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Bill Clinton turned down Queen’s tea invite because he ‘wanted to be a tourist’

Documents containing logistics involving the US president’s 1997 visit have been released by the National Archives.

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Labour leader Tony Blair on the steps of the US ambassador’s residence in London, with Bill Clinton (PA)

Labour leader Tony Blair on the steps of the US ambassador’s residence in London, with Bill Clinton (PA)

Labour leader Tony Blair on the steps of the US ambassador’s residence in London, with Bill Clinton (PA)

Bill Clinton turned down tea at the Palace with the Queen in 1997 and told aides he wanted “to be a tourist” in London, previously classified documents reveal.

The US president, visiting Tony Blair four weeks after New Labour swept to power, said he wanted to hit the shops and eat in an Indian restaurant.

In the end, the president, the prime minister, and Hillary and Cherie, their respective partners, dined at a French restaurant in London Bridge, where they drank beer and fine wine with their meals.

The logistics – and the restaurant bill – are contained within a series of files released by the National Archives, Kew, dating back to Mr Blair’s first few months in Government.

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Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary were joined at Le Pont de la Tour restaurant by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie (PA)

Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary were joined at Le Pont de la Tour restaurant by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie (PA)

PA

Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary were joined at Le Pont de la Tour restaurant by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie (PA)

Memos between Whitehall aides the week before the Clintons’ arrival highlighted that the Queen had invited the president – with or without Mr Blair and their partners – to 5pm tea at the Palace.

However, Downing Street private secretary Philip Barton later got in touch with Dominick Chilcott, the Foreign Office assistant private secretary to say the offer would not be taken up.

He said: “The Americans said that the president and Mrs Clinton were very grateful for HM The Queen’s invitation to tea at the palace, but would wish to decline politely.”

The memo added: “The president had said that he ‘wanted to be a tourist’ and had also expressed an interest in visiting a garden, shops and Indian food.

“They hope that the PM would accompany him.”

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The receipt from the Clinton-Blair dinner at Le Pont de la Tour in 1997 (National Archives/PA)

The receipt from the Clinton-Blair dinner at Le Pont de la Tour in 1997 (National Archives/PA)

The receipt from the Clinton-Blair dinner at Le Pont de la Tour in 1997 (National Archives/PA)

Updating the prime minister of the draft itinerary a few days later, Mr Barton said the Clintons would meet staff at the US Embassy before possibly visiting a garden and doing some shopping.

He said: “You and Cherie would then join them for an early evening supper at a restaurant somewhere in West London – possibly an Indian (Clinton has expressed an interest in trying Indian food).

“His people are very keen to give Clinton the impression that he has a choice of where to eat that evening, although in fact they will have cased a range of restaurants beforehand.”

The restaurant chosen for the quartet was Le Pont de la Tour, in London Bridge.

There, the four diners ordered items including wild salmon priced at £20, grilled sole (£19.50), and halibut (£18).

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Bill Clinton and Tony Blair at the Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in 1997 (PA)

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair at the Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in 1997 (PA)

PA

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair at the Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in 1997 (PA)

The bill also contained one bottle of Mas de Duamas 1995 wine at a cost of £34.75, one Budweiser Budvar beer at £2.95, a Red Stripe beer at £3.25, as well as still water.

The total bill came to £298.86, including a 12.5% service charge.

So impressed was Mr Blair with the experience that he wrote to restaurant thanking staff for the “magnificent” food.

“The relaxed atmosphere was just what we needed,” he said.

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