• Wed, Jan 21 2009

Royal Anecdote: Prince Philip and the White House Butler in 1976

Prince-Philip-bg350-38693m_elizabeth_q_b_gr_02 Prince Philip has had his share of funny anecdotes and gaffes being reported in the press. Occasionally, we do hear of stories that are not about the prince committing a misstep. This one that I had just learned about is one of those.

Lynwood Westray worked as a butler in the U.S. White House for 32 years, starting with the presidency of John F. Kennedy. One of Westray’s fondest memories, as shared in an NPR interview, involved an encounter with Prince Philip.

During a visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the White House, Westray found Prince Philip alone admiring the paintings in the Red Room, which is next to the state dining room. Westray and another butler were serving after-dinner drinks, so he asked Prince Philip whether he would like a drink. Here is their exchange and the story:


Westray says. "I said, ‘Your Majesty, would you care for a cordial?’ He says, ‘I’ll take one if you let me serve it.’ What do you do? I didn’t do all that because I had the stuff in my hand. And he says, ‘If you let me pour it, I’ll have one with you.’

"… So he poured it, the one he wanted, and we took the same thing that he had. And we had our drink there together and had a little talk while we were there. He told us if we were ever over there in London to stop at Buckingham Palace and see him. Can you imagine the prince serving you? I enjoyed it. You know, we’re not supposed to drink and carry on at that time. We’re not guests. It was just the three of us in the room, so nobody knew what happened. And I drank my little cordial, we all drank, and had a little conversation. But that was one thing I’ll never forget, having been served by royalty."

It’s nice to know that Prince Philip is willing to occasionally pour the drinks for others, instead of expecting to be served all the time.

Note: Westray said in the interview that the encounter occurred in 1979. However, I have been unable to find any records of a visit to the White House by the British royal couple in that year.

Wikipedia’s ‘List of State Visits Made by Queen Elizabeth II’ shows there was one on July 6-11, 1976, which was part of the bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution during President Ford’s term. Before that was the one on October 17-21, 1957 (President Dwight David Eisenhower), and the next was on March 1983 (President Ronald Reagan). The 1976 and 1983 visits are also listed in this List of White House and Official Events, maintained by Schramsberg Vineyards.

So, I think it’s safe to say that the anecdote above occurred during the White House dinner on July 7, 1976. You can see photographs and documents from the occasion, as well as First Lady Betty Ford’s description of the dinner, at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum website.

Image: Bauer-Griffin

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