion and said that Buckingham Palace is “second rate.”
Jackie Kennedy later apologized, but there’s no playing that one off. “The President of the United States’ wife publicly trashed the Queen of England” How’s that for a fun headline to have to deal with? Yeah, JFK probably would’ve flown solo if he’d known that result was coming.
10. Donald Trump
It wasn’t all too surprising that when President Donald Trump visited the Queen of England in July 2018 that a heap of controversy followed in his wake.
Right off the bat, President Trump had a dark cloud looming over the UK waiting for him (well, more so than usually hangs over England) with all of the international drama and attention he’d already drawn in his presidency.
Citizens of the UK made their voices heard when Trump touched down, as estimates of protestors were staggering. Some counts believe there were as many as 250,000 people marching through the streets of London, but that was only the start.
Any public figure these days can be sure there are cameras on them at pretty much all times. When it’s someone as polarizing Donald Trump, multiply that many times over.
During Trump’s trip to Windsor Castle for some tea, the powerful pair walked on the lawn where photographers snapped all the shots they could.
Unfortunately for the president, he didn’t make sure to wait on the Queen to ensure they were side by side the whole way through. It may not sound like much, but it resulted in some brutal shots of Trump cutting off Her Majesty and unknowingly being on the receiving end of a harsh glare.
To look at President Trump’s royal visit as objectively as possible, he was really set up for failure from the start. Aside from cutting off the Queen to gift a perfectly awkward photo opportunity, their time spent together actually didn’t go that poorly.
Looking at all of the photos of protestors filling the streets would say otherwise, though. One of the most memorable parts of what Trump would surely like to forget from his visit was the video footage of a giant Trump baby balloon in the streets with all of the protestors.
Definitely could have done without seeing a parade-sized Trump in diapers.
11. George W. Bush
When President George W. Bush first visited Queen Elizabeth II, it was on a six-day tour through Europe. Amid a jam-packed tour that was met with loads of scrutiny for wanting to keep troops overseas, Bush was making all the rounds with the most powerful people in the world.
Though he only had lunch with the Queen, his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope John Paul and others were enough to keep his brain spinning for some time.
It wasn’t until President Bush’s visit in November 2003 that he really ran into some major resistance as a controversial figurehead.
It appears that, just like his father, George W. Bush had some issues over what “freedom” exactly means. By November 2003, the United States was already months into its invasion of Iraq, and much of the world wanted to show Bush that they were not okay with the Iraq War.
The fact alone that this was an official state visit speaks volumes to the rigidity felt towards the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War, as it was a far more formal visit… all business. This visit was most notably marked by the 100,000 people filling the streets to protest.
There was no mistaking that the demonstration of over 100,000 people was to protest the US involvement in the Iraq War. It was a tense enough situation that Britain had to seriously beef up security, which is understandable considering the things brought to the protest.
One of the most infamous images of the protest was a gigantic golden statue of Bush, which the protesters pulled down with ropes, mimicking the iconic image of the Saddam Hussein statue that was torn down just a few months prior.
So, despite whatever moment Bush and the Queen may have shared, it surely paled in comparison to what he was met with outside of Buckingham Palace.
12. Jimmy Carter
President Jimmy Carter earned a reputation as someone who could truly relate to the average working man. He was a farmer himself, a real blue-collar guy. Well, that may have been a huge asset when dealing with common folk like us, but not when in the presence of royalty.
President Carter’s kind-hearted demeanor got him in some seriously hot water when he journeyed across the pond to meet with the Queen at Buckingham Palace in May 1977. It’s likely no mistake that this would be his only meeting with Her Majesty because his usual charm ended up seriously rubbing his royal company the wrong way.
President Carter had traveled to Europe to attend a NATO summit, but that took a backseat to his dinner date. When Carter met the royal family, someone clearly missed the boat and forgot to tell the president what’s what, because his embrace crossed a very bad line.
When Carter greeted Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, he leaned in and kissed Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother… on the lips!
“Nobody has done that since my husband died,” Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother said of the moment. The thought of a queen recoiling in horror from an unrequited kiss is one thing, but tossing in her dead husband? Yikes.
Sooo it went well, right?