REVIEW: Royal Audience: 70 Years, 13 Presidents–One Queen’s Special Relationship with America by David Charter

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70 years on the throne. 13 American presidents. One extraordinary queen.

From the moment she first enchanted the world as a youthful princess, Queen Elizabeth II found a unique place in American hearts—and she also played an unprecedented role in forging transatlantic ties. Over her seventy-year reign, she developed extraordinary and varied personal bonds with thirteen U.S. presidents—Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, both Bush Sr. and Jr., Clinton, Obama, Trump, and Biden—that other diplomats and leaders could only dream of.

A fascinating, in-depth look at international relations and interpersonal intrigue, Royal Audience peels back the curtain on the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K. as embodied by the Queen herself—charting Elizabeth II’s distinctive brand of one-to-one diplomacy through the eyes of those who experienced it firsthand. From horse-riding with Ronald Reagan, to sharing her recipe for scones with Dwight D. Eisenhower, to striking up a kinship with the Bushes and the Obamas, the Queen’s interactions with her U.S. counterparts often acted as a restorative tonic for relations between two nations, even when political tensions ran high. Not all royal encounters with U.S. presidents went smoothly, though. Between Jackie Kennedy’s complaints about Elizabeth and the Queen Mother’s shock at being kissed on the lips by Jimmy Carter, there was never a dull moment.

Throughout the years, Queen Elizabeth II’s sense of duty and service remained steadfast, and her iconic legacy is unlikely to be repeated.

Review

Looking at the cover and reading the blurb, I went into this book hoping for a bit of “behind the scenes” and maybe little tidbits of historical information from the many meetings between Queen Elizabeth II and the fourteen US presidents she met over the course of her life. I did learn some things but as was often mentioned in the book “what happens at private lunches/teas/dinners/meetings with the Queen, stayed with the Queen.”

I’ll be frank and say that the extensive background on the international events of the day was probably needed – especially in the case of the things that influenced US/UK relations 70 years ago (how up are you on the Suez Canal Crisis of 1955?) – but these were inserted as history lessons and they read as one. After the major UK/US kerfluffles during each presidential term(s) were outlined, there usually followed a tit-for-tat exchange of excruciatingly correct notes and letters that could be studied as an etiquette guide. Only after that stuff did the meetings between the Queen and the presidents get discussed.

Once things got personal and the trips/state visits were delved into, I enjoyed the little glimpses of these relationships. Beginning with President Truman while she was still Princess Elizabeth, including President Hoover long after his term, and continuing through President Biden, the Queen was seemingly wielded as diplomatic “oil on troubled waters.” When the Special Relationship (use that as a drinking game and get drunk quickly) between the US and UK needed work, out would come an invitation from one side or the other and she would be put to work.

Despite the protocol filled meetings, from the information and recollections of those there, her tact, charm, sharp sense of humor, and decades of experience did seem to work a charm. From being on the receiving end of a hug from a woman in Maryland, visiting a US grocery story along with Prince Philip, exchanging views on standing for hours in heels with Michelle Obama, or enjoying private visits to the US where she could “let her hair down” a bit more than was possible in the UK, the Queen rolled with the punches, smiled through summer humidity in DC, and forged relationships with the presidents that they fondly recall.

After I began skimming some of the more recent political events and crises – since I lived through them and already knew them – and then also skipping the note exchanges, I cherry picked out the bits that I came for. Perhaps it’s better that the curtain not be entirely pulled back and some of the mystique remain but there are quick flashes here that give a peek into what made her special and such an unrivaled asset for British relations with the US. B-/C+

~Jayne

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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