Bill Clinton wanted to go for a curry instead of tea with the Queen, papers reveal

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·Royal Correspondent
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US President Bill Clinton and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II smile for the cameras during the group photo session at the Guildhall  04 June 1994 prior to a celebratory banquet for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. (Photo by GERRY PENNY / AFP) (Photo by GERRY PENNY/AFP via Getty Images)
Then US president Bill Clinton and the Queen had already met before he opted for a meal out instead of tea with her in 1997. Here at a 1994 celebratory banquet for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. (Gerry Penny/AFP)

Bill Clinton snubbed tea with the Queen as US president in 1997 because he wanted to go for a curry and be a tourist in London, papers have revealed.

Previously classified documents released by the National Archives show that the Clintons wanted to go to the shops, and asked if then prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie would go with them.

In the end the Clintons and the Blairs went to a French restaurant in London Bridge and had beer and fine wine with their meals.

Memos from the archives, based in Kew, show the Queen had invited Clinton to tea with or without Blair and their partners at 5pm at Buckingham Palace on that day.

Embargoed to 0001 Tuesday July 20 File photo dated 29/05/1997 of US President Bill Clinton (left) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London. Clinton turned down tea at the Palace with the Queen in 1997 and told aides he wanted
US President Bill Clinton (left) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London on 29 May 1997. (PA Images)
Embargoed to 0001 Tuesday July 20 File photo dated 29/05/1997 of 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. Issue date: Tuesday July 20, 2021.
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. (PA Images)

But Downing Street private secretary Philip Barton told Dominick Chilcott, the Foreign Office assistant private secretary: "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.

"The president had said that he ‘wanted to be a tourist’ and had also expressed an interest in visiting a garden, shops and Indian food.

"They hope that the PM would accompany him."

The draft itinerary showed Barton said the Clintons would meet the Blairs at the US Embassy, before visiting a garden and doing some shopping.

Embargoed to 0001 Tuesday July 20 File photo dated 14/7/2021 of the Le Pont de la Tour restaurant, London. Bill Clinton turned down tea at the Palace with the Queen in 1997 and told aides he wanted
The Le Pont de la Tour restaurant pictured in July 2021, in London. Bill Clinton turned down tea at the Palace with the Queen in 1997 and told aides he wanted "to be a tourist" in London. (PA Images)
Embargoed to 0001 Tuesday July 20 Handout image issued by the National Archives of memos across Downing Street aides in May 1997 discussing the visit of US President Bill Clinton. Issue date: Tuesday July 20, 2021.
Memos across Downing Street aides in May 1997 discussing the visit of US President Bill Clinton in 1997. (National Archives)

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He said: "You and Cherie would then join them for an early evening supper at a restaurant somewhere in West London – possibly an Indian (Clinton has expressed an interest in trying Indian food).

"His people are very keen to give Clinton the impression that he has a choice of where to eat that evening, although in fact they will have cased a range of restaurants beforehand."

They ended up choosing Le Pont de la Tour, in London Bridge, not a curry house.

The bill from the evening shows they ate wild salmon priced at £20, grilled sole (£19.50), and halibut (£18).

They also had one bottle of Mas de Duamas 1995 wine at a cost of £34.75, one Budweiser Budvar beer at £2.95, a Red Stripe beer at £3.25, and still water.

In total the diners spent £298.86, including a 12.5% service charge.

Nowadays main courses at the restaurant start around £22, and bottles of wine at about £49.

A bottle of beer now would cost £4.50.

Embargoed to 0001 Tuesday July 20 Handout image issued by the National Archives of a receipt from the Tony Blair and Bill Clinton dinner at Le Pont de la Tour Restaurant in May 1997. Issue date: Tuesday July 20, 2021.
A receipt from the Tony Blair and Bill Clinton dinner at Le Pont de la Tour Restaurant in May 1997. (National Archives)
Embargoed to 0001 Tuesday July 20 Handout image issued by the National Archives of memos across Downing Street aides in May 1997 discussing the visit of US President Bill Clinton. Issue date: Tuesday July 20, 2021.
Downing Street aides in May 1997 discussed the visit of US President Bill Clinton. He and Hillary declined tea with the Queen on that occasion. (National Archives)

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Blair wrote to the staff afterwards, thanking them for the "magnificent" food and adding: "The relaxed atmosphere was just what we needed."

The Clintons had already met the Queen before the turned down the tea invitation, having been given a tour of Buckingham Palace in 1995 by her and Prince Philip.

In 2000 Clinton visited Buckingham Palace accompanied by his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea.

The Queen hosted current president Joe Biden and his wife for tea in June as she returned to work following the death of her husband Prince Philip.

Biden said the monarch reminded him of his mother, and praised her as "gracious and generous".

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