royal etiquette

Know the Royal Etiquette

Are you meeting the Queen? Follow our royal etiquette tips to ensure you get the protocol just right.

Contacting the Royal Family

Correspondence is only possible by letter, not email or telephone; it is recommended that you first make an informal inquiry to the relevant private secretary or your county lord-lieutenant, the Queen’s most local and personal representative.

Writing to the Queen

When you do put pen to paper, there is no strict protocol to your letter but the traditional opening would be “Madam” or “Sir”. When writing to the Queen, you should close with the phrase, “I have the honour to be, Madam, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant.” For other members of the Royal Family, simply end with “Yours sincerely”.

How to greet members of the royal family – the bow/ curtsey.

According to the Royal Family’s official site, men should make a neck bow from the head only, while women make a small curtsey. You may also shake hands “in the usual way”. If you are not British, you are certainly not expected to curtsey.

How to greet members of the royal family – what to say

When presented to the Queen you should call her “Your Majesty”, and “Ma’am” on subsequent mentions (“with a short ‘a’, as in ‘jam'”). For other members of the Royal Family, it is “Your Royal Highness” at first mention, then “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

However, this may change over time – Prince William has remarked that, while he is an ‘HRH’, “out of personal choice, I like to be called William, because that is my name”.

No touching royalty?

It makes headlines whenever a ‘commoner’ touches a member of the Royal Family – NBA basketball star LeBron James putting his arm around Princess Catherine when posing with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or the then US First Lady Michelle Obama hugging the Queen (who did hug her back) at a Buckingham Palace reception in 2009.

With so much conjecture, Buckingham Palace took the bold step of issuing a statement after the Obama hug to insist that there is no true ban on being tactile with the monarch. It called Mrs Obama’s embrace a “mutual and spontaneous display of affection”.

Dining with royals

If the Queen or ranking royal is standing, you should too; you can sit once she is seated. You are also supposed to stop eating when the Queen does – apparently difficult for Queen Victoria’s contemporaries, as she was a very fast eater. This rule is supposed to show that you are paying due respect to the monarch – and even husband Prince Philip must follow the protocol. Equally, you are not supposed to leave an event before any royalty without express permission.

If you sit to the left of the Queen, expect her to start a conversation. The guest of honour sits on her right and she will speak to them during the first course, then switch sides. Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, sitting to her left at a dinner, received a gentle ticking-off from Her Majesty when he tried to address her during starters and was told she would “come back” to him.

Buckingham Palace banquets

Some 170 guests will be invited to state banquets at the Palace, around two months in advance, although preparations can take up to a year. There are strict protocols to preparing for and dining at a royal reception. There must be 18 inches between the knife and fork at each table setting. There are normally four courses – fish, meat, pudding and fruit – and each guest is served five wines, starting with champagne. Dinner, in the Ballroom, will take one hour and 20 minutes, after which guests depart for coffee in the State Rooms.

The Queen’s garden parties

It is more likely the average person will attend a garden party at the Palace – in the modern day, more than 24,000 people are invited to three key events each year, a practice the Queen has implemented to make royalty more accessible. Originally, such parties were a replacement for the formal presentation of debutantes to the Palace, but the Queen discontinued the practice in 1958.

Talking to the Queen

Obviously, the Queen is an expert in small talk and her favourite line is said to be the generic: “Have you come far?” The best advice offered is to chat easily and neutrally – and to avoid talk of politics or religion.

What to wear when meeting royalty

Your invite should state a dress code, such as day dress or lounge suit, and whether a hat and gloves are required. Modesty is the name of the game. Royal women tend to wear nude-coloured tights at all times, and a mid-height heel – and Kate Middleton is said to have taken tips from the Queen about having weights sewn into the bottom of her dresses. Even Mrs Obama steered clear of her usual sleeveless dress to meet the Queen, instead choosing a conservative black jumper, white shirt and black skirt.

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