From bitter enemies to the closest of friends, the United States and Great Britain enjoy what both nations call a special relationship—one that often extends to its most revered leaders—and one that is sometimes strengthened in the most unusual of ways.
This is the Forgotten History of the The Queen and the Gipper’s Harrowing Drive.
The rain was pounding hard against the narrow mountain road, and with visibility near zero and zero room for error, the Secret Service was petrified that they might lose both a President and a Queen. The punishing storm had thwarted Queen Elizabeth II’s plan to sail the royal yacht Britannia into port for her very first visit to California, and now it was threatening to wash her limousine off a cliff.
Nine months earlier, Elizabeth had bonded with President Ronald Reagan during his visit to London. The two shared a love of horses and rode each morning; the Queen fondly recalling how she had to take the reins of the President’s horse to keep it from galloping off into a canal.
They became fast friends, and Reagan’s gift to her—one of the very first Hewlett Packard home computers (valued at $24,000)—became one her most prized possessions, which she installed in Buckingham Palace to help her with her horse racing and breeding programs.
The visit was such a success, and the Queen and the President so admired each other, that they planned immediately for Elizabeth to visit Reagan’s ranch in Santa Barbara. But there would be no horseback riding on this visit. The severe weather made sure of that. 30-foot waves off the cost forced the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, off of the Britannia and onto an Air Force plane to fly them from Long Beach to meet the President and First Lady in Goleta.
Howling winds, lightning, and more rain than typically fell on Southern California in three weeks spoiled Reagan’s plans for a grand reception. When the royal couple arrived, the American contingent met them in an airline hangar. Still, Reagan—ever the showman—arranged for a 21-gun salute and a performance of “God Save the Queen” by the Air Force band.
The first couple and royal couple then boarded two limousines and, flanked by a fleet of Secret Service vehicles, took off for the Reagan Ranch. But almost immediately, there was trouble. The storm had uprooted trees and downed power lines along the route, and agents worried about the possibility of a roadblock as the highway narrowed in the mountains.
Even worse, the lumbering limos were starting to slip and skid on the wet pavement, and as the motorcade climbed higher, there was a real danger that one could slide off the road and down the embankment.
This was an unthinkable nightmare, and as the limos continued to struggle as they climbed, the Secret Service called an audible. Agents had the Reagans and the Queen and Prince hop out of their limos and into SUVs to take them the rest of the treacherous ride to the ranch.
The Queen, however, wasn’t scared in the slightest. She called the ride “delightful and terribly exciting.” It also strengthened the bond between her and Reagan, who was always her favorite of the 13 US Presidents she met.
And the torrential storm even allowed her to show off her trademark wit during Reagan’s formal dinner in her honor a few days after their harrowing car ride up the mountains, telling guests “I knew before we came that we had exported many of our traditions to the United States, I had not realized before that weather was one of them."