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Bill Clinton turned down tea with the Queen and instead wanted to be a ‘tourist’

Bill and Hillary Clinton with Prime Minister Tony Blair and wife Cherie in 1997. (PA Images via Getty Images)


Bill Clinton turned down tea with the Queen and instead wanted to be a ‘tourist’


During his first official visit to the UK in 1997, President Bill Clinton reportedly declined tea with Queen Elizabeth because he wanted to “be a tourist” and try out an Indian restaurant.

The former US President Bill Clinton and his wife, First Lady Hillary Clinton, had travelled to the UK to meet newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair When Buckingham Palace issued the invitation.

Mr. Clinton’s itinerary included walking around London, taking in the sights, and dining at one of the city’s famed curry places. Formerly secret documents indicate that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was more than willing to show the US President the ropes.

‘The White House were definitely not seeking a contact with the Palace,’ wrote John Holmes, Mr Blair’s private secretary, when discussing tea with the Queen.

‘The Clintons would want the ‘fun’ bit of the programme to be very informal.’

‘Unless the UK side signalled that the absence of a call there might cause offence, the White House would certainly not seek one,’ he continued.


According to the Guardian, Buckingham Palace notified Prime Minister Tony Blair’s staff that “HM the Queen would be very pleased” to welcome the Clintons to tea on their way back from summits in Paris and The Hague.

“The Palace have been in touch with us to say that HM The Queen would be very pleased to invite the President (with or without the Prime Minister) and/or Mrs Clinton to tea next Thursday,” Downing Street staffer Philip Barton wrote.

Despite worries among US officials that this would be regarded as a “very grateful for HM the Queen’s invitation,” the Clintons opted to “decline politely” despite being seen as “discourtesy,” according to National Archives files.

The White House, he claimed, was likewise uninterested in a “suggestions of a dinner at Chequers,” the prime minister’s country residence.

Clinton wanted time to explore the city — “he has said he wants to be a tourist” — and, in particular, “expressed an interest in trying Indian food,” according to Tony Blair’s private secretary Philip Barton.

The president’s rebuff came after the US and UK agreed that the visit should “show the president and the prime minister to the wider world as young, dynamic and serious leaders.”

The President’s first trip to London in 18 months lasted only a few hours, from 11.30 a.m. to 3.45 p.m.

The president, prime minister, and their respective partners, Hillary and Cherie, dined at a French restaurant in London Bridge, where they drank beer and fine wine.

Blair was so pleased with the meal that he wrote to the restaurant, complimenting the employees for the ‘magnificent food’ and observing that the ‘the relaxed atmosphere was just what we needed’.

While Downing Street sought to put their best foot forward for the historic visit, which was viewed as crucial to ‘establishing a good working relationship’ between the two leaders, the Clintons intended to keep the meeting ‘fun’ and informal.

According to the report, a jamming session “for the president (saxophone) and the prime minister (guitar) to play together briefly (with or without other musicians who might be at the lunch)” was suggested by the Foreign Office but was disregarded.

A “look in a pub (the Americans like them)” was another suggestion that failed to materialize.

While the Queen was snubbed that time, the Clintons did meet Her Majesty and Prince Philip in 1995 and were granted a tour of Buckingham Palace.

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