© 2024 254 North Front Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, NC 28401 | 910.343.1640
News Classical 91.3 Wilmington 92.7 Wilmington 96.7 Southport
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

An audio tour of Queen Elizabeth meeting 13 U.S. Presidents across seven decades


The death of Queen Elizabeth II closes a chapter in British history that lasted seven decades. And over that time, the queen met 13 U.S. presidents. NPR's Don Gonyea has highlights.


DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Princess Elizabeth landed in America for the first time in 1951, less than a year before she would become queen. President Harry Truman met her on the tarmac.


HARRY TRUMAN: And on behalf of the government and the people of the United States, I bid you a most hearty welcome.

GONYEA: She would return to the U.S. six years later as queen, this time meeting President Eisenhower. Then in 1961, Elizabeth hosted her president.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The crowd surged forward for a look at President and Mrs. Kennedy as they arrive for a private dinner at the palace with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

GONYEA: The audio is from the United States Information Service. But that visit by the Kennedys was widely reported to have been more than a bit awkward. In fact, it inspired the storyline for an episode of the Netflix series "The Crown" in 2017 with the drama enhanced, to be sure. That series showed the queen getting word of dismissive comments uttered by Jackie Kennedy.


SAM CRANE: (As Patrick Plunket) That she found Buckingham Palace second-rate, dilapidated and sad like a neglected provincial hotel.

GONYEA: The next president, Lyndon Johnson, is the only one Elizabeth did not meet. There's no definitive explanation as to why, but the meetings resumed with Richard Nixon.


GONYEA: President Gerald Ford would welcome the queen in a ceremony on the White House lawn. The occasion was America's bicentennial, marking its break with the crown.


GERALD FORD: Your Majesty, the wounds of our parting in 1776 healed long ago. Americans admire the United Kingdom as one of our truest allies and best friends.

GONYEA: The queen described that past as long-buried.


QUEEN ELIZABETH II: What is more important is that our shared language, traditions and history have given us a common vision of what is right and just.

GONYEA: Jimmy Carter visited the palace a year later. Then, it was Ronald Reagan, the president with whom the queen seemed most comfortable. They went horseback riding together outside Windsor Castle, and Reagan later welcomed the queen to his home state of California, including a dinner in her honor, in San Francisco.


RONALD REAGAN: And ladies and gentlemen, happily conscious of the honor that is ours tonight, I ask you to join me in a toast to Her Majesty The Queen.

GONYEA: President George H.W. Bush entertained the queen on her next U.S. visit. He took her to a Major League Baseball game in Baltimore. The queen even held a receiving line with players in the Orioles dugout. Such moments are symbolic and more. While presidents discuss policy with British prime ministers, with the monarch, it's more about friendship and shared national values.

Elizabeth met Bill Clinton three times. When George W. Bush was at the palace in 2003, the niceties of that visit were overshadowed by huge street demonstrations over the war in Iraq. Four years later, Bush would host Elizabeth at the White House where violinist Itzhak Perlman entertained at a state dinner.


ITZHAK PERLMAN: (Playing violin).

GONYEA: Proper etiquette is always paramount with the royals. Missteps do happen, though. When President and Michelle Obama were at the palace, at one point, the first lady put her arm around the queen, an affectionate gesture. But hugging the monarch is not something you're supposed to do. Then, there was President Trump's inspection of the royal guard on the palace grounds in 2019.


GONYEA: It was an important ceremonial moment, and Trump seemed to cut right in front of the queen, blocking her path. This is royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams talking to CNN.


RICHARD FITZWILLIAMS: Now, if you actually looked at the way that was handled, it appeared that the president was, inadvertently no doubt, blocking out the queen. It was...

GONYEA: British tabloids took great notice. But with both Mrs. Obama and President Trump, the queen appeared not to take offense. Now to 2021, an economic summit brought President Biden to the U.K. Every president before him who had met the queen had also met Prince Philip, who died two months before Biden's visit. As he began a major speech to the summit, Biden used the moment to first pay tribute to the queen's husband of 73 years.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Today would have been Prince Philip's 100th birthday. I know there are a lot of people feeling his absence today.

GONYEA: Days later, the queen had Biden and the first lady to the castle for tea. Afterward, Biden told reporters that she had been gracious and that she reminded him a bit of his own mother. He was the 13th U.S. president Elizabeth would meet. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OLYMPIANS' "PLUTO'S LAMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.