Queen Elizabeth II Didn’t Break Protocol Touching Michelle Obama, Her Personal Advisor Says

Queen Elizabeth II is no stranger to breaking royal protocol. She’s broken the rules for her corgis and her granddaughter-in-law, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, just to name a few. But in the case of former first lady Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth II touching, royal protocol didn’t get broken.

Queen Elizabeth II hosted Barack and Michelle Obama in 2009

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Queen Elizabeth II in 2009
Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 | Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images

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State visits are a typical part of the job for Queen Elizabeth II as the leader of the British royal family. In April 2009, she played host to then-President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama. 

Besides hosting an evening reception to honor their guests, the queen spent some time with the Obamas at Buckingham Palace. They all posed for photos with the addition of the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. 

Angela Kelly says Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth II touching didn’t violate protocol

During the aforementioned photo op, Michelle Obama touched the queen. When the former first lady put her arm around the queen, the queen reciprocated.

The seemingly harmless moment resulted in an uproar. Some felt it to be a direct violation of one of the royal family’s biggest protocols: no touching the queen

But according to Queen Elizabeth II’s personal adviser, Kelly, the gesture didn’t violate royal protocol. In her 2019 book, The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe, Kelly recalls the incident, calling it a “natural” thing for Queen Elizabeth to do. 

Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, Michelle Obama, and Prince Philip pose for a photo at Buckingham Palace
Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, Michelle Obama, and Prince Philip | John Stillwell – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

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“In reality, it was a natural instinct for the Queen to show affection and respect for another great woman, and really there is no protocol that must be adhered to,” Kelly said. 

She continued, saying it’s about “human kindness.” 

“When fondness is felt or the host of a State Visit goes to guide Her Majesty up some steps, it truly is about human kindness, and this is something the Queen will always welcome warmly,” Kelly said. 

Queen Elizabeth II called royal protocol ‘rubbish’, insisted Michelle Obama sit next to her

The touching incident isn’t the only time the queen’s taken a more relaxed approach to royal protocol with the Obamas. In 2016, when the couple arrived at Windsor Castle, the queen invited Michelle Obama to sit next to her in the car. 

“After we’d touched down in a field on the palace grounds and said our hellos, however, the Queen abruptly threw a wrench into everything by gesturing for me to join her in the backseat of the Range Rover,” Michelle Obama recalled in her book, Becoming

Prince Philip and Barack Obama ride in the front seat of a Range Rover while Queen Elizabeth II and Michelle Obama ride in the back seat
Prince Philip, Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, and Michelle Obama in 2016 | Geoff Pugh – WPA Pool/Getty Images

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“I froze, trying to remember if anyone had prepped me for this scenario, whether it was more polite to go along with it or to insist that Barack take his proper seat by her side.”

Sensing her hesitation, the queen encouraged Michelle Obama to break the rules. 

“Did they give you some rule about this?” Queen Elizabeth said. “That’s rubbish. Sit wherever you want,” she told the former first lady. 

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