Sunnylands Spotlight: Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visit the Annenbergs

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Walter and Leonore Annenberg first met Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family in 1969 during Walter’s service as Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. While the Annenbergs’ first meetings with the Queen were at formal diplomatic events, over their five-year stay in London, Walter and Leonore established a friendship with the royal family, including the Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Princes Charles, Princess Margaret, and Prince Andrew.

When it was announced that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip would be making a ten-day good-will tour of California in 1983, the Annenbergs were enthusiastic about hosting the royal couple at Sunnylands.

“It has been gratifying to learn that Her Majesty and Prince Philip will be visiting California,” Walter wrote to the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Philip Moore. “Lee and I would be most happy to offer hospitality at our winter residence, ‘Sunnylands” … Lee and I wanted to make sure that should a desert visit to a rather unusual modern home … be of interest for the agenda on the trip, we would be honored to entertain Her Majesty’s party.”

Apparently, there was interest, because on February 27, 1983 the Queen and Prince Philip made a historic stop at Sunnylands to visit their friends, the Annenbergs. The Queen has rarely ever visited a private home in the United States. As a result of the close friendship the visit was scheduled and Leonore and Walter prepared a luncheon in honor of the event.

When welcoming Her Majesty, Walter playfully said he wanted to give the Queen, “a chance to see how ordinary Americans live.”

The lunch was formal. Guests included American and British officials such as the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Oliver Wright and his wife, Lady Wright, the Queen’s secretary Sir Philip Moore, former President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty, and then-U.S. Chief of Protocol Selwa Roosevelt.

“Your Majesty,” Walter said toasting the Queen. “Your presence brightly rekindles our five-and-a-half years in Britain, certainly the proudest years for Lee and me.”

The menu of salmon mousse, rack of lamb, with maple soufflé for dessert was served on Royal Copenhagen’s Flora Danica china, arguably among the finest china patterns ever created. The queen noted it was the same Flora Danica she also collected, “but,” she quipped. “Walter has more than I do.”

After lunch, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spent time in the Room of Memories surrounded by letters, pictures, and other memorabilia from the Annenbergs’s lifetime, including their stay in England.

Although it was raining heavily, the party toured the grounds as planned. “It looks like I brought the British climate to California!” the Queen joked.

“I doubt that I shall live to have another such visitation as I did on February 27th,” Ambassador Annenberg wrote to Robert Fellowes, assistant private secretary to the Queen. “No greater compliment was ever paid to my wife and me than a visit by Her Majesty and His Royal Highness.”

Learn more about the Queen’s visit, and the history of entertaining at Sunnylands at our current exhibition, The Pleasure of Your Company: Entertaining at Sunnylands .