How the late George Bush had a VERY special relationship with Queen

How the late George Bush had a VERY special relationship with Queen

December 3, 2018

He nicknamed the Queen the talking hat after she was hidden behind her microphone: ROBERT HARDMAN on how the late George Bush enjoyed a VERY special relationship with Her Majesty

There was nothing formulaic about this weekend’s condolences from Buckingham Palace in response to the death of President George H.W. Bush aged 94.

The Queen expressed ‘great sadness’ at the passing of a ‘great friend and ally’ of the UK. 

Indeed, of all the American presidents the Queen has known — and she has met a dozen — none enjoyed quite the same rapport with the Monarch as George H.W. Bush.

This was, in part, because he was the nearest to her in age. Less than two years separated the two heads of state whose whole outlook on life had been shaped by World War II. 

Bush had served gallantly as a naval pilot, just as the Duke of Edinburgh had served in the Royal Navy.

The Queen expressed ‘great sadness’ at the passing of a ‘great friend and ally’ after the death of President George H.W. Bush (pictured together on the White House Lawn)

Both leaders also had headstrong sons lined up to follow in their footsteps. 

In the case of George Bush, eldest son George W would eventually do so, though in those days second son, Jeb Bush, future governor of Florida, looked more promising.

The Queen and the Duke also got along famously with the no-nonsense, mother-of-six Barbara Bush. To cap it all, it was the Bushes who laid on one of the most memorable state visits of the Queen’s reign.

Britain and America had just emerged victorious from the first Gulf War after Operation ‘Desert Storm’. 

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The 1991 state visit was arranged by way of thanks and celebration but it began with some unexpected comedy on the White House lawn. After President Bush’s formal welcome, he invited the Queen to the lectern.

Given the difference in height between the two leaders, he was supposed to press a pedal and raise the dais for her. But he forgot. As a result, the Queen was all but invisible. The moment was immortalised by NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski. 

‘She’s gone!’ he exclaimed. ‘All I got is a talking hat!’ Thereafter, royal staff would call this as ‘the talking hat tour’.

Bush had gone out of his way to arrange an historic accolade for his guest: the Queen would be the first monarch to address both houses of Congress on Capitol Hill. 

George H.W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II in the Picture Room at Buckingham Palace in June 1989

They instantly rose to their feet when the Queen opened with an unscripted gag: ‘I do hope you can see me today.’

She went on to receive several more standing ovations from a packed chamber. ‘Some people believe that power grows from the barrel of a gun,’ she told them. 

‘So it can, but history shows that it never grows well nor for very long.’

At the White House state banquet, where the Bushes laid on Maine lobster, lamb and the soprano, Jessye Norman, in honour of the Queen, the President saluted a relationship ‘which has never been more special’.

Praising the Queen’s stamina, he went on: ‘Rain or shine, your long walks have left even the Secret Service agents panting. ‘

She in turn praised the President for his ‘quiet courage’ during the Gulf War — ‘what Thoreau described as ‘three-o’clock-in-the-morning courage’.’

While writing my new book, Queen Of The World, I obtained previously classified documents on this tour which show the depth of this friendship. 

For example, the Queen had arranged her own very special gift for the President. She asked her piper, Jim Motherwell, to compose a new march for the President and she Christened it Desert Storm. He was thrilled.

It was during this visit to the White House that the Queen had her first encounter with the man who would be her host 16 years later. 

In 1991, however, George W. Bush was the gung-ho boss of a Texan baseball team and considered something of a loose cannon, not least by his own family.

The Queen was struck by ‘Dubya’s’ cowboy boots which were etched with the words ‘God Save the Queen’.

At one point, she asked him if he was the black sheep of the family. ‘I guess so,’ he replied.

President George W. Bush walks with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, at Andrews Air Force Base in 2008

‘All families have them,’ observed the Queen.

‘Who’s yours?’ Bush Junior replied, at which point Barbara Bush intervened with a cry of: ‘Don’t answer that!’

The unscripted moments kept on coming, to the delight of the Press. When the Queen toured a poor part of Washington DC to view a new housing project, she was engulfed in a bear hug by Alice Frazier, 67, who asked her in for chicken wings and iced tea. 

‘I just couldn’t stop myself,’ Alice told reporters later. ‘Shoot… if she didn’t have that crown on, she’d be just like me.’

The Royal Yacht had sailed into Miami to meet the Queen on the next leg of her tour. There, she was due to host a return state banquet. 

I discovered the extraordinary story of how the dinner was nearly scuppered by a diplomatic incident.

As was standard procedure, Britannia’s crew tested the plumbing in the royal cabins prior to the Queen’s arrival.

Whereupon Britannia’s captain, Rear Admiral Robert Woodard, was confronted by a furious port official who handed him a $10,000 fine for polluting the harbour with his royal flush and ordered the Yacht to leave within two hours. 

Only the intervention of the White House saved the day.

Yet, the Queen was loving it all as the tour moved on to Texas where further huge crowds awaited. As the Chicago Tribune put it, Texas had ‘donned a ten-gallon tiara’.

Though the 41st U.S. President lost to Bill Clinton the following year, his friendship with the Queen was a lasting one. 

On her return to the U.S. in 2007 at the invitation of his son George W, the 43rd President, Bush Senior and Barbara were involved in every event.

And when the Queen and the Duke visited the Washington memorial to World War II, Bush Junior stepped aside and asked his parents to be hosts.

‘She was very comfortable with ‘Bush 41′. It was a very warm relationship,’ Sir David Manning, who was then British ambassador, told me.

It was a poignant sight as the two couples, now in their 80s, mixed with the war veterans and paid their tributes to the fallen of their own generation. 

‘There they all were, walking around like old friends,’ says Sir David. ‘Those occasions touch people in a way that is very hard to measure but it matters.’

The Queen will send her own private condolences to the Bush family this week. A touching and fitting end to a very special relationship indeed.

  • Queen Of The World by Robert Hardman (Century, £25).

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