It's seen as a great honor to meet the royal family, but it's not as simple as showing up to Buckingham Palace and shaking a few hands. There are a lot of "rules" for meeting royals, and not everyone goes through the event without a hitch. More than one celebrity has botched royal etiquette rules while meeting Queen Elizabeth II and other working royals in the family.
1. Read Their Email Prior To The Meeting
There is a lot of coordination involved when it comes to meeting the royal family. According to The Lion King actor Billy Eichner, he received an instructional email about royal etiquette, including how to properly address the members.
2. Don't Touch Them First
Royal etiquette states that the public may not touch a royal unless the royal establishes contact first. To discourage awkward touching, both the Queen and Kate Middleton often hold their clutches or handbags with both hands to signify there will be no handshaking.
3. Former First Lady Michelle Obama
In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama made headlines when she met Queen Elizabeth II for the first time. The First Lady appeared to put her arm around the monarch, which broke protocol. But as Obama wrote in her memoir Becoming, the two bonded over wearing uncomfortable high heels, and the touch came naturally.
4. Don't Speak Until Shaking Hands
There is also protocol involved when speaking to a royal. To keep the monarch from being bombarded by a rush of chatter from all angles, you're not supposed to speak to a royal until shaking hands. And you don't get to shake hands until they first extend the welcome.
5. Allison Janney
Allison Janney broke that etiquette rule when she ran into Kate Middleton at the BAFTA awards. Janney told The Late Late Show host James Corden that she tried to bond with the duchess over high heels while backstage, but she just put her foot in her mouth.
6. Try To Limit Yourself To A Handshake
According to the royal family's website, "there are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting the Queen or a member of the Royal Family," but that doesn't mean you should get handsy. In fact, "many people wish to observe the traditional forms."
7. Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran made waves when he met Prince Charles while receiving an award at Buckingham Palace in 2017, and he went in for a "fancy" handshake. Rather than just pumping the prince's hand, he also touched his forearm with his second hand. While it might have landed in the news, Prince Charles didn't seem to mind the familiarity.
8. Use Their Proper Titles
It's a mandatory sign of respect to use a royal's proper title when first greeting them. These titles were established centuries prior, and it is seen as disrespectful to not adhere to the tradition. To avoid this, coordinators will go as far as coaching guests on how to properly address the royals before meeting them.
9. Emilia Clarke
Emilia Clarke thought she was ready to meet Prince William at Kensington Palace, but then she got nervous and couldn't remember his proper title when he approached her. "For whatever reason, probably because I was so scared, I couldn't manage to get out 'your royal highness,'" she told Seth Meyers on Late Night With Seth Meyers.
10. Sit On The Queen's Left Side
When attending a state dinner with the Queen, there is a special order to things when it comes to where to sit and when to talk. If you sit on the monarch's left side, you can't begin conversation until she turns to you and addresses you first. That's because it is customary for the guest of honor to sit on her right side, and she speaks with them during the first course of the dinner. Then for the second course, she switches to the person on her left side.
11. Lewis Hamilton
Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton didn't know the rules of the game when he sat on her left side during a royal function, and tried to speak to Queen Elizabeth during the first course.“I got invited to a lunch and was sitting next to the Queen. I was excited and started to talk to her but she said, pointing to my left, ‘No, you speak that way first and I’ll speak this way and then I’ll come back to you,'" he told BBC’s Graham Norton.
12. Never Leave Before The Queen
Royal protocol dictates that you should never leave before the Queen. You can only leave an event before the monarch if permission was personally granted to you prior to the event through a private secretary.
13. Don't Use Nicknames
Like any other loving family, the royal family has a series of nicknames that they use on each other. Some examples include Prince Philip calling the queen "Cabbage," and King George VI calling her "Lilibet." But commoners are instructed to only use the royals' proper titles when addressing them.
While it's rare for a commoner to call a royal by their nickname, they do sometimes stray away form using the royal's proper title. Beyoncé made headlines when she addressed Meghan Markle as "my princess" while leaning in for a hug at The Lion King premiere. "Observers said that there was a 'familiarity' between Meghan and Beyoncé, so much that many had a hard time believing this was their first time meeting," Peoplereported.
15. Don't Wear A Tiara
Tiaras have long been a symbol of royalty, and because of that there are a lot of rules that come with wearing the sparkly headpiece. It has long been a rule for unwed princesses to be prohibited from wearing a tiara until they were married, but that was often ignored. Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth II both wore tiaras long before their respective weddings. But there are also tiara rules for commoners. Mainly, you shouldn't wear one in the presence of a royal.
16. Sophia Loren
In May of 1958, Princess Margaret met the iconic Sophia Loren at the premiere of The Key at the Odeon. The actor was careful not to wear anything sparkly in her hair, since the previous year she had something of a fashion faux pas when she met Queen Elizabeth II.
17. Never Turn Your Back To The Queen
Guests are advised to never turn their backs to the Queen, as it is considered rude. One can only assume the antics guests have to get into to avoid showing their backs to the royal — especially if she's moving around the room!
18. Don't Ask For Selfies Or Autographs
The British royal family is instructed not to give out selfies or autographs, so it's best not to ask for one. Royals can't afford to have their signatures forged, so they avoid signing their names on anything. As for selfies, it's simply considered rude.
19. Serena Williams
Not everyone knows the selfie rule, though, and sometimes celebs break that royal protocol. One such celeb was Serena Williams, who posed for a Snapchat selfie with Kate Middleton. “I’m in the ‘in-crowd’ now – I’m with royalty!” she joked in a Snapchat video.
20. Dress Conservatively
The royal family is conservative in nature, and expects its guests to dress conservatively while meeting them. They have all sorts of dress codes that members and guests need to adhere to, ranging from wearing tights to avoiding over-the-knee hemlines.
21. Marilyn Monroe
Both royals and guests break that rule frequently, though. (Do you remember Princess Diana's "revenge dress?") But some guests push the envelope more than others. For example, Marilyn Monroe chose to wear one of her trademark slinky dresses when she met the Queen in 1956.
22. Don't Reject Invites To The Royal Palace
It is seen as a great (and exclusive) honor to be invited to Buckingham Palace, so declining the offer can be seen as a snub. You should only do so if a legitimate conflict exists.
23. Helen Mirren
But sometimes even a legitimate conflict isn't seen as a good enough excuse. When Helen Mirren had to turn down an invitation to Buckingham Palace in 2007 due to her filming schedule, her rejection became sensational news. "Mirren 'too busy' to meet the Queen," The Guardian's headline exclaimed.
24. Keep Eye Contact
It is seen as a sign of respect to keep eye contact with the queen, which means one can't nervously look at their shoes or coyly keep their sunglasses on while addressing the monarch.
25. Anna Wintour
That's why Anna Wintour got major flack when she sat next to Queen Elizabeth II at London Fashion Week in 2018, and kept on her trademark sunglasses.
26. The Queen Gets The Final Word
The Atlantic reported that when it comes to state lunch or dinner events, the Queen gets the final word on everything. “If she stands up, you stand. If she has finished eating, let’s hope you’re full.”
27. President Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama apparently broke that rule by going rogue during a state dinner in 2011. According to The Atlantic, Obama “was beaten up in the British press for toasting the queen and then delivering a speech over a rendition of ‘God Save the Queen.’ He should have stopped after the toast.”
28. Don't Take Your Bow Or Curtsy Too Far
While it's customary for women to curtsy and for men to bow in front of royalty, you also don't want to take the motion too far. A slight bob or bow is sufficient, and anything more feels theatrical.
29. Sam Smith
Like most of us, Sam Smith didn't know how to properly bow and apparently bowed way too deeply when meeting Prince William.