Why Bill Clinton turned down tea with the Queen in 1997

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Why Bill Clinton turned down tea with the Queen in 1997

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

Buckingham Palace told the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair that “HM the Queen would be very pleased” to invite the Clintons to tea on their visit from summits in Paris and The Hague, the Guardian reported, citing formerly classified documents.

But Downing Street private secretary Philip Barton replied: “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.”

He added that the White House also was not interested in a “suggestion of a dinner at Chequers,” the prime minister’s country home.

President Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in December of 2000.
In addition to turning down Queen Elizabeth’s invitation to tea, the Clintons declined dinner at Prime Minister Tony Blair’s country home.
AP

Instead, Bubba “said that he wants to be a tourist” and had “expressed an interest in trying Indian food,” according to the news outlet, which cited a Downing Street briefing note released by the National Archives.

The presidential snub came after the US and UK agreed the visit needed to “show the president and the prime minister to the wider world as young, dynamic and serious leaders.”

The Clintons were reportedly more interested in a “fun” and “photogenic” outside event.

President Bill Clinton, center right, and his wife Hillary, left, pose in front of London's Tower Bridge with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, right, and his wife Cherie, center left, in 1997.
The Clintons were reportedly more interested in a “fun” and “photogenic” outside event.
AP
Bill Clinton (left) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London on May 29, 1997.
President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London on May 29, 1997.
AP

Foreign Office suggestions, which were ignored, included 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),” according to the report.

Another idea that went nowhere was a “look in a pub (the Americans like them).”

The White House also rejected the prime minister’s suggestion for a “stroll in Trafalgar Square” before visiting a sports cafe where Clinton and Blair “could be shown how to play various sophisticated computer games by a group of children,” the Guardian reported.

President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary with Tony Blair (left) and his wife Cherie (2nd left) having dinner at Le Pont de la Tour Restaurant in London.
President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton dined with Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, at the French restaurant Le Pont de la Tour.
AP

In the end, the president and first lady Hillary Clinton dined with Blair and his wife, Cherie, at the French restaurant Le Pont de la Tour near Tower Bridge, where they chowed down grilled sole, halibut, wild salmon and rabbit, according to an invoice for the $400 meal.

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