The protocol surrounding touching the Royal Family has historically been so strict that a simple breach like a hand on the back, even by a well-meaning dignitary, was enough to spark column inches of outrage.
But today the royals, led by the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, take a more relaxed approach to being touchy-feely in a bid to make themselves look approachable, according to a body language expert.
Camilla, 74, was today photographed with Spice Girl Geri Horner, giving her a hug during a reception at St James’ Palace.
Yesterday, she was photographed embracing the Prime Minster’s wife Carrie Johnson, 33, as the pair hugged and kissed after meeting for a reception at the Wellcome Trust in London. Earlier this week, the royal also greeted Dame Judi Dench with a friendly hand on the shoulder, with the actress reciprocating with a hand on the royal’s arm.
A similarly familiar approach was taken by Prince William, 39, and Kate Middleton, 39, earlier this month when they hugged Dame Emma Thompson at the Earthshot Awards.
Speaking to FEMAIL, body language expert Judi James noted being more physically available in this manner could be part of a push to make the royals seem more relatable and attainable.
Camilla, 74, was today photographed with Spice Girl Geri Horner, giving her a hug during a reception at St James’ Palace
Yesterday, Her Royal Highness was photographed embracing the Prime Minster’s wife Carrie Johnson, 33, as the pair hugged and kissed after meeting for a reception at the Wellcome Trust in London
A similarly familiar approach was taken by Kate Middleton, 39, earlier this month when she greeted Dame Emma Thompson with a hug at the Earthshot Awards
Royals, led by the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, take a more relaxed approach to being touchy-feely in a bid to make themselves look approachable, according to a body language expert. Pictured, Camilla greets Judi Dench on Tuesday
Conversely, the Queen and older generations of royals might have seen a lack of contact as a way to communicate a higher status – but the younger royals are attempting to be more approachable.
There are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting The Queen or a member of the Royal Family, but many chose to observe traditions, which is to bow or curtesy.
‘Royals of the Queen’s generation and before saw the depiction of defined and exaggerated space around them as part of the ritual of their high office,’ Judi said.
‘They sat higher and on bigger chairs or thrones and their spatial distances were wider than anyone else, with only very few moments of that distance being breached in public view.
‘This meant touch was also off the menu. Tactile rituals were confined to occasional handshakes and anyone who has meet the Queen will know that her handshakes involve offered fingers, rather than any pressing of palms.
‘The rule applied to family members, too. Even though their greeting rituals in private were often even more tactile than the public’s, one famous photo of a very small Charles greeting his mother with a handshake after she returned from one of her tours abroad illustrates the ‘no-touch’ rule that was part of the basic fabric of what being royal was all about.’
Traditionally there was a ‘no-touch’ rule regarding royalty, with the Queen opting for a simple handshake on receiving lines. Pictured, greeting John Kerry at Windsor Castle last week
Prince William and Dame Emma Thompson share a hug as they pass each other at the Earthshot Prize awards
What is the protocol for meeting a member of the royal family?
There are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting The Queen or a member of the Royal Family, but many people wish to observe the traditional forms.
For men this is a neck bow (from the head only) whilst women do a small curtsy. Other people prefer simply to shake hands in the usual way.
On presentation to The Queen, the correct formal address is ‘Your Majesty’ and subsequently ‘Ma’am,’ pronounced with a short ‘a,’ as in ‘jam’.
For male members of the Royal Family the same rules apply, with the title used in the first instance being ‘Your Royal Highness’ and subsequently ‘Sir’.
For other female members of the Royal Family the first address is conventionally ‘Your Royal Highness’ and subsequently ‘Ma’am’.
It’s best to not initiate touching unless the royal gives you their arm.
She noted this approach to interacting with people was kickstarted by Princess Diana, saying: ‘Even after her gloriously spontaneous PDAs it has taken several more decades plus some nudging from Harry and Meghan to get things to where they are today.’
However royal expert Robert Jobson, best-selling author of Prince Philip’s Century, said there was a misconception surrounding the royals’ approach to physical contact, saying occasions of the royals being tactile ‘have happened quite a lot’.
He pointed to an example of the Queen being hugged by a woman on her 1991 US tour, and the Duke of Edinburgh lifting a little girl out of the crowd during a walkabout for the Queen’s 90th birthday.
He said: ‘You’d be surprised. Yes, the young royal are perhaps more open and expressive. I remember seeing the Prince of Wales being embraced by the young son of a friend of his.
Certainly Harry and Meghan were very much into hugs in their time as a working royal couple, just like Diana.
‘It was perhaps Diana more than anyone else that changed that. She was always open to hugging people and famously shook hands with a man with HIV/AIDS, almost ending the stigma associated with touching somebody with that disease overnight.’
According to Lucy Hume, the associate director at Debrett’s, a professional coaching company founded in 1769 and an authority on modern British etiquette those meeting royals should never initiate psychical contact, but it’s okay to hug them back.
‘Best not to initiate personal physical contact with a member of the royal family. Again, it may be that they offered to give you a hug or to put their arm around you, but usually wait and see what’s expected or what’s appropriate for the event,’ she told Reuters press agency.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were known for their tactile approach to royal engagements
Princess Diana shakes hands with an AIDS patient at Middlesex Hospital, London, in 1987. Judi and Robert agreed Diana was the turning point in the royal approach to physical touch
Whether it is through social media, a Zoom engagement, or a hug on a royal engagement, there is a shift towards making the royals more accessible, according to Judi.
‘Status-lowering rituals are much more the norm and touch is used frequently to signal empathy, rapport and a more down-to-earth form of affection,’ she said.
‘This trait goes further now for them than most of the public would ever experience as the royals are expected to hug total strangers in a way that is less common with the rest of society.
‘This directness and intimacy or communication has translated into more tactile behaviours now lockdowns have eased.
‘Even William and Kate seem to be increasing their PDA rations with one another and they and the rest of the generation of royals down from the Queen seem far more open to tactile behaviours than previously.’