The Queen has hosted four other presidents at Windsor: Trump in 2018; Obama in 2016; George W. Bush in 2008; and Reagan back in 1982.
The President will then inspect the troops before rejoining the Queen and first lady to watch the military march-past. Afterward, the group will head into the castle for tea. During our chat with Prince Edward, he discussed the opportunity Biden has in meeting his mother and how others have reacted to spending time with her.
“When you meet somebody who’s had that level of personal experience and knowledge, it’s, I mean, sometimes, it’s funny and can slightly over-awe some people,” the 57-year-old mused. “And I think most people can leave wishing that they’d had a little bit longer. That’s usually the response — just so would’ve liked to have had a little bit longer, because that was fascinating.”
THE RULES BIDEN SHOULD FOLLOW WHEN HE MEETS THE QUEEN
No doubt keen to make a good impression on his first trip abroad, Biden will probably want to follow the established conventions for his one-on-one with the 95-year-old monarch. Here’s a quick rundown of the royal rules of engagement.
What you should do
- There is no obligatory code of conduct to abide by when greeting royals, according to the family’s website. However, it does acknowledge that some may choose to observe “traditional forms.”
- Basically, that means the Queen doesn’t expect people to bow to her, though many do so anyway. For men, that could be a gentle dip of the head, while women can opt for a small curtsy. You could also add a handshake (if she offers first!) but, either way, the secret is not to overdo it.
- When meeting the Queen, tradition dictates that she speaks first. In response, the correct form is to first address her as “Your Majesty” before swapping to “Ma’am.” And in case you were wondering, there is a preference in pronunciation here — it should be “Ma’am” to rhyme with “jam.” Whatever you do, don’t use her first name.
- Although royal protocols have relaxed in more recent years, a top tip is to take your cue from the Queen. If she walks, you follow; if she sits, you can too; and if dinner’s involved, best wait for her to start before tucking in. We all remember Donald Trump’s gaffe when he blocked the Queen and then walked ahead of her during his visit to Windsor.
What you should avoid
- Don’t be late. According to Debrett’s, the leading authority on British etiquette, “It is correct for everyone to arrive before the royal personage and protocol rules that no guest should leave an event before a member of the Royal Family, except in special circumstances when prior permission should be obtained.” If you do need to duck out, make sure to seek permission through a private secretary first.
- It may seem obvious but don’t touch the Queen without her consent. She initiates any contact — and that’s a handshake at most. In 2017, the then-Canadian Governor General David Johnston made headlines when he placed his hand on the Queen’s elbow during a visit to Canada House in London. Johnston later said he was simply “anxious” about slippery carpet and chose to forgo convention “to be sure that there was no stumble.”
- And probably best to avoid going in for a hug. It was quite a frenzy in 2009 when then-first lady Michelle Obama instinctively embraced the Queen (who sort of reciprocated). The British media had a field day, with conflicting observations about the moment. That said, Obama recalled a subsequent visit to Windsor Castle in 2016, when she was fretting over royal protocol but the monarch shrugged it off, declaring it “all rubbish.”
Other things to keep in mind
- You can bring a gift but make sure it’s appropriate for the occasion. Official gifts go into the Royal Collection — one of the largest private art collections in the world — even if they are given to a specific family member.
- So, what do you get the monarch who has everything? Well, it’s tricky. Trump went with a Tiffany & Co. silver and silk poppy brooch in a custom White House wooden jewelry box in a red leather case when he returned to the UK for a state visit in 2019. His predecessor went in a different direction, with Obama presenting the Queen with an iPod pre-loaded with Broadway songs and video footage of her 2007 trip to the US.
Confused? Ok, then here’s the one hard and fast rule to cling to: If in doubt, leave it out. The last thing you want to do is attempt to follow the nuanced and often unspoken royal rules only to fall foul. At the end of the day, the United States is not a realm or territory of the Queen. Following protocol is polite but not the law. The President won’t be barred from ever returning if he slips up. Ultimately, it’s Biden’s call what he does or doesn’t do — even if we’ll all be watching.
QUEEN’S YOUNGEST STEPS INTO SPOTLIGHT
Harry and Meghan’s departure from official royal duties has left a void in the British monarchy. It hasn’t just lost the charisma and precious diversity that came with the couple, the institution also lost key senior people to do the work. Family members carry out hundreds of engagements a year on behalf of the Queen and someone else must now pick up the slack.
While he laughed at the delicate phrasing of our question, his seriousness returned while recognizing the Sussexes’ decision to step back was not an easy one for the pair to make — and that was important.
But for many, the Sussexes’ remarks were relatable and reflective of how society is shifting. To them, the lack of public response from the family to address the couple’s experiences thus far was disappointing. And the social media reaction shows that some appreciated Edward’s choice to be just a little more open and transparent, despite the unofficial palace strategy to retain a “dignified silence” in the face of the many revelations and claims coming from the Sussexes in recent months.
Edward, for his part, spoke of public perception when recalling his father’s legacy, reminding us there is no handbook to being a royal. “You have no idea whether or not you’re doing it right or wrong,” the earl told us. “You just hope to goodness it’s the right thing, unless somebody comes out and tells you, really.”
To some, that may seem like a cop out. But the reality is that people working around royals are instinctively reverential. It would be wrong to describe them as yes-men and yes-women, but they know who’s boss — and that the boss is never going anywhere. That leaves a small circle of family and trusted confidants to call royals out when they do get it wrong.
Any monarchy is a living institution that must develop to survive. The British one is being forced through a particularly rapid evolution. The Wessexes are now likely to become household names globally. With this interview, Edward proved he was not out his depth — in fact, he was a breath of fresh air. Next job: retain the family’s relevance and restore public opinion that may have been recently diminished.
Watch CNN’s interview with Prince Edward here:
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FROM THE ROYAL VAULT
Undoubtedly, her sartorial choices are an expression of her identity. But she also needs to stand out so that the crowds who have gathered to see her can actually spot her. And when she’s among other royals, her bold colors often make her stand out from the rest of the family. “I can never wear beige because nobody will know who I am,” the Queen reportedly once said.
What the Queen wears matters and must be appropriate. She has, over the years, masterfully used color palettes and symbols to honor nations. For example, for her historic state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 — when she was the first British monarch to visit in a century — careful consideration was demonstrated in her wardrobe. She wore Ireland’s de facto national color of green and, later in the trip, a silk gown embellished with more than 2,000 hand-sewn embroidered shamrocks and an Irish harp brooch made from Swarovski crystals.