In Depth

Royal protocol: the dos and don’ts for meeting the Queen

From when to curtsey to why shellfish is a no-no

Donald Trump and his wife Melania will head to Buckingham Palace for a lunchtime reception today.

The US president is expected to dine with the Queen, before having tea with Prince Charles and attending a state banquet this evening.

Last time Trump met the monarch, in 2018, he caused a stir by not bowing and by walking in front of her as she inspected a guard of honour, says The Independent.

“Although, to be fair, Mr Trump’s not the first president to be caught out by the formalities,” the newspaper adds.

But if you’re looking for Buckingham Palace’s official list of “dos” and “don’ts”, you won’t find them. The royals’ website states that “there are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting the Queen or a member of the Royal Family”, only customs which guests may wish to observe.

So, while it’s reassuring to know that violating the mysterious tenets of “protocol” won’t result in anything more serious than raised eyebrows, what rules should you remember if you want to make a good impression on Her Majesty?

Don’t…

...touch her. David Johnston, the governor general of Canada at the time, drew winces from traditionalists for getting touchy-feely with the Queen in 2017. He placed his hand under the Queen’s elbow as she descended a flight of steps, despite royal protocol dictating that commoners keep their hands off the monarch. And when Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was snapped putting his arm around the monarch during her 1992 royal tour of the country, an aghast British press dubbed him the “Lizard of Oz”, the BBC reports. 

US basketball star LeBron James went even further in 2014, when he threw his arm around the Duchess of Cambridge’s shoulder for a photo  - without so much as a post-game shower.

Tabloids frothed at James’ forwardness, but Buckingham Palace was quick to point out that there is no official rule against touching the royals, and that their first concern is always making sure their guests feel at ease.

… call her ‘Your Highness’. the Queen is officially styled “Her Royal Majesty”, so she should be addressed as “Your Majesty”  - but one use will do. After that, she and other female royals should be addressed simply as “ma’am” (rhymes with ham). Similarly, male royals are “Your Royal Highness” on the first occasion, and then “sir”.

…offer her a prawn. Although crayfish has previously appeared on the menu at royal banquets, the Queen herself apparently avoids shellfish herself.

Her Majesty’s head chef, Mark Flanagan reportedly let the detail slip at a meeting of chefs who regularly cook for world leaders. He did not say whether the aversion was the result of an allergy, fears of food poisoning or simply a matter of personal preference.

Do…

...pay your respects. Upon being presented to a member of the royal family, “men should bow from the neck, and women should make a small curtsey”, according to etiquette bible Debretts, which adds that a handshake is an “acceptable” alternative, especially with younger royals. The same gesture should be repeating when taking leave of a royal.

...listen out for God Save The Queen. If you ever find yourself in the the rarefied position of making a toast in Her Majesty’s presence, remember that “to the Queen” is the cue for respectful silence as the royal band strikes up the national anthem. President Barack Obama forgot this rule at a state dinner in 2011, resulting in an awkward moment as the band drowned out the rest of his remarks, Oscar-night style.

…mind your table manners. Much of formal dinner party etiquette has fallen by the wayside in recent decades, but the Queen is still a stickler for the old-fashioned forms - including the custom that the hostess speaks to the guest on her right-hand side first.

In 2015, Formula 1 ace Lewis Hamilton appeared on The Graham Norton Show and told how the monarch give him a polite but firm reminder of the rule:

“I got invited to a lunch and was sitting next to the Queen,” he said. “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.’”

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