Unexpected humor and ‘a bit of gin’: Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Sacramento remembered


The story of Queen Elizabeth II sipping gin in the California State Capitol needs fleshing out. And here it is:

It was the story of Ronald Reagan’s late aide, Mike Deaver. He told me this shortly after Her Majesty visited storm-ravaged California in the winter of 1983.

The story was then confidential. But now all the main players are dead: The Queen, Prince Philip, Governor George Deukmejian, President Reagan, First Lady Nancy Reagan and Deaver. Nothing is hidden forever.

So I reported Deaver’s story in my previous column about the grace and courage displayed by the Queen on her adventurous 10-day journey.

But two other players from the gin episode who are still with us remember it a little differently than what Deaver silently told me. And one of them called me after my column aired.

For one thing, the queen and prince apparently drank more than a few sips.

Does it really matter? No. It’s a simple anecdote. But since history gives us a quick glimpse into the private side of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, a historical figure for the ages, that might as well be a clear picture.

Deaver was arguably Reagan’s most trusted aide. It definitely belonged to Nancy Reagan. He had been a close adviser throughout Reagan’s two terms as governor of California and served as the White House’s deputy chief of staff. The President entrusted him with the task of arranging the Queen’s trip and escorting her throughout the state.

He booked a day trip to Sacramento and a meeting at the Capitol with the governor and legislative leaders.

A few days after the visit, this is what Deaver told me: He and the queen met in his old office in the Capitol. “I could use a gin stain,” she said. The former assistant to the governor used to keep a small bottle of gin in his office. And, of course, he was still there. He found a glass and poured a glass for the grateful queen.

OK, that apparently wasn’t quite accurate and there was more to it – more gin, for one thing.

After reading the column, former Deukmejian Chief of Staff Steve Merksamer called with the full story. I confirmed this with the second participant, former Deputy Chief of Staff Sal Russo.

“I never told the story. Deaver said it was a state secret. If he came out, it would be embarrassing for the country and for the president,” said Merksamer, who heads one of Sacramento’s most successful political and lobbying law firms.

Russo, a Republican political consultant, also kept his mouth shut.

“Mike said, ‘I don’t want to read this into a story until Ron and Nancy are dead. “”

Merksamer says the queen and her entourage arrived at the governor’s office around 9:30 a.m. Deukmejian and his top aides chatted in the cabinet room with the queen and prince for a few minutes.

“There was a certain protocol,” recalls Merksamer. “Don’t talk until she says hello. You don’t have to curtsy because you’re American. Don’t touch her. She touches you first.

He adds: “I thought she was great. Very kind. Just charming. Very nice to my wife. Not stuck.

And Prince Philip?

“He was funny as hell,” Merksamer says. “Very irreverent. A little color. Not booked at all. There she was, just some kind of queen. Very regal.

“He was always funny,” Russo says.

And, of course, that’s not quite the image we’ve all seen on TV.

After a few minutes, the queen “wanted to relax,” Merksamer says. Thus, they gave him the cabinet room and adjoining governor’s office.

Both Merksamer and Russo say the Queen never entered Deaver’s old office, which Russo occupied at the time. Deukmejian, Merksamer, and Russo retreated there while the queen and prince relaxed in the governor’s digs. Deaver had been in and out.

“Deaver comes running, ‘Oh, Sal, Steve, the queen needs a gin and tonic,'” Merksamer recalled. “Do you have any gin and tonic?” I said, ‘We don’t have alcohol here.’

Unlike governors before and after, Deukmejian prohibited alcohol in the governor’s office suite.

But with the Queen asking for a drink, Russo said, “I finally said, ‘George, if you get off that credenza, I can solve the problem. “”

Russo had stocked a bar there and had gin and tonic. But it was cheap gin with a department store label.

“We can’t give him Gemco gin,” he said.

Deaver replied, “The Brits think all American gin is inferior. She expects an inferior gin. So give him some Gemco gin.

“I stirred the drinks with my finger,” Russo says.

They were sent to the Queen and the Prince – and were clearly acceptable.

“Deaver comes running back a few minutes later and says, ‘I need two more gin and tonics for the queen and the prince,'” Merksamer recalled. “Russo said, ‘Here, take the bottle.'”

After the queen left, Russo returned for the bottle.

“There was only about an inch left in it,” he said.

Her Majesty walked to the west balcony of the Capitol and greeted thousands of people. She was later invited to lunch with the governor and lawmakers in the Capitol Rotunda.

“We all walked with her. She was perfectly fine. Not drunk at all,” Merksamer says.

I did a Google search to find out about the queen’s drinking habits. One website, citing a cousin, said she regularly drank four glasses a day: a gin and Dubonnet cocktail in the morning, wine with lunch, a dry martini before dinner, then a glass of champagne.

And at least two gin and tonics in the provincial capitals.

Los Angeles Times

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