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CARBIS BAY, England – Queen Elizabeth II was bustling with the Group of 7 meeting in Cornwall, England on Friday, cracking a cake with a sword during a group photo with world leaders. But when she greeted President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden in their own home, Windsor Castle, on Sunday, it was a very private visit with cameras and reporters kept out.
Mr. Biden and the Queen inspected an honor guard of grenadiers in the sun-drenched square of the castle before retiring for tea. The Queen has sought refuge in Windsor since moving from Buckingham Palace early last year when the coronavirus pandemic hit Britain.
It was Mr Biden’s last meeting before leaving for Brussels, the next stop on his European tour. And it was a gentle coda to a visit that included an ice-breaking meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose pro-Brexit administration was once considered ideological with Mr Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump.
Mr Johnson praised Mr Biden as a “breath of fresh air” and said he and the President were “completely on the same page” on issues such as climate change and education for women and girls. Indeed, Mr Biden’s economic program has “a certain resemblance” to his government’s “leveling” agenda, which aims to develop economically disadvantaged parts of northern England.
Nonetheless, every time the President visits the UK, it is the meeting with the Queen that most symbolizes what diplomats on both sides still reflexively call the “special relationship” – a term Johnson recently said he doesn’t like because he made Britain sound like needy.
At a reception in Cornwall on Friday, Mr Biden and his wife looked relaxed as they spoke to the Queen, who turned 95 in April. Before that, she had caused a laugh at a stilted, socially distant group photo with the question “Should you look like you are having fun?”
It was a happy contrast to the grieving figure who sat alone in a choir stalls at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor three months ago during the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip.
Other than the presidential inspection of the honor guard, there was no description of the Sunday meeting at Windsor Castle. With the exception of a single representative, reporters traveling with the President were denied access to the premises when Mr Biden arrived from Heathrow Airport in his Marine One helicopter.
The President has met the Queen before, but not since 1982, when he was a Senator on a trip sponsored by the UK-US Parliamentary Group that promotes relations between Parliament and the US Congress.
The two obviously don’t go together: Mr Biden celebrates his working class roots and Irish-American heritage. In his first speech after landing in Britain on Wednesday, he relied on a passage from a favorite poem “Easter 1916” by William Butler Yeats about the Irish uprising against British rule.
But the two have a common loss experience: Mr Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and a daughter were killed in a car accident shortly after he was elected to the Senate in 1972. In 2015 his eldest son Beau died of a brain Beau cancer. The Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, died on April 9 at the age of 99, shortly before his 100th birthday.
“Today would have been Prince Philip’s 100th birthday,” said Biden on Thursday and expressed his condolences to the Queen and her family. “I know that a lot of people today feel his absence.”
Philip’s death caused some to speculate that the Queen would withdraw from the public eye. But she has been fairly visible in recent weeks when she chaired the opening of Parliament and traveled to Cornwall to attend a reception with Mr Johnson, Mr Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders.
At lunch on Friday, she was given a ceremonial sword to cut a cake, which she handled with care. Told by an adjutant that a normal knife was around to do the job, the queen snapped: “I know that there is – that is more unusual.”
After nearly seven decades on the throne, the Queen has met every American president since Harry S. Truman, except Lyndon B. Johnson, and has been exposed to a number of presidential gestures, quirks, and one or two faux pas.
She shared a scone recipe with Dwight D. Eisenhower, joked with Gerald R. Ford about wayward sons, discussed horses with Ronald Reagan, went to a baseball game with George HW Bush, and ripped his son George W. Bush the tongue for a slip, in which he claimed she was there for America’s independence in 1776.
However, there have been few encounters compared to their meeting with Mr Trump in 2018. The President appeared to be stepping right in front of the monarch while the two inspected the Windsor Castle Honor Guard, forcing her to walk around the President. The image sparked a social media storm, with royal commentators arguing over the gravity of the diplomatic protocol violation.
The impromptu treatment did not appear to harm Mr Trump on his next visit in 2019. The Queen put on an extravagant state banquet for him at Buckingham Palace, after which the President said he and Elizabeth had “automatic chemistry” and that he did. She was told she had never had a better time on an evening like this.
“She’s a spectacular woman,” he told Fox News.