Princess Margaret wasn’t born to be like the other royals. In fact, she was the first member of the British royal family to be born in Scotland in 300 years.
Just six years old at the time, Margaret, who died in 2002, was thrust even more into the spotlight. Whether in spite of her royal status — or because of it — as she grew up, she became known for her romances and her wayward behavior at parties, even as her sister took the crown in 1953. Her behavior led her to be dubbed with such nicknames as a “Royal Lightning Rod” as Time called her in 2002.
Despite the negative attention she often received, as part of Margaret's royal duties and in lieu of her sister, she embarked on a three-week trip to the United States in 1965.
Margaret's trip was at the 'request of Her Majesty's Government'
At the time in the sixties, the relationship between the United States and Britain were tense. After all, the United Kingdom had an £800 million deficit on payments in 1964 — and in order to get a loan from the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. had to approve it.
In addition to the weakening power of the U.K., which was also going through decolonization, the nation didn’t support the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Many attribute this to the personal tensions between the nation’s then-leaders: Prime Minister Harold Wilson and President Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, Johnson is the only U.S. President out of 11 to not meet Elizabeth.
While the reason for Margaret’s tour have been debated, the year after it happened, Britain’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs explained that it started as a private visit.
Initially, the idea for her to make her first trip to the U.S. came as an acceptance of an invitation from a former U.S. ambassador in London, but it developed into “a visit which consisted mainly of official and public engagements undertaken at the specific request of Her Majesty's Government,” according to the Foreign Minister, Walter Padley.
She started her visit on the West Coast
On November 4, 1965, Margaret and her husband, Lord Snowdon, landed in California with a 16-person entourage and 75 pieces of luggage, first setting foot in San Francisco, staying on the 11th and 12th floors of the Huntington Hotel in the Nob Hill area. The group made visits all around the Bay Area, including to the San Francisco City Hall, a fashion show at the Hilton Hotel, the University of California Berkeley campus, a mass at Grace Cathedral and the Monterey peninsula. And of course, they played tourist too at Coit Tower and on a cable car.
“I had heard so much about San Francisco that I was afraid I would be disappointed — but it lived up to my expectations,” she said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Next, they went south to Los Angeles, where — after a tour of Universal Studios — they rubbed elbows with the famous, especially at a party thrown by socialite Sherman Douglas. On the guest list: Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, Mia Farrow, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Fred Astaire and Natalie Wood. They also made a stop at the set of Torn Curtain, where they met Paul Newman, Julie Andrews and Alfred Hitchcock.
Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon then hopped on a plane to Arizona, where they spent four days, visiting a friend whose father, Lewis W. Douglas, was the former Ambassador to the Court of St. James, as well as enjoying time at a Sonoita ranch.
President Johnson called Margaret an 'angel'
It wasn’t until November 15, 1965, that the royal British couple made it to the nation’s capital. Staying at the British Embassy throughout their Washington D.C. visit, they started off with a private meal there on their first night before touring the sites, including Mount Vernon, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, National Cathedral and Arlington Cemetery, according to Town & Country.
To commemorate their visit, a formal dinner was held in the State Room of the White House on November 17 with President Johnson. On the menu: an almond-crusted fish called Atlantic Pompano amandine, as well as roast squab, artichoke with vegetable puree and hearts of palm salad with brie. The meal was topped off by a praline glacé dessert and a selection of three wines, Wente Pinot Chardonnay, 1960 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and 1959 Almaden Blanc de Blancs.
And as they had done in Los Angeles, they continued partying among big names. This time the 140 guests included Kirk Douglas (who sat at President Johnson and Princess Margaret’s table) and Nelson Rockefeller (who sat at Lady Bird Johnson and Lord Snowdon’s table), as well as government leaders like Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
The president and princess raised their glasses to one another, Johnson thanking Margaret and Snowdon for their friendship and, in turn, the strong relationship between the countries.“You have claimed our heart, and we are very proud to give it to you,” Johnson said. “But you have done more. Lord Nelson once said, ‘England expects every man to do his duty.’ And I say tonight, every woman, too. And you have done your duty while in America. You have represented well the people that you serve with dignity and grace and spirit and joy.”
He even quoted Mark Twain: “I have traveled more than anyone else, and I have noticed that even the angels speak English with an accent.”
For her part, Margaret toasted the president and first lady for their 31st anniversary, which happened to be that day and said, “We are having the most wonderful time in the United States. The hospitality and kindness we have received everywhere has touched us greatly, and it will make us take home superlatively happy memories of all we have done and seen.”
After dinner, the guests danced for three hours
The dinner party eventually moved over to the East Room for dancing until 1:40 a.m — a full three hours.
Reports from the party vary, with the New York Times calling it a “small but unusually spectacular dinner dance.” But the Newcastle Evening Chronicle said the president and princess “shared an enthusiastic foxtrot to ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’” and that “the tempo warmed up as the younger set including the President’s daughters Lucy and Lynda and their escorts launched into a new dance to the tune ‘Downtown,’” according to Vanity Fair.
And the official White House record said that President Johnson “had a good time...looked well, and danced with almost every woman there.”
The princess was banned from future visits
But that wasn’t the end of the late nights. On their final night before leaving, a goodbye dinner was held at the Four Seasons that reportedly went until 3 a.m. But they still stopped in New York City for a proper farewell to the country.
“Goodbye. Goodbye — so sad,” Margaret said. “We have seen so many exciting and worthwhile things. It would be impossible to say what we enjoyed or what impressed us most. I would just like to say we have seldom, if ever, experienced such a wonderful three weeks — and we hope we can come back again soon.”
However, that wasn’t the reaction from others. The cost alone of the trip £30,000, along with some behind-the-scenes hijinks, banned her from another trip in the 1970s.