Capital Goes Gaga Over the Queen for a Day

By Tamara Jones and Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Queen Elizabeth II arrived at the White House yesterday for the grand finale to a visit that's whirled from history to horse racing to high society with barely enough time for a spot of tea and a cucumber sandwich between.

Hugs from schoolchildren, a private luncheon, a garden party and the Bush administration's first white-tie state dinner kept the queen changing hats and offering polite greetings most of the day and well into the evening.

Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, arrived at the White House to greet an estimated 7,000 dignitaries, legislators, Cabinet members and invited guests on the South Lawn on a blossom-fresh spring day.

President Bush welcomed the queen with a royal faux pas about her age, suggesting she had witnessed American independence in 1776. Expressing admiration for her long friendship with the United States, Bush noted that Elizabeth had dined with 10 presidents and had "helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 . . ." He quickly caught and corrected his mistake, "in 1976."

Her Majesty did not appear to be amused.

Laughter rippled across the South Lawn, but the queen, who celebrated her 81st birthday last month, shot Bush a look that he sheepishly acknowledged "only a mother could give a child."

It wasn't his only comeuppance of the day.

Laura Bush acknowledged she and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had tag-teamed Bush to coax him into white tie for the White House's most formal dinner of his presidency.

"Dr. Rice and I took it upon ourselves to talk him into it, because we thought if we were ever going to have a white-tie event, this would be the one," Mrs. Bush told reporters.

The 134 guests invited to the gala included a handful of American football luminaries but none of the soccer-mad British variety. No Hollywood stars, either -- an unusual omission for state dinners. Scoring a last-minute invitation was winning Kentucky Derby jockey Calvin Borel, cheered across the finish line Saturday by the queen in white gloves and coral-beribboned hat. (Horse racing is listed on the British Embassy's Web site as one of the queen's official hobbies, along with Scottish country-dancing.)

Throughout the day, official remarks ricocheted between gravitas and gaiety, the president soberly referring to terrorism, the first lady extolling spun-sugar flowers, the queen talking high-tech.

"I particularly look forward in the next two days to seeing at firsthand something of how the cutting edge of science and technology can take us to the next phases of discovery and exploration in human endeavor," the queen said in her prepared remarks. Her itinerary today includes a stop at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and a private dinner with the Bushes' before she heads home to London tonight.

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