Royal etiquette 101: What to do when meeting the Duke and Duchess
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wave from their plane before departing from their cross-Canada tour in Calgary, Alta., Friday, July 8, 2011. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
In the summer of 2011, a 22-year-old country singer from Prince Edward Island stayed up most of the night rehearsing her speech.
Meaghan Blanchard was practising with such determination because she would be performing in front of Prince William and his wife Catherine during their first official royal tour of Canada.
When the big night arrived, nerves got the best of Blanchard and the young performer bungled the royal couple’s formal titles by blurting out “Dootch” instead of “Duke and Duchess”. Luckily, the gracious couple laughed off the unfortunate gaffe and Blanchard’s subsequent musical performance went smoothly.
To help you avoid an embarrassing fate similar to Blanchard’s, CTV’s royal commentator, Richard Berthelsen, has shared some helpful tips with CTVNews.ca on the Dos and Don’ts of meeting their Royal Highnesses.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their adorable children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, will be embarking on a week-long tour of Canada from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1.
The Royal Family has more than 30 engagements planned and they are expected to meet thousands of Canadians along the way.
What to do when greeting the Royal Family:
Berthelsen says that commoners used to be expected to wait until they were spoken to by a member of the Royal Family before they could address them. Today, however, Berthelsen says members of the Royal Family are much more easygoing and happy to have conversations with civilians.
“People today have a much more free-flowing engagement with them,” he told CTVNews.ca.
If one of the royals asks you a question during your encounter, Berthelsen said it’s perfectly acceptable to ask them a question in return, as long as it’s polite.
Some Canadians will have the opportunity to be formally presented to the royal couple during the tour and in that case, a more traditional tone may be required. During an official ceremony, Berthelsen recommends that you address both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as “Your Royal Highness” the first time and then Sir or Ma’am in future references. He also said that men can greet them with a nod from the neck and women can do a slight curtsy.
A handshake will do:
When it comes to physical contact with the royals, Berthelsen stresses that handshakes are the only acceptable form of touching. He said there is always someone from the public who manages to put their arm around one of the members of the Royal Family during a tour and the media, particularly the British media, makes a big deal about it. One example of this was when basketball star, LeBron James, put his arm around the duchess during her visit to New York City in 2014.
“We feel like we know them, but we don’t really know them,” he said. “They are owed a little bit of distance, a little bit of respect because of their position.”
Children, on the other hand, are an exception to the handshake rule. Berthelsen said the royals are very good with children, especially Kate. There is usually a designated official flower girl at many of the events the royals attend and the Duchess will usually hug the little girl and engage with her.
“Catherine, of course, has that affinity with children being a mom of two young kids herself,” he said.
During the Canadian tour, the Duke and Duchess will be received by a number of different hosts at various stops along the way. If you’re lucky enough to be hosting the royal couple during the tour, Berthelsen said you should prepare in advance what you would like to tell the royal couple about the facility or organization you’re representing.
“They (the hosts) want to be a little light and not too lecturing about what’s going on,” he said. “Keep it fun, keep it amusing and keep it short.”
Berthelsen also recommends that hosts come up with a few amusing anecdotes about their organization and community to provide a memorable experience for the visiting Royal Family members.
Practising your bow or curtsy is also not a bad idea if you know you will be presented to the Duke and Duchess during an official ceremony.
What NOT to do when greeting the Royal Family:
Absolutely no selfies:
As tempting as it might be to snap a quick selfie with Prince William or his wife Kate, Berthelsen said it isn’t recommended. He says the Royal Family, especially Prince Harry, don’t like taking selfies with fans because they usually take longer to frame than a regular photo, which takes time away from others who are also waiting to meet them.
“They’re happy to have people take pictures of them,” Berthelsen said. “But in terms of them posing and getting in a photo with their arm around you, it’s probably not going to happen.”
No elaborate gifts:
If you don’t want to show up emptyhanded when you first meet the Royal Family, Berthelsen suggests bringing flowers as a gift. He said that sometimes the flowers go back to where the royals are staying but more often than not, they are donated to local hospitals or hospices.
But giant teddy bears, homemade presents or tacky framed photos are best avoided, he added. He says Prince George and Princess Charlotte have more than enough toys and the Duke and Duchesses are often embarrassed by the amount of gifts they receive during their public visits.
“It’s going a little too far,” He said. “Flowers are one thing, but beyond that, people should really avoid investing heavily in gifts.”
Berthelsen says the royals are very tactful when they’re greeting crowds by pretending not to notice the elaborate gifts to avoid dealing with them afterwards.
As long as you’re polite and respect the Royal Family’s personal space, you shouldn’t run into any problems. But if you’re particularly anxious, practising your “Duke and Duchess” one more time might not be the worst idea.