After endless awkward hand-holding opportunities with Theresa May came the crowning moment (excuse the pun) of Donald Trump’s first official trip to the UK. Though the visit had been downgraded from a state visit to a working one (he wouldn’t address the Houses of Parliament, there would be no official banquet in his honour, and there would be no overnight stay at the Palace), he and his wife Melania would still be meeting with Her Majesty the Queen, for afternoon tea at Windsor Castle.
The couple arrived (a reported 15 minutes late, no less) at Windsor on Friday afternoon, apparently managing to avoid passing the crowds of protestors that had lined the streets. After paying homage to British fashion with her choice of a striped Victoria Beckham dress, worn for engagements in London while her husband met with Theresa May, the FLOTUS changed into a cream Dior skirt suit for her royal moment, an outfit which – dare we say it – wouldn’t look out of place in the Duchess of Sussex’s working wardrobe. (Indeed, when Melania touched down in the UK wearing a grey shift by Roland Mouret, the sartorial comparisons with Meghan were unavoidable.)
But Donald Trump’s controversial trip to Windsor Castle was surely never going to run smoothly: what could possibly go wrong when a President not known for his expert handling of decorum and etiquette meets the Queen, a head of state whose day-to-day manners and interactions are codified by centuries of royal tradition? Spoiler alert: it seems that Trump's White House aides neglected to brief the President on the most important tenets of royal etiquette. The Commander in Chief managed to pack not one but three major protocol slip-ups into the first stage of his royal meeting.
He kept Her Majesty waiting
If there's a golden rule for meeting the Queen, it's not to be late. However, Trump didn't seem to be aware of this: he and Melania reportedly arrived around 15 minutes late to Windsor Castle, leaving the 92-year-old monarch standing around in the summer heat. Eagle-eyed royal watchers noticed her checking her watch a number of times before the President's arrival.
There was no bow (or curtsey)
OK, this break in protocol is somewhat up for debate. While these days, the rules about bowing and curtseying when you meet a member of the royal family are less strictly observed: indeed, the family's official website suggests that there are 'no obligatory codes of behaviour.' However, a small bow (a nod of the head would do) or curtsey (which doesn't need to be a full Theresa May manouevre) has long been considered a sign of respect for the Queen. Both Donald and Melania opted out, choosing a handshake instead. Let's just thank heavens that his grip didn't appear too vice-like this time...
He strode ahead of the Queen
And here's the big one... It's considered very disrespectful to turn your back on the Queen, but Trump did just that when he strode ahead of Her Majesty while inspecting the Guard of Honour, at one point eclipsing her entirely. Ever the consummate professional, the Queen merely stepped to the side and kept to her pace.
Below, you'll find the definitive rundown of etiquette for meeting the Queen (if only a Trump aide had seen this beforehand...)
Do not – repeat: do not – touch the Queen
You might remember the furore that erupted last year when Canadian governor general David Johnston dared to lightly hold Her Majesty's elbow as she descended some carpeted stairs (he later explained he was merely trying 'to be sure that there was no stumble') or perhaps the moment when Michelle Obama dared to place an arm around the Queen (in the then-FLOTUS's defence, it was in fact the Queen who initiated the 'hug'). Touching Her Majesty is frowned upon: Trump should note that he can shake her hand, but only if she offers that hand first. In other words, if a bizarre hand-holding situation occurs (a la Theresa May), something has gone very, very wrong indeed.
Bow or curtsey (if you want to)
A full-on pantomime bow is not required: according to the royal family's official guidelines, a nodding of the head or a small curtsey will suffice, or 'other people prefer simply to shake hands in the usual way.'
Follow the Queen’s lead
If the Queen speaks, you speak. If she sits, you can too – the same thing goes if she starts eating (though as this is not a state visit, it's thought that the Trumps will not be dining with Her Majesty).
Stick to small talk
Generic small talk will be on the agenda – not political discussion or in-depth investigation into the minutiae of the royal family. So, that means no questions about Prince George's shorts collection or why George and Amal Clooney were invited to Harry and Meghan's wedding. Nicknames, too, would be frowned upon, so no references to 'Wills and Kate.'
Don’t turn your back on Her Majesty
It's considered very rude indeed to turn away from the Queen, which can make exits difficult. And on that note…
Arrive before, leave after
Guests are expected to turn up to an engagement ahead of Her Majesty, who is always the last person to arrive – and the first to leave. According to etiquette bible Debrett's, guests should never leave before a member of the royal family, unless they've sought special permission to do so beforehand.
Use the correct titles
When you're first presented to the Queen, the correct way to address her is 'Your Majesty,' then 'Ma'am' (pronounced to rhyme with 'jam') after that. 'Your Royal Highness' is a title associated with the rank of prince or princess, and so is never used for the Queen. If Trump wants a heavily fictionalised example of how not to do things, there's always the JFK episode of The Crown…
Bring a gift
When the Queen hosts a President, it's expected that the latter will come bearing gifts, though anything that the Trumps bring will surely be heavily scrutinised by the press. What to get the woman who has (almost) everything? For their 2009 visit, the Obamas presented the then 80-something royal couple with an iPod loaded up with videos of his own speeches (here's hoping that Trump doesn't follow suit…)