Tea with the Queen and a pint with Prime Minister – Joe Biden has got the best of British, writes ROBERT HARDMAN
Foreigners, the Duke of Edinburgh once complained, often regard the UK as a theme park. ‘Britain is not just an old country of tottering ruins,’ he told a gala lunch in New York some years ago.
‘Nor is it a country where yokels quaff ale, where all soldiers are dressed in scarlet tunics and spend their time marching up and down for the benefit of visitors from abroad.’
Well, Joe Biden may beg to differ. That was pretty much all the new US President and the First Lady have seen during their trip to Britain, which concluded last night at Windsor Castle.
Queen Elizabeth II with US President Joe Biden during their visit to Windsor Castle in Berkshire
Queen Elizabeth II (centre) with US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden in the Grand Corridor
This was the President’s first trip outside the USA since last year’s election and he was certainly getting the best of British
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (C) stands with US President Donald Trump (R) and US First Lady Melania Trump (L) in the Grand Corridor at Windsor Castle in Windsor, west of London, on July 13, 2018
The Queen asked the commanding officer of the Household Division to escort the President
Having arrived in Cornwall for this weekend’s G7 summit – to be greeted by Coldstream Guards on the runway at Newquay Airport – the couple spent the weekend staying in an old castle (the Tregenna Hotel), ate fish and chips with an ale-quaffing Prime Minister, and were then invited to tea with the Queen at Windsor yesterday afternoon.
There, they were treated to more scarlet tunics and marching, this time from the Grenadier Guards. But the Bidens certainly weren’t complaining. They loved it.
This was the President’s first trip outside the USA since last year’s election and he was certainly getting the best of British.
He and his wife, Jill, had already met the Queen at her reception in Cornwall for the G7 leaders last Friday. Yesterday, it was just the three of them chatting over tea in the Oak Room in the private wing.
Windsor Castle was looking every bit as splendid as it did for Saturday’s scaled-down Birthday Parade. The Queen seemed on equally sparkling form yesterday as the Bidens pulled up in the castle Quadrangle.
They had flown from Cornwall to Heathrow in Air Force One and then made the short hop to Windsor Home Park in their Marine One helicopter. For the final leg of the journey, however, the Queen had sent her best Range Rover (complete with dog rack).
The monarch and her guests squinted into the late afternoon sun as the Grenadier Guards played the Star Spangled Banner. The Queen then invited the President to inspect the guard of honour. After that awkward choreography in 2018 when President Donald Trump was seen to walk in front of the Queen (as he had been told to, it must be said), there was no repeat.
This time, the Queen asked the commanding officer of the Household Division to escort the President. The tea party then overran by 20 minutes. Later, the President revealed that he had invited the Queen to pay a visit to the USA, her first since 2007. However, given that she has not been overseas – even to Europe – for six years, that seems unlikely.
No one anywhere, including America, has known as many US presidents as the Queen. Joe Biden is the 13th to greet her in office, though her overall tally is actually fourteen since she also lunched with former President Hoover in 1957. The most famous visit is still that of Ronald Reagan who came to stay in 1982 and went riding in the park with the Queen. To many Americans, it is astonishing that the same head of state was there yesterday to welcome the Bidens (and even more astonishing that she is still to be seen riding in the park).
It is why the other G7 leaders were so keen to see the Queen and her family at the royal reception at the Eden Project on Friday.
When it comes to what politicians call ‘soft power’ (persuasion and charm versus brute force) Britain really does have some unique assets – from the monarchy to fish and chips on a Cornish beach.
All have been deployed in recent days at what must be one of the most memorably eccentric gatherings in nearly 50 years of G7 get-togethers.
The final conclusion may have been yesterday’s communique about vaccines and climate change, but summits are about more than worthy statements.
They are about bolstering relationships and sending a message to the world.
Rewind to the most famous summits over the years – Maastricht, Yalta, the Congress of Vienna – and you won’t find another one which involved rolled-up trousers, three generations of royalty and a toddler still in nappies.
Certainly, the guests at the 2021 Carbis Bay bucket-and-spade summit will not forget it.
Even Professor Joachim Sauer, better known as Angela Merkel’s husband, put in an appearance. Germany’s answer to Denis Thatcher normally avoids such events but he was determined to be at this one.
The G7 was originally conceived as a ‘fireside chat’, though it would soon morph into a vast and grandiose yawnathon, usually held in some soulless conference hotel. Not this weekend. It was a case of getting back round the fireside – or the firepit to be precise, as the leaders toasted marshmallows on the beach.
They were all squeezed into the homely Carbis Bay Hotel, except for the Bidens (US security goons decreed that he stay at Tregenna Castle up the hill).
Space was at a premium on the Carbis terrace and interestingly, it was the EU delegation, led by the German President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who seemed always to get the best seafront table.
Of course, there were those silly photocalls on the podium. These are officially known as ‘family photos’ with the positions dictated by strict G7 protocols. But it is not the formalities which are the key to a successful summit.
The Queen smiled as she spoke to the President and the First Lady at the reception on Friday
The Queen is seen in a car ahead of arriving at the Eden Project in Cornwall for a reception with G7 leaders
It is the personal touches, like the Prince of Wales’ own event where he made a heartfelt plea for Covid-style global action on climate change before a dinner of local turbot and clotted cream ice cream. Given it was the new Mrs Johnson’s debut co-hosting an international event, it explains why the couple had been keen to squeeze in their marriage ahead of the summit.
This was just the sort of barefoot boho-chic beach bash Carrie might have had for her wedding reception if it hadn’t been for the lockdown.
As well as ordering Cornish ale, the Johnsons had invited an ensemble of local shantymen, called Du Hag Owr, to perform. Their final song was an audience participation number requiring all the guests to bounce up and down in turn as they hit the chorus.
Oh, to have seen Chancellor Merkel and Joe Biden doing the Cornish hokey-cokey.
As other leaders began to chuckle, Prime Minister Boris Johnson jokingly replied: ‘We have been enjoying ourselves, despite appearances.’ Pictured: The leaders were seen speaking to the Queen after the photo
The Queen sent G7 leaders into fits of giggles when she quipped ‘are you supposed be looking as if you’re enjoying it’ while posing for a photograph
The hosts had brought young Wilfred, too. The sight of the US First Lady, the Prime Minister’s wife and the baby paddling on the sand will linger in the mind rather longer than the leaders’ gawky waxwork routine on the podium.
Wilfred made another appearance at the start of Saturday night’s beach barbecue (proving to guests that the PM’s troublesome hair is not contrived but hereditary).
Similarly, images of Jill Biden sharing an education symposium with the Duchess of Cambridge or the leaders’ spouses at the open-air clifftop Minack Theatre above Land’s End have set the bar high for the hosts of the next G7 summit – Germany.
This could all have gone badly wrong, of course, especially if the fickle Cornish weather had turned. Cooped up indoors in the rain, tempers might have frayed. Bringing a toddler to a global summit in a small hotel was a gamble, too.
However, it worked. Today, we will be reminded of what these events are usually like as world leaders move on to the Nato summit – at a conference centre in Brussels. There will be no shanties.
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