Bill Clinton Turned Down Tea with Queen Elizabeth II to Go Shopping

Former President Bill Clinton declined to meet Queen Elizabeth II for tea at Buckingham Palace during a brief visit to the U.K. in 1997 because he wanted "to be a tourist" and go shopping.

The British National Archives released a series of documents related to Clinton's trip to London on May 29, 1997, and they show British officials trying to give the Democrat a warm welcome.

Clinton was invited to tea at the palace, but the president declined because he wanted to take part in other activities the city had to offer, such as shopping and dining in an Indian restaurant.

The visit came at an important time in the U.S.-U.K. relationship. Prime Minister Tony Blair had come to power just weeks earlier, following the May 1 general election.

Both sides wanted to "show the president and the prime minister to the wider world as young, dynamic and serious leaders."

Downing Street private secretary Philip Barton sent a memo to Foreign Office Assistant Private Secretary Dominick Chilcott explaining that Clinton wouldn't accept the Queen's invitation.

"The Americans said that the president and Mrs Clinton were very grateful for HM The Queen's invitation to tea at the palace, but would wish to decline politely," Barton wrote.

"The president had said that he 'wanted to be a tourist' and had also expressed an interest in visiting a garden, shops and Indian food," Barton added. "They hope that the PM would accompany him."

Clinton seemed especially keen on an Indian restaurant, as Barton told Blair a few days later. The then president and prime minister, along with their wives, Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair, were due to eat a meal together after the Clintons met staff at the U.S. Embassy.

"You and Cherie would then join them for an early evening supper at a restaurant somewhere in West London—possibly an Indian (Clinton has expressed an interest in trying Indian food)," Barton said.

"His people are very keen to give Clinton the impression that he has a choice of where to eat that evening, although in fact they will have cased a range of restaurants beforehand."

The Clintons and Blairs didn't in fact have Indian food during the visit. Instead, they ate at French restaurant, Le Pont de la Tour, near Tower Bridge. The restaurant is still in business.

The documents also contain other tidbits about plans for Clinton's visit.

Among the events suggested by the U.K. Foreign Office was a jamming session, which would be an "opportunity for the president (saxophone) and the prime minister (guitar) to play together briefly (with or without other musicians who might be at the lunch)." That didn't take place.

Newsweek has asked former President Bill Clinton for comment.

Bill Clinton Talks with Queen Elizabeth II
U.S. President Bill Clinton (2nd L) talks with Queen Elizabeth II (R), along with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (L) and daughter Chelsea (2nd R) at the Garden Entrance of Buckingham Palace on December 14, 2000, in London, England. Newly released documents show Clinton turned down tea with the Queen during a 1997 visit. PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images