President Donald Trump was all smiles on Monday as he attended a state dinner at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth II. But the royal family has for years batted back stories that its members were looking into or joining Trump’s properties – stories that, according to multiple biographies of Trump, were spread by the real-estate developer himself.
Between 1981 and 1995, multiple claims that members of the British Royal family were joining Trump properties filled New York tabloids and national papers according to a CNN KFile review of archival papers, audio, and books about the then-real estate developer. All of them were unequivocally shot down by Buckingham Palace.
One such instance occurred in the lead up to the Trump Tower’s February 1983 opening, when a persistent rumor kept appearing that Prince Charles and his then-new wife Diana were looking at buying an apartment in the building.
The claim generated significant publicity for Trump Tower, which the then-36-year-old real estate developer Trump hoped would be his signature building. But it wasn’t true, and the source of the misinformation, according to four biographies, was Trump himself.
The 1981, 1982 and 1983 the reports began in the New York tabloids, but they quickly made their way into outlets like the Associated Press and Boston Globe.
“Prince Charles and his new bride are planning to buy a $5 million, 21-room apartment in a building under construction here, the New York Post said today,” the Associated Press wrote. “Buckingham Palace aides met with Donald Trump, developer of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street, during the prince’s visit to New York last June, the Post said. It quoted unidentified sources as saying that a deal was on.”
The Associated Press would later put out a story in which Buckingham Palace said there was “no truth” to the original report.
In his 1987 book, The Art of Deal, Trump would write the rumor that helped promote Trump Tower more than any of other press story about a celebrity, but he never said he was the source of the claim. He wrote that he received an unsolicited call from a reporter and claimed he refused to confirm or deny the claim.
“Our policy was not to comment about sales, and that’s what I told this reporter,” Trump wrote. “In other words, I refused to confirm or deny the rumor. Apparently, the reporter then decided to call Buckingham Palace. By this time, the royal couple had left for their honeymoon and they were out on the yacht Britannia, so the Buckingham Palace spokesman said just what I had: they couldn’t confirm or deny the rumor. That was all the media needed. In the absence of a denial, the story that the royal couple was considering buying an apartment in Trump Tower became front-page news all over the world. It certainly didn’t hurt us, but I had to laugh to myself.”
“We’re going to try to get Lady Di”
Trump’s name would be linked to the British Royal Family again in September 1992, when, as Trump attempted to rebuild his struggling financial empire, a New York Post cover story cited as “rumor” that it was “maybe started by the Trump Organization” that Princess Diana was looking to build a $5 million property in Trump Tower.
The original claim that prompted the article, according to “The Lost Tycoon,” a 1993 biography of Trump, began with Trump leaking word of the alleged deal to the New York Post’s Cindy Adams. The Trump Organization, according to New York Post, said two inquiries were made about the apartment for Princess Diana.
“Understanding celebrity culture, Trump made outlandish claims about the beautiful women who pursued him and the celebrities who wanted to buy whatever he sold,” said Michael d’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump” and a CNN contributor. “These tidbits were generally throw-away entertainments but could when picked-up by the wire services or more legitimate press, become real reports printed around the world under the banner of a credible source like the Associated Press.”
Trump himself told the New York Post one inquiry came from a “very aristocratic” guy with an “English accent” who works at “a corporation based in London” and handles all the royals’ real estate transactions. He later claimed to have seen the plans himself.
“They were sent to me because I have to approval the structural changes,” he said, launching into details of the apartment interiors.
Buckingham Palace denied the claims to the New York Post and no apartment was ever purchased.
That didn’t stop Trump. A year later, during an appearance on the Howard Stern Show in November 1993, Trump was asked if it was true that Princess Diana was looking at an apartment in Trump Tower.
“That’s true,” Trump said.
“Does that mean she’s contacted you?” asked Stern.
“I hope she’s looking at — She is really hot. She has gained 20-25 pounds, she looks great,” Trump said, saying he’d love to date the princess. “There could be a love interest. I’d become King of England. King of England. I’d have to leave, I’d have to lose the New York accent quickly. See they wouldn’t like my accent over there.”
But mostly, Trump said, he wanted Princess Diana to come to a party at Mar-a-Lago.
“We’re going to try to get Lady Di,” Trump said. “We’re trying to get Lady Di actually to come to the party. It’s a part of the deal for buying the apartment in Trump Tower. She can’t have the apartment in Trump Tower unless she comes to the party.”
A year later, in October 1994, another New York Post story, this time on the entire front page, claimed Princess Diana was set to buy a $3.5 million dollar apartment in Trump Tower. “Princess of New York,” the full-page cover read with a photo of Diana.
The Post cited, a source “close to the deal” who claimed Diana viewed floor plans and spoke with Donald Trump and claimed British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber “was instrumental” in steering Diana toward the apartment.
A spokeswoman for Andrew Lloyd Webber told CNN on Monday the report was fiction. “Andrew Lloyd Webber did not steer Princess Diana towards an apartment in Trump Tower, they were not well acquainted.”
Bill Hoffman, who was a longtime reporter for Page Six in New York Post and who authored the story, said he couldn’t recall if Trump was the source.
“I can’t recall if it was him or someone in his organization,” Hoffman told CNN in a phone interview. “Trump spoke to me a lot off the record, or a source close to Trump. It could have been him. He would call up for scoops, things that would benefited him.”
The story generated rewrites in hundreds of newspapers across the country when it was picked up by wire services. Buckingham Palace shot down the report.
“This report is highly speculative rubbish. It is simply not true,” a spokesman said according to The Guardian. “The Princess is not set to buy an apartment in the United States or elsewhere and has no plans to live anywhere but in Britain.”
A spokesman added, “the princess has no intention of buying any property in America or of moving to America.”
Buckingham Palace: ‘It’s complete nonsense’
Just two months later, in December 1994, claims again circulated, this time ahead of the launch of Trump’s club Mar-a-Lago, claiming Princess Diana and Prince Charles had joined the club.
Katherine Merlin, the membership director of Mar-a-Lago, told the Palm Beach Post the royal couple had each filed applications to join the club and paid the $50,000 initiation fee.
Merlin claimed to have handled the applications for other celebrities but not the royals.
“That, Mr. Trump handled,” she said.
“Charles and Di join, but separately,” an a headline of Associated Press story read as the claim once-again generated nationwide publicity for Trump. The New York Times also reported the claim, saying each had paid the fee.
“I handled the applications myself,” the Times quoted Trump saying. “More than 250 memberships have been sold, even before the start of the campaign.”
Trump boasted he was excited about the pair joining.
“I think it’s different for obvious reasons. We have a lot of incredible celebrities, but this is just different,” Trump said, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Buckingham Palace, again, quickly shot down the claim.
“It’s complete nonsense,” a spokesperson said. “They have not joined the club.”
“Trump’s princely claim a king-size fib,” the Palm Beach Post declared.
“The prince and princess have not paid any money to join,” a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman added to the Sun Sentinel. “If Mr. Trump has made them honorary members, then that’s up to him.”
Mar-a-Lago initially stood by the claim.
“Anything with public names was handled personally by Mr. Trump,” said Debra Tornaben, the resort’s special events director. “[The prince and princess) are members - I know Donald handled it personally.”
“I don’t believe they are honorary members; as far as I know it was coincidence they each joined,” Merlin added.
“This story is nonsense absolutely, utterly untrue. Neither of them is a member,” said a Buckingham Palace spokesman to the Palm Beach Daily News. “This story was concocted by Mr. Trump to secure publicity for his club. It is a matter of regret that he feels he can use the names of the members of the royal family to do so.”
Trump was forced to clarify.
“I wrote to them both offering honorary membership,” Trump said in New York. “We haven’t heard any response yet, but Prince Charles has been to Mar-a-Lago, and I know he likes it,” Trump said, according to the Palm Beach Daily News.
The New York Times added a correction to their story, and the Associated Press put out a new report citing the Buckingham Palace statement shooting down the claim.
“I didn’t say they signed. I said they were members,” Trump said again to New York Magazine in January of 1995. The magazine added, “it was simply then, another case in which the fantastic rarefied world of Donald Trump clashed with the known universe.”