Saturday, June 12, 2010

Touching the Queen

The post yesterday about Dennis Lillee's meeting the Queen reminded me of an earlier email Bytes on touching the Queen. Here it is


When US President Obama and his wife, First Lady Michelle, visited the UK recently the First Lady raised eyebrows by an apparent breach of protocol by putting her arm around the Queen. Touching the Queen is strictly verboten.

There was not any great controversy, possibly because the President had only just been elected; possibly because the First Lady is elegant, charming and attractive; and possibly because the Her Maj equally hugged the First Lady. Possibly too attitudes have become more relaxed. Perhaps it was all of the above.

The Palace even released a comment:
“This was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection and appreciation between the Queen and Michelle Obama.”
The Pommy papers were equally relaxed about the incident, with the Daily Mail describing it as “..an electrifying moment of palpable majeste: a breach of centuries-long protocol…”

The reaction was quite different in 1992 when Oz PM Paul Keating made a similar gesture, thereby bringing down the wrath of the Poms and Fleet Street. To them it was virtually the end of civilization as we knew it.


The Queen’s visit to Australia had already drawn flak from the English Royal commentators and journos by reason of a failure by Paul Keating’s wife, Annita, to curtsy in accordance with protocol. When Keating put his arm around the Queen in a guiding motion the Fleet Street press had apoplexy. The Daily Express referred to his “rude pawing” of the Queen, another paper had a headline “Hands Off Our Queen, Cobber”. Still another had a large front page headline “The Lizard of Oz”.

Martin Kettle, a senior journalist from The Guardian, reported in 1993 that he was told by Keating “A journalist, eh? The only time you people want to talk to me is when I twang the Queen’s bra strap.” The PM’s office denied that the PM had made such a remark; Kettle stood by it and the Guardian printed the story, changing the word “twang” to “tweak”.

In 2000 Her Maj visited Oz again, this time with John Howard as PM. Howard made the same motion as former PM Keating in guiding the Queen, drawing the same criticism for breach of protocol, albeit without the vitriol that Keating had attracted. In a defence more commonly heard in the courts than for a Prime Minister referring to the Queen, Howard’s representatives declared that he had not touched her. A spokeswoman for the PM said “We firmly deny that there was any contact whatsoever.”


The Howard Defence was relied upon by French President Chirac during a visit by the Queen to France in 2004. Chirac actually went to great lengths to not touch the Queen, so much so that at times he appeared comical, springing from side to side to guide her but making sure that there was no contact. Even so, he came within a fraction of touching her, thereby attracting the usual newspaper attention for such breach of protocol and forcing him to fall back on the same defence as Howard: I never touched her.

Perhaps the last word should be left to Sir Les Patterson, who commented at the time of the Keating incident: “You have to have a chat with the Queen before you put your hand up her frock.”

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