Former first lady Betty Ford remembers being "scared to death" at the prospect of entertaining Queen Elizabeth II at dinner in 1976.
"I was in awe," she said in an interview here, looking back at the queen's previous visit.
What put her at ease, Betty Ford recalled, was realizing that the queen and Prince Philip were "human beings and that although they came from royal blood, they were no different from people I knew. They were lovely, gracious, charming and warm. And they had family problems with children just like I did."
Betty Ford said everyond had wanted to be included on the guest list for the state which she and President Ford hosted for the queen during her Bicentennial visit.
"There were many months of lists, and probably a lot of bickering and arguing, but everybody had to be there for a reason," she said.
Just being a nice person wasn't enough. "A nice person had to come to some other dinner," she laughed.
She relaxed a little when she and the president were escorting the royal couple to the Yellow Oval Room by way of the elevator and Jack Ford, their middle son, appeared with his dress shirt undone and holding his studs. He quickly disappeared.
"The queen said, 'Oh think nothing of it. I have one of those at home.' And obviously she does," Betty Ford said, laughing. "In fact a couple of them, from what I've read. I think probably Prince Andrew has caused her some similar experiences of looking for -- well, maybe not dress studs."
The former first lady said those upstairs sessions when the president entertains state visitors before the dinner gets started can be "a little stiff." But she also said that people like the queen, then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger and then-U.S. ambassador to Great Britain Anne Armstrong were all "such pros" that they knew how to get a conversation going.
"I was naturally very nervous because all of this was new to me even though I'd had about two years of receiving heads of state by then," she said. She thought she had covered all the bases in planning the dinner she and the president gave the night of July 6, 1976, but reading about it later, she realized there had been a couple of loose ends. One was the choice by the Captain and Tennille of the song about a couple of muskrats making love. "It was a cute little song that I didn't think offensive," she said. "But it's very hard to please everybody." Another gaffe was when the Marine Band struck up "The Lady Is a Tramp" when the queen started to dance.
"If the Marine band, which plays for every occasion, doesn't have sense enough to come up with something appropriate... Boy, that's really bottle-feeding the band if you have to set it up. I thought it was a funny coincidence. It really didn't bother me. Maybe it was referring to me," she said, laughing.
Yet another incident at the party that raised some eyebrows, at least in England, was when Vice President Nelson Rockefeller draped his arm around the queen while they stood chatting. It was "an act of lese majeste " (offense against a ruler's dignity), according to Jerrold M. Packard in his book "The Queen and Her Court."
Betty Ford says she doesn't remember Rockefeller doing such a thing, but "I am sure Nelson, giving it his best shot, wanted to make her feel at home. He was that kind of natural, gregarious, warm, friendly person. I'm sure she's had to handle much worse circumstances than Nelson Rockefeller putting his arm around her."
The Bicentennial celebration was the highlight of the Fords' 2 1/2 years in the White House, Betty Ford said.
"To serve in the White House in that time was just a privilege beyond belief. I look back and wonder how did we end up so lucky," she said.
It was a difficult year, and the most preparations, she remembers, were "naturally" made for the queen.
"It was like a revolving door at the White House," she said.