Michelle Obama and Other Famous People Who Broke Rules When Meeting the Royal Family
The royal family has many, many rules to follow. The British monarchy has rules on everything from etiquette to style, weddings to childbirth. Everyone from William and Kate to Meghan and Harry to the queen herself has bent a few. (In fact, there are numerous rules that the queen, her children, and her grandchildren have broken.) But they aren’t the only ones who have broken rules that the royal family (and those around them) are expected to follow.
In fact, numerous famous people have accidentally broken the rules when meeting the royal family. That even includes Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States. Read on to check out all the most shocking and hilarious examples of rule-breaking.
1. David Beckham
David Beckham may not have technically broken any rules. But he’s been accused of groveling to try to get the queen to knight him — not a good look. As The Daily Mail explained, Beckham bragged about his involvement at Buckingham Palace (including the occasions on which he’s met the royal family), and lavished praise on the queen. Given rumors that he was angling for a knighthood, that’s not exactly a great look.
Next: This U.S. president made a major faux pas when meeting the queen.
2. George W. Bush
George W. Bush may not have broken a strict rule of etiquette. But he definitely raised some eyebrows by winking at the queen during a speech. As he welcomed her to a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, he accidentally implied that Queen Elizabeth II had been on the throne since the 18th century. Realizing his mistake, he turned to the queen and winked at her. But later he said that she gave him “a look that only a mother could give a child.”
Next: This British TV star broke one of the rules when meeting the Duchess of Cornwall.
3. Brendan Cole
Town and Country reports that Strictly Come Dancing star Brendan Cole also made headlines by breaking one of the royal family’s rules. The occasion? Cole invited Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to dance at a royal event highlighting the benefits of active lifestyles for older adults. As Town and Country notes, some people even speculated that Cole’s breach of the rules led the BBC to decline to renew his contract for Strictly Come Dancing.
Next: This athlete seemed starstruck by Kate Middleton.
4. LeBron James
Town and Country reports that LeBron James broke one of the royal family’s most basic rules by leaning in to put his arm around Kate Middleton. The cardinal rule of meeting British royals is that you aren’t supposed to touch them. As Insider reports, Kate didn’t reciprocate the gesture. But that’s not necessarily a bad sign. “Sometimes, the royal family quite like it when things go wrong because it adds a bit of humor and it gives them something to enjoy and talk about,” one etiquette expert told Insider.
Next: This actress broke several rules when she met Kate Middleton.
5. Allison Janney
Town and Country reports that Allison Janney once broke several royal family rules when meeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the BAFTA Film Awards. Janney had taken off her heels, so she met Kate Middleton while barefoot. “I just told her that I was in bare feet and I felt — I told her she should take her shoes off ’cause she’s pregnant. It was an awkward moment,” Janney explained. “As I did, I called her ‘honey’ and that might not have been royal etiquette.”
Next: This actress may have broken one of the queen’s fashion rules.
6. Angelina Jolie
Though we doubt the queen really minded, it looks like Angelina Jolie broke a minor fashion rule or two when she met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. As Racked reports, Jolie wore a lilac jacket and skirt to receive an Honorary Dame Grand Cross award in the Palace’s 1844 room. But she also wore peep-toe shoes, which made it pretty unlikely that she was wearing pantyhose, a requirement not only for the queen’s family members but also for her guests. Even open-toe shoes are off-limits for formal events at the palace.
Next: This president made a major faux pas at a dinner with the queen.
7. Barack Obama
The Atlantic reports that any time you eat with the royal family, you should do as the queen does. “If she stands up, you stand. If she has finished eating, let’s hope you’re full.” Obama failed to observe perfect etiquette at the dinner table back in 2011. The Atlantic reports that Obama “was beaten up in the British press for toasting the queen and then delivering a speech over a rendition of ‘God Save the Queen.’ He should have stopped after the toast.”
Next: Obama’s wife made a major faux pas, too.
8. Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama famously broke royal protocol by putting her arm around the queen as the two talked at a reception. As Time reports, “Etiquette is quite stern about this (‘Whatever you do, don’t touch the Queen!’).”But as the publication noted, “Michelle Obama put her hand on the queen only after the queen had placed her own hand on the first lady’s back as part of their conversation. So there is room for theological argument as to whether the American reciprocity of touch was allowable given the social dynamics of the situation.” Either way, the queen didn’t seem upset about it.
Next: This musician technically broke a rule, but the queen didn’t seem to mind.
9. Liam Payne
When One Direction’s Liam Payne met the queen, he technically broke the rule against touching royals by shaking her hand. However, as Cosmopolitan notes, the rule technically stipulates that you shouldn’t extend your hand to any member of the royal family unless he or she extends a hand first. So Payne might be off the hook. Plus, the occasion actually wasn’t the first time that Payne had met the queen. He got to shake her hand the previous year, as well. So at least she knows what to expect!
Next: This actress committed an unusual faux pas when meeting Prince Harry.
10. Margot Robbie
Most people who meet members of the royal family know who they are, and make a point of observing all the appropriate etiquette rules. But Margot Robbie reportedly had no idea who Prince Harry was when she met him at a party. In fact, she didn’t figure it out until 30 minutes into their conversation. How embarrassing!
Next: This actor goes down in history for his major rule-breaking.
11. Mickey Rooney
Town and Country reports that the late Mickey Rooney once broke royal protocol by giving the queen a kiss on the hand. CBS notes that the faux pas took place back in 2007, when Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit to the United States. Rooney met the monarch during a garden party celebrating her visit at the British Embassy in Washington. While the incident certainly made a splash, we hope that the queen felt charmed by the gesture. As The Telegraph reports, Rooney characterized it as a “thrill” to meet the queen. “It is something I’ve dreamed of all my life,” he said.
Next: This musician broke a rule when talking to Prince Charles.
12. Ed Sheeran
According to Town and Country, Ed Sheeran also broke a major rule observed by the royal family. When he became a Member of the Order of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace, Sheeran touched Prince Charles’ arm, breaking royal protocol. As CBS reports, Sheeran explained, “Apparently, I did a big faux pas, though. I shook his hand and then grabbed it and you’re not meant to do that.”
Next: This entertainer got a little too enthusiastic about meeting Prince William.
13. Sam Smith
Another entertainer who committed a hilarious faux pas when meeting a member of the royal family? Sam Smith. As Time reports, photographs of the occasion show Smith shaking hands with Prince William while bowing deeply. “Much too deeply,” the publication specifies. “Prince William clearly looks amused.” Smith explained, “My issue is that I watch too much Downtown Abbey. You get instructions, they say you’ve got to bow with one arm behind your back. If someone tells you to bow — I properly went for it!”
Next: This athlete got very excited about meeting Kate Middleton.
14. Serena Williams
The queen reportedly frowns upon the practice of the royal family taking selfies with fans. Many royals have broken the rule on occasion, but usually for normal citizens. One celebrity who broke this rule? Serena Williams, who snapped a selfie with Kate Middleton and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. Williams posted the photo on her Snapchat, where she said in a video, “I’m in the ‘in-crowd’ now – I’m with royalty!”
Next: This fashion icon didn’t show enough respect for the queen.
15. Anna Wintour
Queen Elizabeth II made headlines by making a rare appearance at London Fashion Week, where she sat next to Anna Wintour at the Richard Quinn runway show. But many reported that Wintour broke royal etiquette rules by failing to take off her signature sunglasses while in the presence of the queen. One royal etiquette expert told Mashable that Wintour “should have removed her sunglasses when in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen at London Fashion Week.” Nonetheless, the queen probably wasn’t offended. “She would probably have noticed and internally thought it was a bit odd, but The Queen has seen it all and clearly took it all in her stride!”
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