News & Politics

When the Queen Met the President

A new book looks at Elizabeth II’s relationship with US leaders.

With the Nixons in 1970. Photograph by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II encountered 13 US Presidents, from Harry Truman to Joe Biden. We called up David Charter, US editor of the Times of London, to discuss his new book, Royal Audience, about her relationships with our commanders in chief.

What was the queen’s role when she met Presidents?

Unlike other countries where the head of state is also the head of government, the queen’s job is more of a unifying role—to create the atmosphere for the deals and the hard politics to work. She creates this warm, fuzzy feeling of friendship and fascination and a genuine desire to know her.

How did those meetings change over the years?

She went from father figures who kind of doted on her, like Truman and Eisenhower, to Kennedy, who was a little older than her and way more modern. In one sense, there was a consistent regard for the queen because she gave total respect to every President. She was well aware that political relations could get worse unless we made sure we looked after our friends.

You focus on how the queen and Presidents dress at these meetings. How come?

A [presidential] visit from the queen is going to be the high­light of the year, if not the administration. She could command this incredible attention to detail. [Presidents] would study the protocol for how you address the Royals, how you approach, when to raise your glass, all of these things.

How much did you learn that was new to you?

Some of the big moments are remembered and known: the famous horse ride with Ronald Reagan in 1982, for example. But [the book] lives in its smaller details. I learned how much the queen admired and was fascinated by America. It wasn’t just another country she was visiting—there was something extra there. It goes back to the war, to her formative years when she was a teenager, and to the foundations of the modern Western world that she lived through. She was really so much more relaxed in America.

This article appears in the March 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Egan Ward
Editorial Fellow