Newly released papers from 1982 reveal UK diplomats’ early opinion of president who became Thatcher’s close ally
Ronald Reagan could acquire the image of a “bumbler” or a “bozo”, British diplomats in Washington warned as they reported back to London on the US president who developed a close relationship with Margaret Thatcher, hitherto-secret files released on Thursday show.
“The White House are certainly concerned that the president could acquire a national image as a bumbler which, like [former President] Ford’s image as a stumbler, could not be eradicated once firmly established in the public mind,” the UK embassy told London in March 1982, referring to persistent “mistakes of fact” made by Reagan.
The files also contain dispatches that describe Reagan’s tastes in minute detail. “The president joins Mrs Reagan for breakfast of fresh orange juice, fruit, and cereal, sometimes a boiled egg, and decaffeinated coffee,” the UK embassy reported in a file stamped Confidential. It added: “After reading the newspaper, Mr Reagan walks to the Oval Office at 0900.”
The report went on to note that the Reagans liked to entertain their friends in the White House theatre. Recent favourites included Chariots of Fire, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Reds, the embassy noted.
An official at the Foreign Office in London wrote in the margin of one dispatch: “My guess is that it’ll take some time before Reagan gets labelled as a bozo by Middle America”. He added: “And even if he is, that won’t matter too much if the economy shows signs of recovery.”
A word of caution also came from Sir Oliver Wright, newly appointed UK ambassador to the US, in September 1982. “One of the things that has struck me most forcibly since my arrival in Washington a week ago,” he noted, “is that President Reagan and his administration look more convincing at close quarters than I had been led to expect.”
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