Whenever royals interact with the general public, there are certain orders everyone is expected to follow. Sure, the public have to obey the rules… but so do the royals. However, while travelling in Ireland in 2020 Prince William encountered a diehard fan, and he decided to break royal protocol in order to ensure she got a special day.
The concept of royal protocol may seem outdated, but it’s nothing to sniff at. Protocol determines a great many aspects of a royal’s life – what they wear, how they travel, etc. Have you ever wondered why William and Kate don’t show affection or hold hands in public despite being married? Royal protocol is the reason.
Even kissing at a wedding is frowned upon! Just before William and Kate married in 2011, the Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, Dean of Westminster told Yahoo News, “There will be no kiss during the wedding ceremony. We don’t do that in the Church of England. That’s sort of a Hollywood thing: ‘You may now kiss the bride.’ It doesn’t happen here.”
William and Kate obeyed that rule and didn’t kiss inside Westminster Abbey. They did however finally lock lips on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, to the delight of cheering crowds. After the first kiss the people on the ground began chanting “Kiss her again,” and after visibly blushing William did just that.
After becoming the wife of Prince William, Kate also became the mother of the future heir to the throne. Prince George was born in July 2013, and even during that emotional occasion rules had to be followed. As soon as George came into the world, as per protocol, the Queen was the first person told. William called her via an encrypted phone.
Even little George is expected to follow certain rules, to a degree. Keen royal-watchers might notice that whenever the small boy is seen out in public, he’s wearing shorts rather than pants. This is because it’s royal tradition for boys to wear only shorts until they reach the age of eight.
In 2018, etiquette expert William Hanson explained to Harper’s Bazaar, “Trousers are for older boys and men, whereas shorts on young boys is one of those silent class markers that we have in England. Although times are (slowly) changing, a pair of trousers on a young boy is considered quite middle class – quite suburban. And no self-respecting aristo or royal would want to be considered suburban.”
Kate herself also has to follow fashion rules – you’re very unlikely to see her out in public in old jeans and hoodies, like the rest of us. The Duchess of Cambridge always dresses impeccably, and conservatively as well. Royal skirts should always go down to the knee or lower, and Kate follows this rule to the letter.
As for shoes, there are certain rules there as well. Too-high heels would be very impractical, so Kate and her fellow royal women usually wear sensible heeled shoes. However, none of them wear wedges, at least not while the Queen is present. Reportedly, the Queen dislikes that kind of shoe and would not approve.
The Queen herself also has protocol in place so she can go and about without running the risk of offending anyone. She uses her purse to indicate quietly to her aides what she would like to do. If she’s speaking to you and she subtly switches her clutch from her left to her right, that means she’s done with you, and someone is about to swoop in and make an excuse for her.
The Queen also wears her trademark gloves for a very good reason. As the monarch, she meets multiple people almost every day, and — until recently anyway — she was expected to shake hands with most of them. The gloves ensure that she’s protected to some extent from any germs that might be passed on. At her age, any illness could be dangerous.
When Meghan Markle joined the royal family, it was noted that she often subtly broke the royal fashion protocols. For example, when she first posed for her engagement pictures with Harry, she had bare legs — a breach of the rules. And even once she’d become a fully fledged member of the royal family, she sometimes still neglected the nylons.
And then there’s the nails. For a very long time now, royals have been apparently stuck with only one option if they want to paint their nails: nude polish, and that’s it. Brightly colored polish is something the Queen reportedly finds “vulgar.” However, Meghan has been spotted out in public with more pinkish shades.
But Meghan isn’t the only one who’s defied the rules on occasion – William has too. And the rule he broke was more serious than the ones about fashion. Generally, it’s recommended that royal families don’t travel together, because if an accident happens an entire line of heirs could be wiped out in one go.
However, William disobeys this rule and travels with his family. In 2014 when Prince George was still a baby, all the Cambridges took the same jet while heading off for a tour of Australia and New Zealand. And even now that the family has grown by two more children, they all still travel together when going overseas.
William actually had to get permission from his grandmother to travel with his children, according to reports. Back in 2014 a royal spokesperson explained, “While there is no official rule on this, it is something that the Queen has the final say on.” It remains to be seen if this will change once the Cambridge children get older.
In 2018 royal expert Marlene Koenig told the website news.com.au, “When [Princes Harry and William] were little, Prince Charles asked the Queen if both children could fly on a plane together to Scotland, to which the Queen said yes. Technically, they needed permission for travel. The Queen has the last word on parenting decisions like that.”
William has broken other, less serious rules as well. After he married Kate some of the royal Christmas traditions changed, and this was a big deal to the royal family. Royals take the celebration of Christmas very seriously. Every year they’re supposed to gather at Sandringham, where they attend church together.
However, in 2012 the prince did things differently. In the 2013 biography Kate royal expert Marcia Moody wrote, “It was a significant change when he and Kate spent Christmas 2012 with the Middletons. Senior members of the Royal Family had never been permitted to be anywhere other than Sandringham on Christmas Day in the past, so it certainly displayed how much times had changed.”
And after that Kate and William changed things up quite a bit. In 2014 Kate invited her parents and siblings to the family home in Norfolk rather than going to the Queen’s hosted party, and from then on she and William strove to have more relaxed and child-friendly Christmases than the traditional royal ones.
In 2016 an anonymous source told Closer magazine, “Since they had children, Kate and Prince William have been slowly making a couple of changes each year. Kate’s goal is to make Christmas more of a close family occasion, and less of a formal one.” They added, “Diana liked to take long walks in the woods with William and [Prince Harry] on the holiday. Kate will do the same with George and Charlotte.”
And then in 2020 William broke another pretty major royal rule. While visiting County Kildare in Ireland the prince happened to run into a woman with Down Syndrome named Jennifer Malone. Jennifer has quite the collection of photographs of herself with big celebrities – she even met movie superstar Hugh Jackman back in 2019.
In her home town, Jennifer is known as the “number 24 of Leinster” for her support of the Irish rugby team. Leinster players all know her well and some have gifted her their medals and boots as souvenirs. And in 2017 she even walked out on a rugby pitch to hug Pauric Mahony, a player from a different team who had just lost a game.
That year her mother Donna told The Irish Examiner that Jennifer “wasn’t meant to be here at all. She got meningitis at three months, which left her on life support for eight weeks. If that wasn’t bad enough, she had cardiac problems and had to have open heart surgery at 10 months. We’re so grateful she’s here.”
When Jennifer met the prince she had shamrocks painted onto her face and was holding a bunch of daffodils. She gave the daffodils to William and asked him for a selfie. And, surprisingly, he said yes. He even stopped long enough for Jennifer and the accompanying Donna to get several photographs of him.
Donna later posted the pictures to her social media account with the caption “A really nice guy.” And everyone was very pleased to see the prince had bent royal protocol for Jennifer. One person wrote, “I really do love that he did that. Yes, he may broke some rules with this, but what the hell…? It was so worth it, wasn’t it?”
But why is it frowned upon for royals to take selfies? The subject came to the fore in December 2017, when the engaged, but not yet married, Meghan Markle visited Nottingham. Some people in the crowd asked the future duchess if she would take a selfie with them, and she was heard answering, “We’re not allowed to do selfies.”
The website Insider asked CNN’s royal commentator Victoria Arbiter about why this was the case. She said that royal selfies were “strongly discouraged” and explained, “Royals would always rather have a personal interaction than have people clamoring for selfies. If you grant one, then it quickly becomes overwhelming… From a security standpoint, they’re also not ideal as they warrant a certain closeness.”
However, Arbiter went on, a member of the royal family probably wouldn’t be reprimanded for stopping to take a selfie. She said, “Royals do what feels right in any given moment. If a sick child on a hospital visit or at an awards evening asked for a selfie, most wouldn’t hesitate, but on a walkabout, they’re avoided.”
Yet that made William’s selfie with Jennifer all the more unusual, because he had indeed been on a walkabout at the time. While in County Kildare he and Kate had gone to buy provisions for a charity-run facility called Savannah House, and after exiting the supermarket they went to greet the gathered crowd.
So Jennifer’s encounter must be one of the “feels right in the moment” times for William. And to be fair, he’s been amicable when he’s spotted fans trying to take sneaky selfies of him. In 2016 he saw a 62-year-old fan named Anne Hyndman trying to snap him during a garden party in Northern Ireland.
Hyndman told the Press Association, “He saw me taking selfies. He said ‘I know what you are doing, you are taking selfies – I can see you out of the side of my eye.’… He came back up and I was taking photos again and he said, ‘That’s the woman with the selfies — that’s a young one’s thing, now you’re at it.’”
William has agreed to pose for selfies only a few other times. Back in 2013 a 12-year-girl called Madison Lambe plucked up the courage to ask the prince for a selfie while watching the traditional royal walk to the church on Christmas. To her surprise he agreed, and he even told her, “You can’t beat a good selfie on Christmas Day.”
William’s opinion seemed to change over the years, though. In 2018 while visiting Norway he was stopped by a fan called Kristin Larsen who begged him for a photo. Laughing, William told her he was “allergic to selfies.” Yet he agreed to take one with her anyway. The fan was extremely lucky to get that opportunity.
Prince Harry might be harder to get a selfie out of, though. In 2015, while meeting crowds at the Australian War memorial in Canberra, he told a hopeful woman with a phone, “I hate selfies. Seriously, you need to get out of it. I know you’re young, but selfies are bad. Just take a normal photograph!”
But Harry’s selfie-hating heart can easily be melted. In 2018 while in Auckland he met a little boy who had recently lost his mother. The prince told him, “Life will always be alright. You know that? I’ve made it to 34 years old, and life is great. I have a beautiful wife and a baby on the way. Your life is going to be sorted. Don’t you worry about that,” and posed for a selfie with him.
Selfie seekers won’t have much luck at the palaces though. In 2019 Greg Agnew, a royal fan who had attended a Buckingham Palace garden party, explained to the Insider website, “The one thing they talked about a lot was no selfies, and the reason was that they didn’t want people turning their backs to the royal family and the queen. And that was very important to them.”
Turning your back on a royal, especially the Queen, is considered the height of rudeness. You won’t be punished for it, but it would certainly raise a few eyebrows. When President Donald Trump met the Queen in July 2018 he turned his back on her, which resulted in a lot of criticism.
Agnew told the Insider website that all the guests at the garden party he attended were firmly informed, “You do not turn your back on the royal family, and you do not attempt to walk up and talk to them.” But it’s nice to know that William and his relatives are happy to bend the rules at times.
As for Jennifer, her mother keeps people updated on her activities via Twitter. At the moment the pinned tweet at the top of the account is the picture of Jennifer and Hugh Jackman from 2019, so William clearly has competition! But hopefully she and the prince will get to run into each other again at some point and take another selfie.