Bill Clinton turned down an invitation to have tea with the Queen because he “wanted to be a tourist” in London, newly released official papers show.
The US president was visiting the UK in 1997 – four weeks after Tony Blair came to power – and said he wanted to hit the shops and eat Indian food.
Previously classified documents show Mr Clinton, Mr Blair and their wives Hillary and Cherie ended up dining at a French restaurant in London Bridge – complete with beer and fine wine.
Memos between Whitehall aides show Mr Clinton was invited to Buckingham Palace to 5pm tea.
But a letter written by Downing Street private secretary Philip Barton said: “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.”
The restaurant bill racked up by the Blairs and Clintons is also among the series of files released by the National Archives in Kew, dating back to Mr Blair’s first few months in government.
They spent a total of £298.86 at Le Pont de La Tour – and the bill featured £20 wild salmon, £19.50 grilled sole, £18 halibut, a £2.95 Budvar beer, and a bottle of Mas de Duamas 1995 wine priced at £34.75.
Blair and Brown tensions
The latest tranche of official papers from 1997 also shows that Mr Blair’s aides wanted Gordon Brown‘s spin doctor “out on his ear” amid fears that unauthorised briefings were damaging the new Labour government.
Files suggest officials struggled to manage tensions between the administration’s two most dominant figures right from their early days in office.
Peter Mandelson – one of Mr Blair’s ministers – repeatedly complained about the actions of Charles Whelan, who served as Mr Brown’s press secretary.
Mr Whelan was accused of planting a series of hostile stories about Mr Mandelson that were making the government “look foolish, and worse”.
A frank note written to Mr Blair also suggested that Mr Brown was using his chairmanship of cabinet committees to “bludgeon through” his own policies.
Scottish independence worries
The now-unclassified documents from 1997 also show that Downing Street advisers had conceded that Scotland could have a referendum on “anything it wants” without Westminster’s consent.
Even back then, key aides to the prime minister said “a couple of very worried Scottish MPs” were concerned about “the slippery slope to independence”.
Scotland voted in favour of devolution in September 1997, with Labour pledging that the country would be able to set up its own parliament responsible for education, health, transport and other matters.
It was not until 2014 that an independence referendum was held, with 55% voting against proposals for Scotland to break away from the rest of the UK.
Blair’s Irish famine message ‘written by aides’
The documents also reveal that Mr Blair’s headline-grabbing admission that the British government was culpable for the Irish Famine was actually hastily ghost-written by his aides.
At the 150th anniversary commemoration in Cork, a message was read on the prime minister’s behalf that said: “That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today.
“Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy.”
A request from remarks from Mr Blair was made at the last minute, and they were approved by his private secretary because the prime minister was “not around at the time”.
Millennium Dome could have been tribute to Diana
Records also reveal that plans had been considered to make the Millennium Dome a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales – and also faced the prospect of being scrapped altogether.
According to the PM’s director of communications Alastair Campbell, a member of the Dome’s board had proposed that the “Millennium project be completely refashioned, the site extended, to accommodate, for example, a hospital, businesses, charities, private residences, and the whole thing named ‘the Princess Diana Centre’.”
Separately, one of Mr Blair’s aides said: “Diana’s death could give us a semi-plausible excuse to cancel.”
The attraction cost £758m and opened on 31 December 1999, but it only drew 6.5 million visitors in 2000 – far fewer than the 12 million that had been budgeted for.
It was later closed and replaced with The O2, which has hosted concerts, sporting events and other entertainment since 2007.