Tea and crumpets: Biden, Jill Biden remember the queen

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President Joe Biden signs a book of condolence at Lancaster House in London, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, as first lady Jill Biden looks on. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

LONDON – For U.S. President Joe Biden, it was the crumpets. For his wife, first lady Jill Biden, it was the tea.

Joe and Jill Biden on Sunday helped honor Queen Elizabeth II by sharing memories of their tea time last year when she invited them to join her at Windsor Castle, near London.

The president, who said after that 2021 visit that Elizabeth reminded him of his late mother, recalled Sunday that she kept offering him crumpets. He did not refuse.

“I kept eating everything she put in front of me,” he said. “But she was the same in person as ... her image: decent, honorable, and all about service.”

The queen, who was Britain’s longest-serving monarch, died earlier this month after a 70-year reign. Biden is among hundreds of heads of state and other dignitaries who are in London to attend her state funeral service Monday at Westminster Abbey.

The first lady told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after she and the president attended a reception at Buckingham Palace that “what really impressed me” about the queen was “just how warm and gracious she was.”

“I loved her sense of curiosity. She wanted to know all about American politics and so she asked Joe question after question,” Jill Biden said. She said sitting in Elizabeth’s living room was “almost like being, you know, with your grandmother.”

“And she said, ‘Let me pour the tea,’ and we said, ‘No, no, let us help,’ and she said ‘Oh, no, no, no, I’ll get this. You sit down,’” Jill Biden said. “And it was just a very special moment with a very special woman.”

The Bidens paid their respects to the queen on Sunday by traveling to Westminster Hall, where she has been lying in state, to stand before the monarch’s coffin in the presence of thousands of mourners who had spent hours upon hours waiting to file past.

They then signed condolence books at Lancaster House before going to Buckingham Palace for a reception hosted by King Charles III and other royal family members for the world leaders who flew in for the funeral.

After signing the book, Biden said his his heart goes out to the royal family because the queen's death has left it with a “giant hole.”

“Sometimes you think you'll never, you'll never overcome it,” said Biden, who often speaks in very personal terms about loss following the death of his first wife and infant daughter, and later an adult son. “But as I’ve told the king, she’s going to be with him every step of the way — every minute, every moment. And that’s a reassuring notion.”

While viewing the coffin on Sunday, the first lady said, she watched a little boy dressed in a Boy Scout uniform come in and give the queen a three-finger salute.

“I mean, it just gave me a lump in my throat,” she said, and showed ”how much the people really loved their queen, no matter their ages."

President Biden wrote in the condolence book that the queen "was admired around the world for her unwavering commitment to service.”

The first lady signed a separate condolence book for spouses and ambassadors, writing “Queen Elizabeth lived her life for the people. She served with wisdom and grace. We will never forget her warmth, kindness and the conversations we shared.”

In the interview, Jill Biden cautioned that there's a “human piece” to the queen's death.

Speaking of Charles, she said: “He is the king, but no one should forget, he lost his mother and, you know, Prince William lost a grandmother. Sometimes we tend to forget the really human piece of this and the sorrow that they ... have to bear and how they have to grieve in public. But they seem to be doing OK," she said.

More than 2,000 people were expected at Westminster Abbey for Monday's funeral.

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Follow AP coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii