Q: What drove
you to write the first book about the Roosevelts and the British
A: While doing research for an article
about the relationship between the presidency and the monarchy
for Majesty magazine, I realized that the king
and queen’s role in cementing Anglo-American relations
and in saving democracy had not been given its proper place
in history. At a time when the "special relationship"
between Britain and America is getting so much attention
in today’s press, I thought it was a particularly
important time to uncover the historical roots of this powerful
Q: What was the primary motivation of the King and Queen
of England’s first state visit to the United States
A: The King and Queen were an integral part of the British
propaganda campaign, which focused on winning America to
support Britain in the war that would erupt three months
later. They intended to weaken the strong isolationist sentiments
of the American people and the U.S. Congress, to reinvigorate
the long-standing ties between the two countries, and to
foster sympathy for the British position in a perilous world,
perched on the edge of war. What better way to accomplish
this than to come to America themselves and show the American
public that the British were much like themselves-modern,
flexible and democratic. They also wanted to develop a firm
bond with the Roosevelts, whom they saw as crucial allies
for a beleaguered Britain.
Q: What was the American perception
of the British prior to World War II?
A: The American public perceived
the British as elitist and old-fashioned. They believed
that the British people felt superior to Americans or were
anti-American. Many U.S. citizens were angry that England
had not repaid its First World War debts, while others were
concerned about Britain’s imperial ambitions.
Q: Why did FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt choose to entertain
the King and Queen with a hot-dog picnic at their Hyde Park
A: The Roosevelts believed that entertaining the King and
Queen at their family home with an all-American hot dog
picnic would humanize the royals in the eyes of the American
public. Americans were wary of their mother country, but
the State visit was deliberately styled to make the British
look more egalitarian.
Q: Did the goals of the State Visit succeed?
A: Absolutely. The king and queen helped draw Americans
closer to Britain; suspicions about Britain relaxed, and
the majority of Americans felt more connected to their mother
country, with whom they shared a common heritage. The American
people began to see the British as being democratic and
modern- more like themselves. The visit was a crucial moment
in solidifying the powerful relationship between Britain
and America that still steadies the world today.
Q: And how exactly did the Queen of England do when she
tried to eat a hot dog?
A: The Queen Mother’s mouth was too small to put
the whole hot dog in. Although it was kept secret, she had
to have her hotdog cut up for her.
Q: How did Eleanor help her husband to seal the Anglo-American
A: Eleanor used her "My Day"
column to humanize the royal couple, and to calm America’s
insecurities about the royal visit. When there was an uproar
about serving hot dogs to the king and queen, she devoted
a column to the controversy, explaining why it made sense
to offer the royal couple hot dogs at the Hyde Park picnic.
To solidify the Anglo-American alliance, Eleanor cultivated
a friendship with the king and queen and supported them
during their darkest hours during the war. In 1942 she traveled
to England to visit the royal family, shore up the morale
of the troops, and learn how women were contributing to
the war effort. She was acclaimed for bringing the British
people a genuine appreciation of the American spirit.
Q: What is similar about how the "special relationship"
between Britain and America plays during FDR's time and
A: The close political and personal friendship between
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush
has its roots in the very similar friendship between Churchill
and FDR. The mutual goals that brought them together are
the same today as they were then. The two nations aim to
work together intimately to foster democracy, freedom, and
human rights throughout the world just as they did during
World War II. And the Anglo-American leadership of wartime
coalitions in the Gulf War and the Iraq War relies on a
similar interchange of top level intelligence and military
cooperation that the two countries shared in World War II.
Q: Why is it important that we examine
the historical roots of the "special relationship"
between the U.S. and Britain?
A: It is too easy to assume that
the formidable Anglo-American alliance has long been as
smooth and reliable as it is now. It is crucial to recognize
that this relationship, like any other, has had its ups
and downs, and requires constant tending to keep it vibrant
and effective. Studying the history reveals the vulnerable
points around which tensions can develop.
Q: What was the most surprising information
or anecdote you found in your research?
A: I was most surprised by the extent
of Britain’s propaganda campaign, focused on winning
America to Britain’s side and into war, and by the
king and queen’s role in it. I was also amazed to
discover that there had been an assassination attempt against
the Duchess of Kent in London the day before their Majesties
entered the United States. This heightened the already intense
security preparations for the State Visit. The present Duke
of Kent and Prince Michael of Kent had no idea that there
had been an attempt to assassinate their mother, the late
Duchess of Kent.
Q: What was the most amusing anecdote
A: As the king and queen rode by
train from Buffalo to Washington DC, they were nervous about
their upcoming meeting with the Roosevelts and with isolationist
congressmen, but also haunted by the specter of the Duke
of Windsor’s spectacularly popular American visits.
When the anxious queen stepped off the train in Baltimore,
she nearly fainted when her worst fear seemed to be realized:
she saw her archrival, the Duchess of Windsor, approaching
her with flowers. She recovered enough to realize that this
might be only a relative of the duchess and then realized
the lady was only a dead-ringer. It took her a while to
Q: Who did you interview for the
book and how did you get access?
A: On the Roosevelt side, I spoke
to Eleanor and Franklin’s grandson Christopher Roosevelt
about his experiences with the Queen Mother. He was kind
enough to put me in contact with a number of his cousins
who shared memories. On the royal side, I had corresponded
with the Queen Mother’s private secretary, Sir Alastair
Aird, about a New York exhibition I curated in celebration
of the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday. I later interviewed
Sir Aird, and he submitted questions to the Queen Mother,
who had been very pleased by my exhibition. I also spoke
with a number of British historians including Hugo Vickers,
Sarah Bradford, Kenneth Rose, and Theo Aronson and Roosevelt
historians including William Leuctenberg, David Woolner,
and Chris Breiseth.
Q: What strategy proved the most influential
in sealing the Anglo-American alliance?
A: Believe it or not: charm and duty.
FDR and the queen were two of the most charming personalities
of the twentieth century, but they were also bound by a
powerful sense of duty. Queen Elizabeth used her celebrated
charm on American crowds in Washington and New York, and
on congressmen and socialites alike, with the single-minded
purpose of shoring up an alliance that could save Britain
in the coming war. FDR was celebrated for his personal charm,
which he regularly used to convince politicians and foreign
leaders, some of whom he detested, to further his New Deal
policies and to support him in saving democracy. Charm is
too often celebrated for its own sake while not enough attention
is paid to how potent a political weapon it can be, when
blended with a sense of responsibility, in accomplishing
positive changes in society—and yes, even foreign
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