- Peter Macdiarmid / Getty
- The traditional way to greet a member of the royal family has always been to bow or curtsy – while keeping a respectful distance.
- But Princess Diana set a new tone for the way royals can interact with the public and became known as the “people’s princess” for her hands-on approach.
- Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle also seem to favor more informal greetings.
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Members of the royal family used to be distant and inaccessible to the general public. But in an age where royals marry commoners and have their own Instagram accounts, interacting with present and future monarchs has become less stuffy.
Here’s how meeting members of the royal family has changed over the years.
The traditional way to greet a member of the royal family has always been to bow or curtsy.
Women usually perform curtsies, and men usually bow.
Curtsying involves placing one leg behind the other and bending forward slightly.
The curtsy is usually accompanied by a handshake – but only if the royal extends their hand first.
The proper way to bow to a royal is a neck bow, inclining just one’s head.
A full bow is not necessary.
On walkabouts, older generations of royals generally kept a respectful distance from the crowds.
Queen Elizabeth would walk along the barricades and smile at people gathered there, but she would not stop for hugs or other greetings.
Princess Diana set a new tone for the way royals can interact with the public.
- Jayne Fincher/Getty Images
When Diana visited orphanages, homeless shelters, hospitals, and other charity organizations she didn’t act like a princess. She sat and talked with people, held their hands, and asked about their lives.
She became known as the “people’s princess” for her warm, hands-on approach, especially with individuals or groups who were stigmatized.
Diana’s charity work focused on HIV/AIDS patients, orphans, and people experiencing homelessness.
She famously shook the hand of a patient with AIDS to dispel the incorrect belief that HIV or AIDS could be transmitted by touch.
“If a royal was allowed to go in shake a patient’s hands, somebody at the bus stop or the supermarket could do the same,” a nurse who witnessed Diana’s hospital visit once told the BBC. “That really educated people.”
Prince William appears to have inherited her informal, personable approach.
Prince William is known to give out hugs on royal engagements.
Kate Middleton doesn’t always stick to royal protocol either.
She was a commoner herself until she married Prince William.
Prince Harry is known as a bit of a goofball.
- Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
Ever since he was young, Harry has had a playful sense of humor. He often opts for cracking jokes at events, making kids laugh, and giving out bear hugs in lieu of formal greetings.
Meghan Markle also appears to prefer hugs to curtsies.
- Gareth Fuller – Pool/Getty Images
At the One Young World Summit last year, Markle insisted on hugging the event’s founder, Kate Robertson, when she tried to curtsy.
The traditional greetings are still used by some today, but regular handshakes are also perfectly appropriate.
- KGC-375/STAR MAX/IPx 2018
The royal family’s official website says that “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.”
With the rise of smartphones, royal selfies are a new, rare opportunity.
- Peter Macdiarmid / Getty
Royals generally prefer personal interactions over posing for photos in a crowd.
Selfies with royals are usually prohibited in large crowds, but they’ll make occasional exceptions.
On Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s first royal engagement together, Markle politely declined photo requests and told people, “We’re not allowed to do selfies.”
CNN royal commentator Victoria Arbiter previously told Insider that selfies are usually “strongly discouraged” or prohibited altogether in large crowds.
Taking a selfie requires close proximity, which could be a security issue. And if you grant one person a selfie, there will be hundreds more who want one, too.
Even Queen Elizabeth herself eschews royal protocol every now and then.
Michelle Obama wrote in her memoir, “Becoming,” that she put her arm around Queen Elizabeth when they bonded over wearing uncomfortable shoes in 2009. It was technically a breach of protocol, but Obama wrote that the Queen didn’t seem to mind.
“If I hadn’t done the proper thing at Buckingham Palace, I had at least done the human thing,” she wrote. “I daresay the Queen was okay with it, too, because when I touched her, she only pulled closer, resting a gloved hand lightly on the small of my back.”
Obama also wrote that Queen Elizabeth brushed aside protocol about where to sit in a car with her, reportedly saying, “Oh it’s all rubbish, just get in.”