WASHINGTON — The last time Buckingham Palace had such high-profile dealings with Donald Trump, it was to swat down a lie.
It was December 1994 and Trump had spread a rumor that Prince Charles and Princess Diana had — separately, as they were separated — joined as charter members of his new Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. They had even sent in $50,000 checks, or so the story went.
“It’s complete nonsense,” huffed a palace spokesman at the time.
Now, as Trump and his wife, Melania, are poised to meet Queen Elizabeth II, the president is finally getting the attention of the British royal family, affirmation that he’s sought for decades. The meeting with the queen, set for 5 p.m. local time (noon EDT) Friday at Windsor Castle, offers the rare moment of triumph amid what’s been a chaotic tour of Europe for the president.
He’s insulted German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and he’s scolded NATO allies over defense spending, causing jitters about the US commitment to the alliance and prompting a rare policy rebuke from the Republican-controlled Senate. He’s preparing for a meeting next week with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, which is causing trans-Atlantic angst that the president might be cozier with an adversary than our allies.
On Thursday, Trump touched down in the United Kingdom and attended a black tie dinner with Prime Minister Theresa May at Blenheim Palace, which is in Oxfordshire and far from London. On Friday he’s set to hold a bilateral meeting with May, view a military demonstration at Royal Military College Sandhurst, and end the day at his golf club in Scotland.
But the brief meeting with Queen Elizabeth — the Trumps are set to have a 25-minute tea with the monarch — is a moment for Trump to bathe in some of the pomp and ceremony he’s tried to copy in his own life with gold adornments and rococo style. He has recounted how, as a boy, his mother — whom he says he gets his sense of showmanship from — sat for an entire day watching Elizabeth’s coronation. Even his youngest child is named with royal flair: Barron.
“Trump is always very impressed by monarchy and dictatorships,” said Doug Brinkley, an author and professor of history at Rice University. “He likes that idea of a permanent power and something that has glamour and celebrity wrapped around it — and nothing screams that more than the British royal family.”
He added that Trump and the royals do have something in common. “Donald Trump is a product of tabloid journalism, and the royal family is a mainstay in that format,” said Brinkley. “He sees them as bold-named celebrities. He wants to see his name in bold next to theirs.”
American political leaders — going back to the founding fathers — have more typically sought to distance themselves from the British royal family, for fear of appearing too close to the country’s onetime oppressors.
But not so with Trump.
“Anything that says ‘fancy’ really appeals to him,” said Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer. “And I think a lot of the environment that the royals find themselves in would be gilded and he loves gilding, he loves anything that is just the color of gold. If he could have a crown, he would love it.”
Trump has a long history of seeking approval from, and being snubbed by, the British royals. He invited Prince Charles and his brother Prince Andrew to his 2005 nuptials with Melania. Neither came.
He tried, repeatedly, to seduce Princess Diana, including reportedly sending her large bouquets of flowers. She told a friend that Trump gave her “the creeps.”
The Trumps also weren’t invited to the most recent royal wedding, between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but no politicians made the cut.
But snubs aside, Trump’s interest in the royal family and his desire to be associated with them have largely served his own purposes.
That started in 1981 when Trump fanned a rumor that Prince Charles and his new bride, Lady Diana Spencer, planned to purchase a $5 million, 21-room condo in Trump Tower.
Trump proudly recounted the anecdote in his 1987 book, “Art of the Deal,” and explained that a reporter called to ask him about the potential sale to the royals, and he responded by saying he could not confirm or deny it.
“That was all the media needed,” Trump wrote. “In the absence of a denial, the story that the royal couple was considering buying an apartment in Trump Tower became front page news.”
The New York Post and New York magazine both ran with the story, which would have been quite a scoop as it appeared while the royal couple was honeymooning.
Except for one thing: It wasn’t true.
“If any press story about celebrity helped promote Trump Tower, I suspect it was one about a sale that never actually occurred,” Trump wrote, referring to the faux news about the royal sale.
Fast forward to October 1994 and a similar rumor began circulating. By now the royal couple was headed to a divorce and the New York tabloids reported that Princess Diana was in negotiations to buy a $3.5 million, 12-room apartment in Trump Tower.
The news included tantalizing details that the princess had seen floor plans and reviewed videos of apartments in Trump Tower while on a recent trip to New York, according to reports at the time.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman called the reports “pure speculation.”
“Everything with Donald Trump is a matter of: What can you get away with? This is an early example,” said D’Antonio, the Trump biographer. “He is a person who always figures out a way to exploit something in a fashion that regular people wouldn’t dare.”
So, no surprise, the news of royal ties to Trump kept coming.
In December 1994, Trump told The New York Times that Prince Charles and Princess Diana had each joined his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, which was set to open in coming months.
“I handled the applications myself,” Trump was quoted as saying in an article that appeared on B2 of the paper.
Trump’s employees confirmed the reports to other journalists.
But Buckingham Palace denied that either had joined.
In the face of flat denials, the story shifted. Trump explained he’d offered honorary (and free) memberships to the royal couple. Trump produced what he described as a handwritten response from Prince Charles.
“Your club sounds very splendid and I do hope it proves to be a great success,” Prince Charles wrote, according to a June 1995 story in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. “Perhaps one day I shall get to see it.”
Oddly, Prince Charles had already visited Mar-a-Lago — in March 1988, three years after Trump acquired it, according to a story in the Miami Herald.Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.