Former US President Bill Clinton declined offers of tea with Queen Elizabeth and dinner at the British Prime Minister’s official country house because he wanted to “be a tourist,” go shopping and eat Indian food during his first official visit to the UK with Tony Blair as leader in 1997, according to formerly classified documents.
Downing Street was “pulling out all the stops” to ensure Clinton’s May 1997 visit – made between trips to summits in The Hague and Paris – was a “public relations success,” according to memos between Dominick Chilcott, assistant private secretary to the foreign secretary, and John Holmes, Blair’s principal private secretary.
The documents have been released by the UK’s National Archives.
Although the President and his wife, Hillary Clinton, were offered tea with Queen Elizabeth, they declined it in favor of other activities, a note from Blair’s private secretary, Phillip Barton, reveals.
“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 said in a May 21 briefing.
The documents detail attempts to confirm the ever-changing schedule for the presidential couple’s visit to the UK on May 29.
At the time of the visit, Blair had just begun his 10-year tenure as UK Prime Minister, having been elected earlier that month.
When asked what he would like to do after his speech, the note said that Clinton’s team had “no clear idea” – but that the President “wanted to be a tourist” and wanted to visit a garden and shops, and sample some Indian food with the Prime Minister, Barton wrote.
“The Americans were not attracted to our suggestion of a dinner at Chequers,” the note added. Chequers is the UK Prime Minister’s country retreat, based in Buckinghamshire, about 30 miles northwest of London.
In the end, the group dined at Le Pont de la Tour, spending £265 ($360) on a meal that included halibut, salmon, sole and rabbit, according to receipts.