Skelton: Recalling Queen Elizabeth’s’ visit to California

Americans reject monarchism. It’s in our DNA. But Queen Elizabeth II was a monarch respected and admired by most Americans. She had grace and courage – lifelong qualities that came into their own on an adventurous trip to California in 1983.

Her son and successor, King Charles III, shared his mother’s traits of keeping calm and cool. And the then-prince showed it when he was received by “Era of Frontiers” Gov. Jerry Brown at the state capitol in 1977.

The Queen’s journey certainly did not go as she expected. And the prince’s visit undoubtedly surprised him. But both were upbeat in their reserved royal ways and seemed to be enjoying the experience.

The Queen fascinated me on this California tour. She always has been, ever since I was a teenager watching the 27-year-old’s coronation, in all its glittering pomp and circumstance, on our family’s first television, a 16-inch black-and-white.

Some 30 years later, President Reagan invited the Queen to visit his home state — more specifically, his beloved mountain ranch just north of Santa Barbara.

It was sung by Frank Sinatra and Perry Como with 20 starsth Century Fox banquet, attended a Reagan-sponsored state dinner at San Francisco’s De Young Museum, prayed in a rustic, centuries-old chapel in Yosemite Valley, and celebrated May 31St Anniversary with a private candlelit dinner aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.

“There were toasts and I said, ‘I know I made a lot of promises to Nancy when we were married, but how can I ever top that?'” Reagan recalled in his autobiography, An American Life.

Queen Elizabeth II and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

Queen Elizabeth II waves to a crowd while being escorted to Los Angeles City Hall by Mayor Tom Bradley on February 28, 1983.

(Fitzgerald Whitney/Los Angeles Times)

The Queen’s entire 10-day trip had been planned around the President’s desire to show off his 688-acre Rancho del Cielo. The highlight was to be their riding horses in the hilly area, as they had done on his previous visit to Windsor Castle. Riding was a shared passion.

But nature interfered. California has been hit by one of those winter storms that once a decade turn shallow streams into torrents, washing out roads and bridges.

It had rained 4 inches with blustery winds on Reagan’s ranch for the past 24 hours.

I rode in a press car behind the President’s four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Suburban up the narrow, winding 7.2-mile road from Refugio State Beach Park off Highway 101 to his 2,400-foot retreat. We crossed streams 2 to 3 feet deep. Boulders rolled through raging waters. There were fallen branches everywhere.

I thought that was crazy. But Reagan didn’t seem to notice.

In his autobiography, Reagan wrote, “We waited at the ranch [the queen and Prince Philip] while struggling seven miles up a serpentine road. In three places the road was cut by streams and their limousines could not get through. Our people met them with four-wheel drive cars.”

At this point, I particularly admired the Queen’s courage. Most people – including me – would have said, “Forget it. Just take me back to the beach.”

“She’s a real team and a good athlete… She didn’t want to disappoint anyone,” said Mike Deaver, deputy White House chief of staff, who escorted the queen through California.

“They made it up the mountain,” Reagan wrote, “but by the time they got to our house it was so foggy that nobody could see more than a few feet.” I tried to explain how beautiful the place really was and apologized for the weather.

“But the Queen said, ‘Yes, if it were only desolate, but this is a adventure.'”

The trails were too muddy for safe riding.

They ducked into Reagan’s small, five-room, 172-year-old Spanish mud house for a lunch of Mexican fare: enchiladas, chile rellenos, bean curd, tacos, rice, and guacamole. And fresh fruit.

Times columnist Patt Morrison wrote that “the low-budget luncheon” matched President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s meeting with the Queen’s parents, King George VI. and serving hot dogs and buns to Queen Elizabeth, 1939.

“She found the trip delightful and terribly exciting,” said the Queen’s spokeswoman.

Three days later, Deaver escorted the Queen to Sacramento to meet with Governor George Deukmejian and legislative leaders for lunch.

Deaver, who had been a senior aide when Reagan was governor, told me that he and the queen ended up in his old office in the Capitol.

“I could use some gin,” the queen said, according to Deaver. He used to keep a small bottle of gin in a drawer at the back of his desk. He reached into the drawer and surprisingly it was still there. He found a glass and poured a drink for the grateful queen.

Now that sounds made up. But the queen liked her gin. And I’ve never seen Deaver, a fraternity brother, lie to me.

About five years earlier, Charles was invited to the Capitol by Brown. The governor took the prince from the airport in his aging blue Plymouth. No royal limousine.

The future king was treated to a wineless lunch of cold cuts, sourdough bread, California cheese, fruit and nuts, served with borrowed silverware. They drank ginger ale.

“I’ll have that for lunch anyway,” Brown told me last week.

After that, the governor presented the prince with a brown bag containing a bean sprout sandwich. A widely circulated news photo showed Charles peering curiously into the bag.

“It was the ‘frontier era,'” Brown recalled.

“The prince was cool. He has a dry English sense of humor. He rolled the punches. I accepted everything. He does.”

Brown, a leader in the fight against climate change, noted that Charles spoke out about global warming.

“He’s not going to have much of a kingdom if it gets too bad,” Brown said. “It would have very devastating consequences for Britain.”

He wants Charles to “interfere in environmental issues” as king. “That could be significant.”

But it doesn’t seem likely. As his mother always knew, the way to get popular support for the monarchy is to ignore politics. Skelton: Recalling Queen Elizabeth’s’ visit to California

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