The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981, was one of the most celebrated spectacles of the decade. Due to the recent attempt on his life, President Reagan could not attend, but he encouraged Mrs. Reagan to serve as the United States representative at the event. Mrs. Reagan spent one week in London, which is the longest she had been away from her husband in twenty-nine years. She attended eighteen events on behalf of the nation, including a ball at Buckingham Palace, a dinner at the American Embassy, tea with the Queen Mother, and lunch with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She also placed flowers at the Memorial to Britain’s Unknown Soldier and visited a veterans’ hospital.
Mrs. Reagan was an especially appropriate delegate for the United States to send to the Royal Wedding. The Reagans had met Prince Charles many years earlier, when Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. Also, in March of 1975 Ronald and Nancy had met Margaret Thatcher, and the future president and future prime minister found they shared a special connection even then. Ronald Reagan later recalled thinking that they were “soul mates” in their beliefs in limited government and expanding economic freedom.
Over the years, President and Mrs. Reagan expressed their immense respect for their British friends in many ways, saving the first and last state dinners to honor Margaret Thatcher. Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended the first dinner in February 1981, and the Queen returned the honor when she hosted a state dinner for the Reagans’ visit to London when the president addressed Parliament in 1982. On this occasion, President and Mrs. Reagan received a rare invitation to stay for two days at Windsor Castle with the royal family. President Reagan would later recall the warm hospitality of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in his autobiography, referring to their stay as a “fairytale visit.” The highlight of their stay was when the president and the queen went horseback riding together, and Mrs. Reagan and Prince Philip took a horse-drawn carriage ride.
In 1983, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, visited Rancho del Cielo, the Reagans’ Santa Barbara ranch, and invited President and Mrs. Reagan aboard the royal yacht Brittania to celebrate an anniversary dinner.
President and Mrs. Reagan hosted the Prince and Princess of Wales at a White House dinner in November of 1985, which became one of the most memorable of the state dinners due to the impromptu and charming dance between Princess Diana and John Travolta. Earlier that year, Mrs. Reagan had again represented the United States at another Royal Wedding, that of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.