The Strict Rules Celebs Have To Follow When Meeting The Royals

Meeting a member of the British royal family may seem like the opportunity of a lifetime for many people, and for some — honestly, we have to assume for most people — it's a nerve-racking experience. Rightfully so when you find out all about the strict rules that have to be followed when meeting a duchess, a prince, or even the Queen of England. And if you think that celebrities are exempt from these necessary formalities, then think again!

While the royals' official website notes that "there are no obligatory codes of behavior when meeting The Queen or a member of the Royal Family," it also points out that "many people wish to observe the traditional forms." Beyond that, it seems like guests are strongly encouraged to follow proper behavior, to the point where they are told what to do and what not to do. Billy Eichner confirmed that while being interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2019 and opening about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle attending the royal premiere of The Lion King in London, England that same year. He revealed that in the days prior to meeting the royals, he was sent an email that included the protocol that he needed to follow. While the royals' message on their website around protocol seems pretty easy-breezy, Eichner explained that when it comes to the details of what he was instructed to do, "They are very intense about it."

So, what are the rules that they're so "intense" about? Read on to find out!

Celebrities must heed both invitations

When a member of the royal family gets married, a big deal is made over every detail of the event's invitation. Just take a look at the buzz that was created when Prince William and Kate Middleton tied the knot as well as when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle said "I do" (the two invites were even compared, of course). While the invitations themselves tend to "follow many years of Royal tradition," according to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's Twitter account, celebrities also need to heed what's in those invitations for any event. Frankly, the information that is included is so important — it "is one of the highest honors for a celebrity," after all — that when a star is invited to Buckingham Palace, they "have to RSVP twice," according to Marie Claire.

The Big Bang Theory's Kunal Nayyar talked about the double invitations while on The Ellen Show in 2017, saying that first, he got a request to meet the queen in the form of an email "from the secretary of the Masters of the House." Because that happens to be a relatively rare and obviously impressive honor by many standards, the actor "immediately thought it was one of [his] friends playing a prank on [him]." He admitted, "Because that's exactly what they would do, send me to London to meet the queen 'fakely.'" Fortunately for Nayyar, he answered what turned out to be a real request and ended up receiving a fancy "embossed" invitation in the mail which led to his royal encounter.

Stars should opt for 'a more conservative look'

Celebrities are well aware of the fact that there are dress codes for different occasions. While some opt to brush those expectations aside, that isn't such a great idea when meeting the royals. In fact, when stars are attending an event with a member of the royal family, it's best for them to go with "a more conservative look," per Marie Claire. The magazine goes on to note that "bright colors are reserved for the Monarch" who "wears them so that she can stand out in a crowd." According to royal biographer Robert Hardman (via The Telegraph), Queen Elizabeth once said, "I can never wear beige because nobody will know who I am."

Stars may also want to ditch the sunglasses. Anna Wintour didn't do so when she sat beside the queen at a show during London Fashion Week in 2018, and while the style maven always dons her sunnies at these events, wearing them while sitting with the queen was frowned upon. Etiquette expert William Hanson told the Daily Mail at the time, "Whilst Anna Wintour's fashion choices usually are faultless her etiquette today is far from on trend."

However, it turns out that Wintour isn't the only one to ignore these style-related rules. For instance, when Lady Gaga met the queen, she wore a wild red dress and eye makeup that was just as outrageous — although the queen also wore something unusual as she opted for a black gown. And, to be fair, Gaga did, as Vanity Fair put it, go for something "extremely different" when she met Prince Charles.

Don't be late for this important royal date

It's always rude to be late — unless you seriously can't avoid it and have a good reason, of course. But when you're meeting a royal? It's best to be as early as possible, for the Queen of England is supposed to be the last to arrive. Even if you're set to be introduced to other members of the royal family, it's a good move to turn up before they do. It would surely be beyond awkward to make them wait around for you.

Also, according to the BBC, if you are attending an event with the queen, then definitely "don't sit until she sits or begin eating until she does." The outlet also noted that "guests should never leave an event before the royal personage unless permission has been granted through a private secretary."

However, the queen is willing to bend this particular protocol in certain circumstances. For example, things are slightly different when it comes to royal weddings. "Guests arrived two hours before the ceremony started," royal editor Duncan Larcombe told Cosmopolitan while opening up about his experience attending Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding in 2011. When it comes to the queen, this is one of the rare times she isn't the last to turn up. "She will get there five minutes before [the bride] will arrive." Her Majesty also broke protocol when she showed up for Winston Churchill's funeral before his family as a sign of respect.

How does a celebrity greet a royal?

Regular people may feel star-struck when they bump into a celebrity, but does a star get royal-struck when they meet the queen or a member of her family? Even if a famous figure does happen to be flustered, they still have to remember certain rules when it comes to greeting a royal.

While appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Billy Eichner — who met Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the same The Lion King event where they mingled with Beyoncé and Jay-Z — explained that when you meet the Duke of Sussex, "You're supposed to say, 'Your Royal Highness,' [and] you can't speak until your hands are in a handshake with his." When recounting the time he was introduced to the queen, Kunal Nayyar said to Ellen DeGeneres, "You have to address her as Your Majesty, and after that, you can call her ma'am." (According to the royal website, "ma'am" is "pronounced with a short 'a,' as in 'jam.'") 

The Big Bang Theory star also talked about the royal handshake, saying that "they will reach their hand out, at which point you can take it or you could bow or you could curtsey." The BBC confirmed that you are to "curtsey or bow (the head only) — although you can also shake hands or do a combination of the two." All that said, it's probably best for a celebrity not to try to give a royal a high-five or fist-bump.

There's a proper way to stand at a royal meet-and-greet

When a celebrity meets a royal, they may assume that making sure not to slouch is the biggest thing they need to remember when it comes to how they stand. But it turns out that there's something else that they should know that goes beyond posture. The BBC noted that there's a certain way to stand around royals, meaning that "[i]f you are presented to Her Majesty at a Royal event it is likely you will be marshalled into position in a series of semi-circles rather than straight lines." On top of that, celebs shouldn't "turn [their] back on Her Majesty" as "it is considered rude," and "guests should try to be empty-handed."

There's a slightly different protocol for a star's guest. As Marie Claire explained, "The receiving lines for royals are very carefully planned and sometimes there's no time for plus-ones to say hello." Frankly, Billy Eichner told Jimmy Kimmel that his guest had to stand behind him when it was time to meet Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at The Lion King premiere. The same went for Rachel Weisz when she stood behind Daniel Craig at the Spectre premiere. On top of that, Marie Claire advises that "if you're ever in a room with the Queen (!!) follow her lead." That means that when "she stands, it's proper protocol to stand as well."

If that sounds tricky, just try to imagine the kind of protocol that Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have to abide by when it simply comes to when, where, and how to stand.

Don't speak to the royals unless spoken to

When it comes to conversation, a star shouldn't try to engage the queen in the wrong way or at the wrong time, according to the BBC. While "small-talk" is fine, a celebrity will want to avoid bringing up anything too serious and definitely shouldn't "ask personal questions." The outlet went on to note that when you are around the monarch, "don't talk unless spoken to." Billy Eichner pretty much echoed that exactly when he admitted on Jimmy Kimmel Live that his The Lion King premiere plus-one was told to remain quiet.

And it's not just the extra guests who have to follow strict rules around speaking to the royals. As the BBC put broke it down, "it is customary for the guest of honor to sit to the right of the Queen and the convention is that she speaks to this person during the first course of the dinner, then switches attention to the person on her left for the following course." That's why you shouldn't try to talk to her unless she engages you, especially if you're on her left side.

That's something that Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton found out the hard way. According to the BBC, when he was given a seat on the queen's left during a formal meal, Hamilton apparently "tried to speak to Her Majesty but was politely told: 'No, you speak that way first and I'll speak this way and then I'll come back to you.'"

Royal hugs are not exactly a regular thing

The royals really aren't into PDA, and it seems like a wise move to keep hands off of all members of the royal family — especially the queen. As the BBC put it, "Only shake her hand if she offers it."

There are apparently no "obligatory" rules about how you're supposed to act when you meet a royal, but there sure seems to be some unwritten protocol. And there have been plenty of celebs who accidentally made headlines after their interaction with a royal. There was "LeBron James' alleged breach of etiquette" when he "[put] his arm around Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, while posing for a photo" in 2014, per The Atlantic. There was when Jennifer Lopez touched Prince William's arm at a BAFTA event, as Marie Claire pointed out. And as Ed Sheeran shared on Today (via People), he "did a big faux pas" when he grabbed Prince Charles' hand in 2017.

As Marie Claire explained, "Royal protocol really boils down to everything being up to the royal to initiate, especially physical contact." That's why "[i]t's only after they extend the gesture that a celebrity may reciprocate." If a royal is in the mood to give a star a big ol' bear hug and the celeb is into it? You may see the two in an enthusiastic embrace. After much was made of Michelle Obama hugging the queen in 2009, a Buckingham Palace rep told the AP (via HuffPost), "It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection. We don't issue instructions on not touching the queen."

Stars probably shouldn't expect to get a royal selfie

Unsurprisingly, there are stars who want photographic evidence of their encounter with a royal. And unsurprisingly, there are guidelines regarding who can take the photos and where the photos may be taken. As the BBC explained, it's against the rules to "take pictures when you are visiting [the queen] at home." Although the monarch "may be one of the most photographed women in the world," according to the rules, "unofficial photography is not permitted in royal palaces." Frankly, there will likely be a fair share of professional photographers on hand to capture every moment.

Indeed, while the queen was in Germany in 2015, "advice [was] given to guests who would encounter the Queen," according to the BBC, which included the fact that they "not take selfies." At the same time, Lucy Hume, who is "an authority on modern British etiquette," told Reuters that while "it's not usually appropriate to [ask for a selfie]," there is a way to go about attempting to get one if a celebrity is feeling brave enough to break the rules. "If you do want to take a photograph, ask their permission first, possibly get somebody else to take a photograph." However, Hume also asserted the fact that "it's important to respect that person's personal space."

Indeed, while royals know that they're not to indulge selfie requests, that doesn't mean that they aren't willing to break the rules themselves when they feel like posing for a pic.

Celebs shouldn't ask for an autograph for a serious reason

Celebrities have their own rules when it comes to signing autographs for fans. Some are happy to oblige their admirers while others refuse and some even charge money for a simple scribble. That's why you'd think they'd be understanding when it comes to not asking royals for autographs. And frankly, if a star did ask, the royal would very likely say no.

It's not that the royals have bad penmanship. In fact, Meghan Markle is so talented with a pen that she used to make money by doing calligraphy before she married Prince Harry and has a love of writing beautiful-styled letters by hand which is a skill she's apparently kept up (and still seemingly signs autographs on occasion ... oops!). It's rather that a "long-standing rule remains in place for all royals" when it comes to not signing autographs "because of the risk of the signature being forged," according to the Express.

When Prince Charles is asked for an autograph, even by a star, he apparently tells people, "Sorry, they don't allow me to do that." However, the Express revealed that he did break this rule "when he signed an autograph for a victim of devastating floods" and "scrawled 'Charles 2010' on a piece of paper." That may not have been the sweetest sentiment — we're sure the Duchess of Cambridge could have come up with something better considering her talent for written words — but at least it was something.

Wandering 'is a big no-no' when celebs visit royals

Celebrities are often allowed to go places where the general public isn't welcome. However, when it comes to meeting the royals in their residences and palaces, stars need to stick to the areas they're shown and escorted to. That's because "wandering off during a visit to Buckingham Palace is a big no-no," according to Marie Claire. The outlet noted that as "tempting" as it may be to sneak off on a self-guided tour of a royal's home, it's forbidden. 

Not only are the royal residences architectural works of art that are filled with lavish décor, but Buckingham Palace boasts a staggering total of 775 rooms. According to Hello!, the abode "includes 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, 78 bathrooms, and 19 different state rooms." The Sun noted that the property also happens to include "a number 'secret rooms' that are off limits." That would be "an indoor pool, cinema, and a doctor's office."

Still, it's best for famous figures to resist from poking around as being found in a restricted area would, as Marie Claire put it, "likely result in a scolding." Not only that, but there's also the chance that this kind of behavior from a celebrity might prevent them from getting another invitation to meet a royal in the future. Granted, if they do get an invite, then they'll have to abide by these strict rules all over again.