WINDSOR, England – President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived at Windsor Castle Friday evening outside London to meet Queen Elizabeth II and be treated to the kind of royal pomp-and-ceremony the president loves and the British love staging.
The presidential couple arrived at the massive 900-plus-year-old fortress just miles west of London at about 5 p.m. local time, and shook hands with Her Majesty, 92, who was meeting her 12th sitting president and the fourth she has hosted at her weekend residence since the 1980s.
The queen wore her usual royal outfit, a periwinkle blue coat over a patterned dress with a matching hat.
Her husband, Prince Philip, 97, has retired from public life and was not there.
The Trumps and the queen stood in the Quadrangle of the castle as a Coldstream Guard of Honor gave a Royal Salute (“God Save the Queen”) and the U.S. national anthem was played.
As per usual in a royal welcoming ceremony, the monarch and the president were to inspect the Guard of Honor and then watch troops march past.
Then they planned to go inside the castle (which has about 1,000 rooms and occupies 13 acres) to join the queen for tea.
The royal handshakes followed the president’s meeting earlier Friday with Prime Minister Theresa May at Chequers, the PM’s country retreat.
And Melania Trump, dressed in a Victoria Beckham dress of boldly colorful stripes, visited the Royal Chelsea Hospital in London where she tried her hand at bowls with aging British Army veterans.
The meeting took place against a backdrop of President Trump’s critical comments about Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the teetering Tory government, its ongoing infighting over Brexit and Trump’s own suggestions to May about how to achieve the divorce from the European Union.
But he had nothing but gushing praise for the queen in his headline-making interview Friday with The Sun, Britain’s largest-circulation newspaper owned by Trump’s media mogul pal, Rupert Murdoch.
Trump described the queen as “a tremendous woman” in the interview.
“I really look forward to meeting her. I think she represents her country so well,” Trump said. “If you think of it, for so many years she has represented her country, she has really never made a mistake. You don’t see, like, anything embarrassing. She is just an incredible woman.”
The queen hosts multiple foreign dignitaries every week, though usually at her working residence at Buckingham Palace in London. But an audience between the United Kingdom’s head of state with the head of state of Britain’s closest ally is considered crucial for both sides.
Certainly, President Trump was keen on it, according to the U.S. ambassador to Britain speaking the week before the Trumps arrived. Doing it at Windsor also had advantages in that it got him out of London where massive anti-Trump demonstrations are taking place, complete with a giant Trump “baby” blimp balloon aimed at mocking him.
No such derision will be heard from Her Majesty.
Under the British constitutional monarchy, the figurehead monarch is “above” politics, and the queen has been scrupulous during her 66-year reign in keeping her opinions to herself, no matter the controversies swirling around whoever is presented to her.
Thus, the times when her views do become known are rare and memorable, as when she was overheard at a 2016 garden party criticizing Chinese officials for being “very rude” during a state visit to Britain by President Xi Jinping the year before. Her remark was huge news because it was unprecedented, uncharacteristic and undiplomatic.
Although there were advance calls in Britain from some quarters to cancel the meeting between the queen and the Trumps, that was never going to happen. When it comes to these meetings, the monarch follows the instructions from the government of the day.
May was the one who issued the invitation to Trump when she met him at the White House soon after he took office. Initially, it was supposed to be a “state visit” featuring even more elaborate ceremony, but that was later downgraded to an audience as it became clearer that Trump’s presence in London would be less than welcome.
Instead, an elaborate banquet was staged Thursday night by May when she hosted the Trumps at a black-tie dinner with British business leaders at Blenheim Palace, the home of the Dukes of Marlborough in Oxfordshire west of London where Winston Churchill was born.