This Thursday, Donald Trump is set to land in London for his first official visit as President. Thanks to the controversy that has dogged the trip since its announcement (including - but not limited to - the bright orange Trump ‘baby’ blimp that will fly over the Houses of Parliament), the POTUS will be avoiding the capital, instead visiting Chequers, Blenheim Palace and finally Windsor Castle, where he and his wife Melania will be presented to Her Majesty the Queen. The date for this auspicious meeting? Friday 13th. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer to that is 'well, quite a lot actually.' This is not a state visit, so the meeting will be brief, perfunctory, and lacking in full-scale pomp and circumstance (there's no special banquet planned, and no Obama-style sleepover at the royal residence) but there's certainly the potential for faux pas to be made. Though the official Royal Family guidelines suggest that 'there are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting with the Queen,' that doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. While a vice-like handshake might be Trump’s go-to when meeting world leaders, that sort of thing won’t cut it at Windsor. When you are ‘presented’ to Her Majesty, there are a number of traditional etiquettes and formalities to juggle; as someone whose approach to diplomacy is a little erratic, at best, palace aides will surely be on high alert for a Trump slip-up.
So, what should the President bear in mind on Friday? Rather than watching back episodes of The Crown, we'd recommend that he familiarise himself with the following royal do's and don'ts. As for how many of them he manages to break? All bets are off...
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…)