Few American presidents have been able to resist the allure of a red-carpet welcome by the Queen. President Biden appeared to be no exception yesterday when, after a formal welcome at Windsor Castle followed by tea with Her Majesty, he paid her what is probably the ultimate compliment: she reminded him of his mother. The diplomatic manoeuvrings between Biden and Boris Johnson appeared to be just so much spin: the real special relationship, it seems, is with the Queen.
In a chat with White House reporters as he prepared to set off to Brussels, Biden, 78, said: “She was very gracious. She reminded me of my mother.” The president also revealed that, even at 95, the Queen was as keen as ever on keeping up with world affairs. He said that she had asked him about world leaders including Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. She also asked what life in the White House was like.
For his part, the president was suitably impressed by Windsor Castle. “We could fit the White House in the courtyard,” he said.
Biden said he had invited the Queen to the White House but given that she no longer undertakes long-haul travel, that may have been more in hope than expectation.
He is the 13th American president that the Queen has met. If she ever has difficulty remembering which was which, the latest will be easy: he was the one in dark glasses who turned up holding hands with his wife. Biden also had one huge point in his favour: so keen was he, it seemed, not to keep the Queen waiting that he turned up early.
Three years after Donald Trump was given the same honour, Biden and his wife, Jill, were formally welcomed by the Queen with a guard of honour and march past before tea in the castle’s Oak Room.
The president and first lady flew to Windsor after the G7 summit in Cornwall. The presidential jet Air Force One took them to Heathrow before they were flown by helicopter, Marine One, to Windsor.
They're a relatively humble Range Rover, rather than the armoured limousine known as the Beast, which took them on the last stage of the journey, through the George IV gate into the castle quadrangle.
The couple had met the Queen on Friday at reception for G7 leaders at the Eden Project but the symbolism of being welcomed at Windsor by the world’s longest-reigning monarch makes such a visit a highly valued occasion for any president.
Trump was visibly thrilled when he and Melania had tea with the Queen at Windsor, a meeting that went on longer than expected. The welcome given to Biden was similar but not identical. When the Queen accompanied Trump as he inspected the guard of honour in 2018, there was some awkwardness when the president seemed unsure whether to walk in front of or behind, Her Majesty.
This time the Queen remained on a dais while the president inspected the guards. The presidential couple were welcomed by her at the dais in the castle quadrangle. Normal protocol is for the Queen to arrive several minutes before her guest but she had to stand at the dais for less than five minutes as the Bidens were four minutes early. As the president got out of the car, wearing dark glasses but having ditched his mask a few seconds before, he and his wife held hands, which was either a gesture of matrimonial affection or a useful bit of support as the president negotiated the dais steps.
A guard of honour formed of The Queen’s Company First Battalion Grenadier Guards gave a royal salute and the American national anthem was played. By the time Biden inspected the guards, accompanied by the officer commanding, Major James Taylor, and Major-General Christopher Ghika, the president’s sunglasses were off. The role of accompanying the visitor during the inspection used to fall to the Duke of Edinburgh until his retirement in 2017.
The Queen appeared in a sunny mood to match the weather, chatting with the president and his wife. Like the Trumps, they stayed longer for tea than expected.