Celebrities Who Broke Protocol When Meeting Royals

There are certain practices that one must follow when meeting the royals. As the official royal website notes, there are "no obligatory codes of behavior" but there are various traditions that seem to be in best keeping. Men typically bow while women curtsey; when greeting the monarch, one first says "Your Majesty" and then follows this with "Sir" or "Ma'am." For meeting other members of the royals, one begins by saying "Your Royal Highness," and then follows with the same "Sir" and "Ma'am" said to the monarch.

Other forms of protocol have come around as traditional practices but not necessarily hard and fast rules. As The British School of Excellence notes, it's not actually forbidden to touch a royal, but it seems to create a lot of media buzz when this happens. For instance, actor Tom Hiddleston made waves when he put his arm around Camilla, the then-Duchess of Cornwall, in May 2016, according to People. Royal fans gasped at the audacity, but it turns out it was nothing to be concerned about. "I think she quite enjoyed it!" a representative of Clarence House told People, calling it a "warm moment" between them after a friendly conversation.

People end up breaking the protocol all the time. Heck, even the royals break their own protocol, which is understandable considering how many strict rules they have to follow. So we can't hold it against someone for flubbing during an arguably high-pressured moment.

The Spice Girls spice things up

Perhaps the queens of breaking royal protocol are the Spice Girls. The pop band has a long history with the royal family but the event that made us clutch our pearls (or tweak our bowties) was in 1997 when the gals attended a Royal Gala Performance at the Manchester Opera House in honor of the 21st anniversary of the Prince's Trust Charity. They were brand new superstars and the excitement was palpable.

Then-Prince Charles met Sporty, Ginger, Baby, Scary, and Posh in a tizzy of energy and a good deal of handling of the royal man. In some priceless video footage of the interaction, Melanie Brown first asked Charles if the Spice Girls could come to dinner then she said, "I think you should get your tongue pierced." Then she gave him a big kiss on the cheek. Geri Halliwell said to Charles, "Do you know, I think you're very sexy?" She gave him an even bigger kiss on his cheek.

Melanie Chisholm, Victoria Beckham, and Emma Bunton were much more relaxed. Charles looked partially horrified and equally delighted by the attention. Then, to top it all off, Halliwell patted Charles on the bum. Though some reports suggested she actually gave him a pinch, Halliwell later clarified to The Times (via Marie Claire), "I didn't pinch Prince Charles's bum, as was reported. I patted it. Patting him on the bottom was against royal protocol but we're all human... There was a lot of nervous energy – young women, happy antics."

Michelle Obama put an arm around the queen

In 2009, Michelle Obama and then-President Barack Obama visited with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Michelle put her arm around the queen and while headlines went berserk, the queen actually put her arm around Michelle. The incident, which was honestly an innocent moment, plagued Michelle for a long time. A decade later, when she was on her book tour for "Becoming," Michelle addressed an audience in London. According to Vogue, she began by apologizing for the gaffe. "I learned over the course of my time on the international stage to either hold my hands together tightly or behind my back to sort of make sure I was thinking before I reacted naturally," Michelle continued. "I don't know that I could have done anything differently because it was a natural human reaction."

The event was such a phenomenon that Angela Kelly, the queen's dressmaker, addressed it in her book, "The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, The Dresser, and the Wardrobe." Kelly completely defended the former first lady. "In reality, it was a natural instinct for the Queen to show affection and respect for another great woman, and really there is no protocol that must be adhered to," Kelly wrote (via Insider). Kelly also added that the queen enjoyed the interaction. "When fondness is felt or the host of a State Visit goes to guide Her Majesty up some steps, it truly is about human kindness, and this is something the Queen will always welcome warmly," she wrote.

President Biden spilled the beans... and wore sunglasses

President Joe Biden made a few flubs when he and wife Jill Biden met Queen Elizabeth II in June 2021. First of all, he kept his aviators on during their meeting. While this seems innocuous enough, it's actually a breach of royal protocol. Grant Harrold, a butler who had previously worked for then-Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, broke it down for Newsweek. "It's fine for Biden to have had sunglasses on but he should have removed them when he actually met the queen," Harrold said. "Everyone else has to, it doesn't matter who you are, even royals remove sunglasses when they meet royals. ... I get the sun might have been shining in his eyes but the queen didn't have sunglasses on. Jill, the first lady, didn't have sunglasses on."

Evidently, the sunglasses were not the problem. After his meeting with the queen, Biden broke royal protocol yet again when he talked to reporters about their conversation. "We had a great talk," Biden said at London Heathrow Airport, per the Daily Mail. "She wanted to know what the two leaders that I... the one I'm about to meet with, Mr Putin, and she wanted to know about Xi Jinping, and we had a long talk, and she was very generous." Conversations with the queen are private matters and Biden should not have disclosed what they spoke about, let alone offer the press such specific details. 

Donald Trump made a few errors when he met the queen

Former President Donald Trump made a few mistakes when he visited with Queen Elizabeth II in 2018. First of all, he didn't bow when he met the queen. Instead, he shook her hand. Secondly, while the two were walking outside inspecting the queen's honor guard, Trump walked ahead of the queen, per The New York Times. Once he was ahead of her, he stopped walking, which forced the queen to walk around him.

Later, after his visit, Trump appeared on "Good Morning Britain" in 2018 and spoke with Piers Morgan and discussed what he and the queen spoke about. Morgan asked if they had discussed Brexit and Trump said that they had. "She said it's a very — and she's right — it's a very complex problem," Trump began. When Morgan pressed for more details, especially as to which direction the queen was leaning, Trump caught himself before he said another word about their chat. "I've heard very strongly from a lot of people that you just don't talk about that conversation," he added, referring to his private audience with the queen. So he stopped himself before anything more detailed came to air.

Melania Trump flubbed too

Melania Trump also broke royal protocol during her visits to England with former President Donald Trump. Like her husband, Melania didn't curtsy when she met the queen, according to The New York Times. Instead, both Trumps chose to shake the queen's hand. As reported by her communication director, Melania at the very least was given a heads-up about royal dos and don'ts, but apparently, they did not stick. 

During their visit in 2019, Melania and her husband visited the then-Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, at their home Clarence House. Melania greeted Camilla by giving her a kiss on each cheek, according to Express. Camilla was nonplussed by the departure from a traditional curtsy and in turn, put a hand on Melania's shoulders and kissed her back. What's more, People reported that the Trumps arrived about an hour later than they were supposed to due to unforeseen scheduling conflicts. And since they were running behind schedule, the Trumps left Clarence House shortly after they arrived because it was time to jet off to their next appointment.

Allison Janney's mistake with Kate Middleton

Allison Janney had a funny encounter with Catherine, Princess of Wales, when they were all leaving London's Royal Albert Hall in 2018 for the BAFTA Film Awards. Janney told James Corden on "The Late Late Show" that she had simply had enough of wearing heels at the event and decided to go barefoot by the end of the night. It was in this shoeless state that she met Catherine and Prince William. Catherine was pregnant with their son, Prince Louis of Wales.

"I did meet Kate and William, and she was in her heels and pregnant, so I felt like a bit of a wimp that I was there in my bare feet," Janney told Corden. "She was in full-on heels, and she was my height when I was in my bare feet, it was kind of extraordinary that she's that tall. I told her that I was in bare feet and I told her that she should take her shoes off 'cause she's pregnant. It was an awkward moment." Janney added, "I called her 'honey.' That might not have been royal etiquette."

While this might have technically been a royal faux pas, royal correspondent Emily Nash told Hello! that things are more relaxed with the younger generation of royals so it almost certainly wasn't an issue. It seems doubtful they would be annoyed by Janney calling anyone in their family "honey." Our guess is that the princess found it endearing. 

LeBron James' awkward hug

When Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, visited New York in 2014, the royals enjoyed themselves at a basketball game. On December 8, 2014, they went to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Brooklyn Nets. They met legend LeBron James, who gifted the couple with two Cavaliers jerseys, one that read "Cambridge" and one that said "George" for their son. This, of course, was back when they were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

During a photo-op after the gifts, James put his arm around Catherine and sparked conversation about the age-old question about touching royals. As USA Today notes, both William and Catherine are famously more relaxed about those kinds of traditions. In fact, the outlet notes that during the game, William touched the arm of NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo as they were speaking, so they obviously have a more easy breezy attitude about physical interaction.

As for James, he shared a photo of the moment on Instagram, when he was giving William and Catherine the jerseys. His caption implied he knew that the meeting sparked some controversy but he wasn't buying into it. "This very moment will be forever remembered and put up in my house. It's all good and all smiles on this side," he wrote. William and Catherine's smiles in the photo seem to indicate that everyone was really relaxed and having a great time.

Ed Sheeran touches Charles' arm

In December 2017, Ed Sheeran was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire and went to Buckingham Palace to be honored by the then-Prince Charles. During the Investiture ceremony, Sheeran touched the prince's arm with his left hand as the two men shook hands. Sheeran was well aware after the fact that this was a mistake. "Apparently, I did a big faux pas, though. I shook his hand and then grabbed it and you're not meant to do that," he shared on "Today" (via CBS News).

But the momentary lapse was overshadowed by the wonderful historical element of the moment for Sheeran's family. "My grandad is a huge royalist and a big fan of the royal family and he died four years ago yesterday," Sheeran said on Today. After the event, his father noted how much this would've meant to his late grandfather.

In fact, Sheeran's story about his grandpa was so touching that the royal family shared it on the Clarence House Twitter page, which was affiliated with the then-Prince Charles and Camilla, before they became the king and Queen Consort. "Ed Sheeran was awarded his MBE for services to music and charity. He said '... my grandfather... he died on this day four years ago, so it's actually quite a nice full circle thing, I guess he'd be pretty proud,'" they wrote.

Anna Wintour keeps her sunnies on

Editor-in-chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour, sat down with the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2018 at London's Fashion Week. The two women sat front row and they both smiled and appeared animated in discussion, but Wintour kept her trademark sunglasses on and many felt like her insistence at keeping them on during a conversation with the queen was rude.

Per Hello!, etiquette guru and a member of the then-Prince Charles' household Grant Harrold told the Press Association: "Ms Wintour should know that to wear sunglasses when talking to another person, with no medical reason, is unacceptable. She should have removed them before being in the presence of the Queen, let alone in discussion." Harrold stressed the importance of eye contact in any discussion, let alone in one with the queen.

However, this wasn't the first time that Wintour met the queen. Per the BBC, in May 2017, she made the trip to Buckingham Palace where she was made a dame for her work in fashion and journalism. Wintour was notably not wearing her sunglasses at this event. However,  Wintour's Chanel outfit proved to be not the easiest of landing pads for the Star of the Order of the British Empire. "She couldn't find where to put the brooch," Wintour said of the queen after the event. The late Prince Philip had recently retired from royal duties and Wintour added, "I congratulated her on Prince Philip's service because obviously that's so remarkable and such an inspiration to us all."

Lewis Hamilton received an impromptu royal etiquette lesson

British race car driver Lewis Hamilton had lunch with the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 and made a slip-up. On an episode of "The Graham Norton Show," Hamilton noted that the queen actually knew about Formula One and watched Hamilton race. Hamilton, who received knighthood in 2021, sat next to the queen at lunch and admitted that he was really excited by the seating plan. "She was to my right and I started to talk to her and she's like, 'No, you speak that way first and I will speak this way and I come back to you,'" Hamilton explained. "So she spoke to the guy next to her for like five minutes and then she spent the rest of time talking to me."

The queen's conversational instructions for Hamilton are actually an age-old tradition for the royals. As Delish notes, the queen followed the rule that she chats with the person on her right first and once the second course arrives, she turns to her left and chats with them. This is to ensure that no one is left alone without any one to speak to at dinner. So this is the tradition that Hamilton learned from none other than the queen herself.