President Donald Trump’s planned meeting with Queen Elizabeth II on Friday marks the culmination of a long and sometimes tortured fascination with the British royal family, dating back two decades to the divorce of Princess Diana.
In his 1997 book, “The Art of the Comeback,” Trump wrote that his only regret “in the women department” was that he “never had the opportunity to court Lady Diana Spencer.” Shortly after her death that same year, Trump boasted to Howard Stern on his radio show that he “could have” slept with the late princess.
Trump also once spread a rumor in New York – printed in the city’s tabloids – that Diana and Prince Charles were interested in purchasing a $5 million condo in Trump Tower. In Palm Beach, Florida, residents said he used a similar tactic to generate buzz about his private Mar-a-Lago Club, claiming Diana was thinking about becoming a member.
Now the U.S. president, Trump arrived at Winfield House here Thursday to the sounds of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” – a tune that seemed to channel the aspirations of the British government, which plans to rely on some royal help from the queen in taming the gauche boy from Queens.
“She is a tremendous woman,” Trump said of Elizabeth in an interview Thursday with The Sun tabloid, noting that his Scottish-born mother “loved” the queen. “I really look forward to meeting her. I think she represents her country so well.
“If you think of it, for so many years she has represented her country, she has really never made a mistake,” he continued. “You don’t see, like, anything embarrassing. She is just an incredible woman.”
Trump’s visit here is meant to serve as something of a rustic British respite, the midway point of a trip that began with an ambush of NATO leaders in Brussels and will end Monday in Helsinki at a controversial summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Largely to steer the president clear of messy protests roiling London – complete with a petulant “Trump baby” blimp inflated almost to its bursting point – the British have designed an itinerary heavy on the pomp and circumstance, if not as grand as he envisioned last year. The president, who reportedly once requested a gold-plated carriage ride through London and hoped to play nine holes at Balmoral’s private course while the queen looked on, appears content to proceed through his well-appointed itinerary.
“There were no particular requests,” said a British official involved in the planning on Trump’s trip England. “I don’t think they were expecting even to see the queen. They didn’t ask for that. She offered to have him come around for tea. They are very keen on it, but this is one aspect they have been quite undemanding.”
On Thursday evening, the president and first lady attended a black-tie dinner at the Blenheim Palace country estate, where Winston Churchill was born. There, at the yellow-tinged stone building with Corinthian columns and ornate turrets adorning the top, the president was greeted by four military bands representing the four nations of the United Kingdom, including a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace.”
Then, on Friday, Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May are slated to meet at her country retreat of Chequers outside the city, before the president heads to Windsor Castle for tea with the queen.
“The president will be surrounded by splendor everywhere he goes,” said Michael Bishop, director of The National Churchill Library and Center at George Washington University and executive director of The International Churchill Society. “It’s not a state visit, but he is certainly getting the royal treatment.”
Trump’s royal captivation over the years has played out in a prolonged series of entreaties, dust-ups and unfulfilled aspirations. Yet no matter how much the president strives, he will still be the arriviste – desperate to be taken seriously by a clan that is not without its own share of scandals and misbehavior.
His own history of royal commentary probably doesn’t help. In 2012, many flocked to the defense of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, after paparazzi shot long-lens photos of her while she was sunbathing topless at a remote holiday lodge in France.
Trump, by contrast, defended the photographs, writing on Twitter that Middleton had “only herself to blame.”
“Who wouldn’t take Kate’s picture and make lots of money if she does the nude sunbathing thing,” Trump said in another tweet. “Come on Kate!”
More recently, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nuptials earlier this year generated attention when Trump did not receive an invite – a perceived snub lessened by the fact that the couple did not end up including any politicians. Earlier, during the 2016 campaign, Markle called Trump “divisive” and “misogynistic” in a late-night television interview.
The royals do not comment on politics, so there is unlikely to be any definitive public verdict on Trump’s visit with Elizabeth Friday. “The queen will know full well that he’s a big tweeter so she’ll be even more cautious as to what she says,” said Dickie Arbiter, the former press secretary for Elizabeth.
Tina Brown, an editor and author of books including “The Diana Chronicles,” said the queen, a deft mimic in private, is likely to be “quite amused” by Trump.
“She sits there looking plain in her poker face and no one knows what she’s thinking behind the mask,” Brown said. “But when she gets looser with friends, she loves to send people up.”
The real-estate magnate-turned-president, Brown added, will enjoy being in a “real-live palace,” but may find Windsor lacking, at least in terms of his own showy preferences.
“Windsor Castle is a wonderful, old, extraordinary, grand castle, but it isn’t at all flashy,” she said. “English castles are often cold and drafty, and I think his attitude will be quite appraising of the fixtures and fittings, which is something the queen has never cared about.”
The best outcome, Brown concluded, may be a respectful and brief visit – just the latest chapter in Trump’s tangles with the monarchy.
“I think idea is flash him a few coronets and get him out of town, because he’s something of toxic guest at this moment and Theresa May has better things to do right now than expose herself to more bad press,” Brown said. “They’ll do this as fast and as well as they possibly can and then breathe a sigh of relief when he exits in an orange cloud.”