Etiquette rules to master if you're joining the Royal Family
Published Monday, May 7, 2018 7:10AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 7, 2018 8:51AM EDT
Meghan Markle might be an accomplished actor, but playing the part of a princess will probably be her most challenging role yet. To truly be accepted as a Royal, experts say the 36-year-old American will have to learn a litany of longstanding yet unwritten etiquette rules that dictate everything from how she should sit, dress and even speak.
“There is a certain way of behaving, and Meghan, without any question, has learned it,” British etiquette specialist Grant Harrold told CTVNews.ca from his home in Highgrove, a royal estate. “She’s been an actress… She’s had to know how to behave and had to do public things. From that point of view, she’s probably got more experience than recent royal brides maybe had.”
Harrold, who styles himself ‘The Royal Butler,’ has even had an inside view of palace life, having worked as a butler in the household of Prince Charles between 2004 and 2011, serving the heir apparent as well as his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, and both Princes William and Harry.
“I want my Royal Family to be royal,” fellow etiquette expert William Hanson added from London. “The more they are like one of us, what’s the point of having them? They are just another family.”
Both Harrold and Hanson also offer etiquette coaching, so we asked the two about the rules one ought to master if joining the Royal Family.
‘LOO,’ NOT ‘TOILET’
For a Royal, some words are completely taboo.
“Technically, you don’t say ‘toilet’ -- you say ‘loo’ or ‘lavatory,’” Harrold said. “If she were to use the word ‘toilet’… it’s a newsworthy thing.”
There are other words, Harrold added, that could signal that one belonged to a lower social class.
“It’s never ‘mirror’ -- it's ‘looking glass,’” he gave as an example.
Even greetings are strictly proscribed.
“From a class point of view, ‘Nice to meet you,’ is considered common, if we’re being perfectly honest, whereas, ‘How do you do?’ is a more upper-class greeting,” Hanson explained.
The nature of public conversations should also always be “light” and “positive.” So don’t expect a Royal to go on about politics, sex or religion.
“When she is officially a member of the Royal Family, she is representing an age-old institution, so she cannot just speak freely,” Hanson said. “She has to toe the party line at all times.”
HATS DURING THE DAY, TIARAS AT NIGHT
When Markle is out in public, what she wears will always draw scrutiny.
“(For) royal ladies, without a question, there is a dress code that has been in place for hundreds of years,” Harrold said.
That means hats during the day, tiaras in the evening, gloves on your hands, and skirts that sit at or below the knee.
“We don’t want to see anything that we’re not meant to see,” Hanson added.
If wearing skirts, royal ladies should also always be clad in flesh-coloured tights.
“Meghan Markle on one occasion was seen not to be wearing tights, and that was seen as a breach of royal protocol,” Harrold noted.
Black should also always be avoided.
“Traditionally, the Royal Family steers away from black unless they’re in court mourning or attending remembrance events,” Hanson said.
Hanson also had a few strong words about Markle’s past wardrobe choices.
“She’s been wearing quite a lot of denim to official engagements,” he complained.
Markle was wearing ripped jeans when she accompanied Prince Harry to the Invictus Games in Toronto in September. She also sported a pair of locally made black jeans during an official visit to Wales in January and opted for dark denim in April while watching British athletes prepare for the 2018 Invictus Games.
“Denim for me is wear-around-the-house,” Hanson said. “It’s not go-out-and-meet-the-public type wear.”
As for Markle’s penchant for wearing her hair in a loose bun?
“She does not by any means look scruffy,” Hanson said. “But it doesn’t necessarily look royal.”
Overall, though, both etiquette experts agree that Markle has been carving her own style.
“For traditionalists, it’s not particularly royal what she has been wearing, (but) it’s very elegant and demure,” Hanson said.
Harrold likens Markle to Diana, Princess of Wales: a fashion icon who often sported bold and bright clothing instead of royal rule-following neutral tones.
“I think she’ll make her own statement,” he said. “(But) you can guarantee it will be always be… on the side of smart and formal.”
HANDSHAKES OR HUGS?
Properly comporting oneself in public, both experts agree, is essential if you want to be a Royal.
That means having excellent posture (“Back straight, shoulders slightly back and head tilted up,” Harrold said), making eye contact while speaking, and for women, sitting with knees and ankles together.
“Generally, ladies -- especially royal ladies -- don’t cross their legs,” Hanson said.
Open body language is also important -- that means not crossing your arms -- and remembering that Royals must always be the ones to initiate a conversation or handshake.
Markle will also have to master the “Windsor wave.”
“The key is not being too ferocious,” Hanson explained. “If you are waving frantically as if you’ve just seen your best friend, your arm is going to hurt after about five seconds.”
But whereas in times past, when everyone knew that they should never touch a Royal unless one offered their hand, the current crop of Royals, Hanson laments, have broken with longstanding protocol and become -- gasp! -- huggers.
“Meghan and Harry, and even William and Catherine, have become very tactile over the last couple of months,” he said. “You know, there’s not one child that they haven’t touched or hugged or high-fived over the last six months that they’ve met. All four of them have suddenly started sort of cuddling everybody, which to me is not really very royal.”
Harrold sees all this hugging as coming from the example set by Diana, the royal family’s most significant “modernizing” influence.
“Suddenly, I’m now having to say to people, ‘Like a handshake, if a Royal hugs you, you accept it,’” Harrold said of his coaching practice. “If anything, people love it.”
Perhaps the most confounding set of rules Markle will have to master are those surrounding the intricacies of curtseying.
When alone, Markle will be expected to curtsey when greeting all members of the Royal Family that outrank her -- such as the Duchess of Cambridge -- as well as every single person with royal blood.
“You are not curtseying to the person, you are curtseying to the institution and the title,” Hanson explained.
But things change when Markle is with her prince.
“When she’s with him, it’s equal status,” Harrold said.
In essence, that means Markle will take on her husband’s rank when she is standing alongside him, so that all those who rank below him -- whether blood members of the family or not -- will have to bow or curtsey when greeting her in Prince Harry’s presence. Were Prince Harry to step into another room, though, Markle would then have to curtsey when greeting lower-ranking blood royals, like Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
“It’s details like that she’s got to get her brain around,” Hanson said.
COACHING FROM CATHERINE?
It’s unclear if Markle is currently receiving formal etiquette coaching, but both Harrold and Hanson agree that she’s likely taking tips from palace courtiers as well as members of the Royal Family -- especially those who have married into it.
“She’ll learn from her future husband, she’ll learn from the future brother-in-law and very importantly, from the future sister-in-law,” Harrold said. “If you want to look at someone to get it right, Kate Middleton had to learn how to become royal and how to do things in the royal style -- and she does it beautifully.”
Hanson says the actor -- who he describes as “slick,” “demure” and “outwardly very polite” -- should have no problem picking up the complexities of British etiquette.
ROOT OF RULES
British court etiquette, Harrold explains, traces its origin to the reign of the French monarch Louis XIV, who ruled between 1643 and 1715.
“He was very much passionate about rules in the palace in Versailles, and that’s where it began,” Harrold said. “All the other royal families around the world copied it… and it’s lasted to this very day.”
Such rules, however, have never been formally codified.
“Half the problem for people like Meghan and those in her position is that there is no one sort of go-to manual that she can read about royal protocol,” Hanson added. “They are rules that have evolved and become unwritten rules... and that’s why she needs to listen to what others are saying.”
But while such rules may have been strict a century ago, things have become much less stringent today.
“It’s a very different Royal Family,” Harrold explained. “It’s a very modern Royal Family. And even though they still stick to traditions and protocols, they are a bit more relaxed.”
Being a foreigner and marrying a prince that has little chance of ever being crowned king will also take some of the heat of the former actor, both experts agree.
“But the reality is, if she does anything wrong, it affects the Royal Family… it affects the brand,” Harrold said. “We’ve got wonderful traditions, but we’ve also got some very funny kinds of rules… She’ll need to understand them -- it doesn’t need to say she has to stick to them.”