Clinton's 1997 visit to England was the subject of recently-released memos from the UK's National Archives

By Virginia Chamlee
July 21, 2021 11:55 AM
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US President Bill Clinton and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II
President Bill Clinton (left) and Queen Elizabeth
| Credit: GERRY PENNY/AFP via Getty Images

During his first official visit to the UK after Tony Blair had been elected Prime Minister, former President Bill Clinton turned down tea with the Queen in favor of taking in the sights and eating Indian food, according to newly declassified documents.

Memos released by the UK's National Archives and reported by CNN show that staffers in former Prime Minister Tony Blair's administration were making arrangements to ensure Clinton's 1997 visit to England was a "public relations success."

But a note from Blair's private secretary, Phillip Barton — among the trove of documents released to the public recently — shows that when the president and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were offered tea with Queen Elizabeth, they declined.

Instead, the former first couple wanted to be tourists for the day.

"The Americans said that the President and Mrs. Clinton were very grateful for HM The Queen's invitation to tea at the Palace, but would wish to decline politely," Barton said in a May 21 briefing, according to CNN.

The materials show that staffers in the Foreign Office also made a few other suggestions that seemingly never materialized, including a jam 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)."

Barton's note reveals that the Clintons did not have a "clear idea" of what they wanted to do after the president's meeting with Blair, but added that Clinton "wanted to be a tourist" by visiting a garden, local shops, and eating Indian food with the prime minister.

"The Americans were not attracted to our suggestion of a dinner at Chequers," the note added, a reference to the prime minister's country retreat.

But the hopes of acting as everyday tourists didn't quite go as they may have hoped, with the Clintons ultimately joining Blair and his wife Cherie at the exclusive restaurant Le Pont de la Tour, rather than feasting on Indian food.

According to receipts among the newly released documents, the couples dined on a £265 ($360) meal of halibut, salmon, sole and rabbit.

Blair, now 68, and Clinton, 74, went on to have a unique bond often referred to as "the special relationship."

Prior to his 1997 meeting with Blair, President Clinton had met the Queen, writing in his memoir: "Her Majesty impressed me as someone who but for the circumstance of her birth, might have become a successful politician or diplomat. As it was, she had to be both, without quite seeming to be either."