Bush nearly makes gaff in front of Queen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush, no stranger to the occasional verbal misstep, nearly placed the Queen in the 18th century on Monday in welcoming her to the White House on a state visit.

The Queen and Prince Philip were treated to a formal arrival ceremony on the White House South Lawn, complete with a marching fife-and-drum corps.

Trumpets heralded the arrival of the dignitaries. The U.S. Air Force Band played national anthems before 7,000 invited guests on a sunny spring day.

Both Bush and the Queen addressed the crowd as the royal couple approached the end of a six-day U.S. visit that included ceremonies marking the 400th anniversary of the British settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, and the Kentucky Derby.

Bush noted the Queen’s long history of dealing with successive American governments, just barely stopping himself before dating her to 1776, the year the 13 colonies declared their independence from Britain.

“The American people are proud to welcome your majesty back to the United States, a nation you’ve come to know very well. After all you’ve dined with 10 U.S. presidents. You’ve helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 -- in 1976,” Bush said.

Bush looked at the Queen sheepishly. She peered back at him from beneath her black and white hat.

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“She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child,” Bush said as the crowd burst into laughter.

Taking the podium, the Queen, who has occupied the throne for 55 years and is 81, quickly swung into her prepared speech, hailing the closeness of U.S.-British relations.

“It is the moment to take stock of our present friendship, rightly taking pleasure from its strengths while never taking these for granted,” she said. “And it is the time to look forward, jointly renewing our commitment to a more prosperous, safer and freer world.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow made light of the incident.

“I don’t know that a lot of people joke with the Queen but the president did and it worked out just fine,” he said.

Bush and his wife, Laura, were to play host to the Queen later at a formal white-tie state dinner at the White House on Monday night.