- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Queen Elizabeth II arrived at the White House yesterday for a state visit overflowing with pomp and pageantry, complete with a 21-gun salute and the Bush administration’s first white-tie-and-tails dinner last night.

On a cool and cloudless day, trumpeters at the South Portico of the White House heralded the queen’s arrival, and soldiers of the U.S. Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps — dressed in black tricorn hats, white wigs and red regimental coats — piped a Continental Army tune as they marched across the South Lawn.

“Your Majesty, the United States receives with honor the sovereign of the United Kingdom. We welcome back to the White House a good person, a strong leader for a great ally,” President Bush said.

But the president fumbled his effusive praise when he told thousands of guests gathered on the lawn that the stately matron of the United Kingdom — queen for 55 years — had first visited in the 18th century.

“You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17—,” the president said, standing just a few feet from her majesty. Catching himself quickly, he corrected the date to 1976, but it was too late. The crowd of more than 7,000 dignitaries and guests spread across the lawn tittered softly, then broke into raucous laughter. Mr. Bush paused, then looked sheepishly toward the queen, who smiled at the leader of one of Britain’s former colonies.

Looking back to the throng, Mr. Bush deadpanned: “She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child.” More roars of laughter erupted in the crowd, who waved tiny Union Jack and Old Glory flags handed out at the gates.

The moment captured the gap between the U.S. president — who wore cowboy boots when he first met Elizabeth in 1991 during his father’s term — and the British monarch, impeccably dressed yesterday in a black skirt, white jacket, a black-and-white hat, clutching a shiny black handbag. He may be president for eight years, but she is queen for life. The visit to the U.S., the fifth in Elizabeth’s reign, was her first since 1991.

At last night’s state dinner, the 81-year-old Elizabeth dazzled the room with a Stuart Parvin white evening dress, with a full-beaded bodice and a white chiffon skirt, a blue sash with a garter star, and Queen Mary’s tiara. First lady Laura Bush went with something more understated — an aqua Oscar de la Renta gown with some embroidery and a waist-length bolero jacket over it.

In toasts before dinner, Mr. Bush hailed the U.S.-British alliance as a force for the “common good” and “supporting young democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. … We’re confident that Anglo-American friendship will endure for centuries to come.”

The queen thanked the president and put her toast in the context of her membership World War II generation and such statesmen as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. “Together with our friends in Europe and beyond we can continue to learn from the inspiration and vision of those earlier statesmen in ensuring that we meet these threats and resolve these problems.”

The state dinner featured 134 guests among 13 damask-clothed tables set with gold-trimmed ivory china and gilded silver candelabras. The affair was just the Bushes’ fifth state dinner in six years, but the first in white tie.

“We did sort of have to convince him a little bit” to hold the rare white-tie dinner, Mrs. Bush said in an interview on ABC, describing efforts by her and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to talk the ranch-owning Texan into hosting the most formal style of dinner, the protocol for which allows dignitaries to wear their medals.

The guests dined on spring pea soup with fernleaf lavender, chive pizzelle — a traditional Italian waffle cookie — with American caviar, Dover sole almondine, roasted artichokes, pequillo peppers and olives, saddle of spring lamb, fricassee of baby vegetables, and a salad topped with a “trio of farmhouse cheeses.”

Afterward, the guests — who included Nancy Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Nancy Pelosi, and some Bush family members — joined another group of dignitaries for entertainment, which included guest violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.

Earlier in the day, the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, arrived late at the White House for the afternoon ceremony — which gave a White House staffer time enough to vacuum the red carpet one last time. After reviewing the troops, the president and the queen returned to a small stage at the foot of the portico.

“Your Majesty, I appreciate your leadership during these times of danger and decision. You’ve spoken out against extremism and terror. You’ve encouraged religious tolerance and reconciliation. You’ve honored those returning from battle, and comforted the families of the fallen,” he said.

As a figurehead monarch, Elizabeth steered clear of politics, instead noting that a state visit “provides us with a brief opportunity to step back from our current preoccupations to reflect on the very essence of our relationship.”

“It gives us the chance to look back at how the stories of our two countries have been inextricably woven together. It is the moment to take stock of our present friendship, rightly taking pleasure from its strengths, while never taking these for granted,” she said.

After the White House luncheon, the royal motorcade sped up Massachusetts Avenue to a garden party at the British Embassy, where 800 guests awaited the queen’s arrival under a huge tent raised amid formal gardens in full bloom and decorated with enlarged photographs of Elizabeth with every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

A hush fell over the crowd when the queen and her husband appeared at the top of the stairway accompanied by British Ambassador David Manning and his wife, Catherine. There were no speeches or welcoming remarks, just a lengthy “walkabout” down a long pathway of well-wishers deftly divided in two by a phalanx of regimental guards, military attaches and embassy officials. The royal progress continued for the better part of an hour before Elizabeth and Philip retired to Blair House to prepare for the state dinner.

“I’m a royalist. I love it,” interior designer John Peters Irelan exulted after the royal couple spotted his Knights of St. John lapel rosette and stopped to chat. “Sometimes I wish we also had a figurehead head of state, so we wouldn’t have to be ashamed of the ones who get elected here.”

Not that Mr. Irelan was referring to the White House’s current occupant. “It’s nice to have a president,” he hastened to add, “who can handle both blue jeans and white-tie.”

Kevin Chaffee and Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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