Remembering Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Visit to Los Angeles

In 1983, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived for a 10-day tour to California, where the Queen was ”thrilled” to meet President Reagan
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When the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip first visited California in 1983, it was on a 10-day tour that was marked by unfortunate weather, the glamor and glitter of Hollywood, and all of the charm Ronald Reagan had for the two royals at the dawn of the so-called Special Relationship.

The royal California adventure began in San Diego, then moved up to Los Angeles in what would be the central days of the visit. But with their move toward Tinseltown came pouring rain, which led the party to take a detour.

“Queen Elizabeth II planned on sailing into Santa Barbara on Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia to meet up with President Reagan and Nancy Reagan before heading up to Rancho Del Cielo for lunch and a horseback ride around the property,” the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum note vividly on its website. “A severe storm, which brought more than three times the normal amount of rain to the area, made several last-minute changes to their meeting. The storm was howling and dumping rain on Santa Barbara and the coastline.”

Instead, the royal couple took a U.S. Air Force plane from Long Beach to Goleta, where they were greeted by First Lady Nancy Reagan and The Gipper himself. Their reception was held inside a hangar, in order to protect guests from the violent storm crashing down on the Southland. Outside, a row of howitzers performed a 21-gun salute, and an Air Force Band played both “God Save the Queen” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The royals later adjourned to the Reagans’ Rancho de Cielo in Santa Barbara. But it was still raining; the royal couple donned traditional British Macs and Reagan sported a denim jacket, according to the Reagan Library.

Even the queen became star-struck by Regan’s former matinee idol charm—according to author Robert Hardman’s account to the BBC, “Madge,” as she was nicknamed by the British press, was “absolutely thrilled” to get an invite to Hollywood by the actor-turned-president.

“[The queen] got on very well with Reagan, and he had that wonderful visit to Windsor [in Britain] in 1982 when they went riding together in the park,” Hardman told the BBC in March. “He absolutely loved that and said you must come and see Hollywood.”

And it was Hollywood that was the absolute highlight of her trip. Although Queen Elizabeth is said to have felt that as a head of state she should visit Washington D.C., Reagan told her to “forget all that. Come to Hollywood. And the queen was actually thrilled to go,” Hardman revealed.

Seated at the lunch Reagan threw in her honor was, in fact, quite a strategic affair, what with the American A-listers reportedly “jostling for position.”

“So [Reagan] took a rather weird decision, which was: I’ll put all the British actors on the same table as the queen. And of course, that really annoyed all the American actors,” said Hardman.

Julie Andrews was seated next to her majesty, which annoyed Andrews’ husband so much that he walked out of the event.

Outside of the glamour and intrigue of their brush with Hollywood, the royal couple visited Yosemite National Park, Palm Springs, the Los Angeles City Hall (where she famously defended Britain’s actions in the Falkland Islands), and the city of Downey, where the Queen viewed a replication of the Apollo Space capsule, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The queen’s visit to Yosemite was marked by the tragic deaths of three U.S. Secret Service agents who were protecting the royals during the visit. All three died in a head-on crash with a Sheriff’s Department vehicle. According to the Times, the agents were George P. LaBarge, 41, of Ohio; Donald A. Bejcek, 29, of Chicago; and Donald W. Robinson, 38, of Newark, N.J.

Poignantly, while Queen Elizabeth II has been back to the United States several times since 1983, she has never made a return to the U.S. West Coast.

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