When Bill Clinton preferred Indian food to tea with Queen Elizabeth

Prasun Sonwalkar/London
Filed on July 20, 2021
Photo: Reuters

He wanted to 'be a tourist', according to declassified confidential documents released by the National Archives.

Former US President Bill Clinton was keen to try Indian food during a visit to London and politely declined an invitation for tea with Queen Elizabeth in 1997, when Tony Blair was the Prime Minister, confidential documents declassified and released by National Archives on Tuesday show.

Philip Barton, who currently heads the Foreign Office, was at that time Blair’s private secretary in Downing Street.

He set out various details and options in a series of correspondences on the arrangements for Clinton’s visit. The president was accompanied by his wife Hillary Clinton.

Barton wrote to the Foreign Office on May 21, 1997: “We asked what the President might want to do after a speech event. The Americans had no clear idea. 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.”

However, during the visit, Blair, his wife Cherie, and the Clintons had dinner at the French restaurant Le Pont de la Tour, totting up a bill of £298.86 (approx. Dh1,493) for a meal that included grilled sole, halibut, wild salmon and rabbit.

Barton’s note added: “They hoped that the Prime Minister would accompany him. We said that he would. The Americans were not attracted to our suggestion of a dinner at Chequers. We discussed other ideas, including visiting some shops and having dinner in Soho.”

Chequers is the country residence of the British PM in Buckinghamshire, where visiting dignitaries often join the premier for a meal.

Indian PM Narendra Modi was a guest at Chequers when David Cameron was the PM in 2015.

Barton’s note quoted American officials as saying that the Clintons were very grateful for the queen’s invitation for tea at Buckingham Palace, “but would wish to decline politely”.

The declassified documents show British and American officials agreed that the visit needed to “show the president and the PM to the wider world as young, dynamic and serious leaders”.

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