The Oldie

Goodbye and good luck

Harry Mount has seen how useful royal etiquette was for Prince Harry and Prince Charles. The Sussexes face an exposed life without it


Evelyn Waugh said Americans use good manners to get closer to one another – and the British use them to keep one another at arm’s reach. There’s a similar clash between the social etiquette of celebs and royals. Sometimes it’s a literal clash.

In October, at the Albert Hall, the Duchess of Sussex tried to hug Kate Robertson, a founder of One Young World, a youth leadership organisati­on. Robertson, though, was mid-curtsy, and found herself staring at Meghan’s chest.

This sounds trivial. In fact, etiquette is a subtle way of dealing with the awkwardnes­s that comes from being in the company of royalty – those rictus grins and rabbit-in-the-headlights stares you see on TV on the faces of guests at Buckingham Palace receptions.

An adviser to Prince Charles once told me of an encounter the prince had with young people being helped out by the Prince’s Trust. When they first met him, they didn’t bow and tried to have a normal conversati­on – which turned out to be extremely awkward.

Prince Charles suggested to the adviser that, before he met them again, the youths should be taught to bow, curtsy and call him Your Royal Highness – a mode of address the Sussexes will no longer use.

This adviser told him all the flummery would only increase the awkwardnes­s, but agreed. When they met again, the youths bowed and – hey presto! – the occasion went much more smoothly.

There’s also a system in place to stop the Royal Family from getting trapped by a bore. I know because I once was that bore. At a St James’s Palace party for an architectu­ral charity, I was corralled into a group of four people to meet Prince Charles. These pre-vetted groups of four were dotted round the room so that Prince Charles could be introduced to them by an aide for five minutes’ chat before he moved on to the next group.

I had had several glasses of wine and

so tried to engage Prince Charles in too long and sycophanti­c a conversati­on about his watercolou­rs. I kept on talking to him as his aide gestured him over towards the next little group. I eventually realised my time was over as the aide began introducin­g the next group to him.

It sounds like a ludicrousl­y stagemanag­ed charade but it works. I once watched the process in action at a Spencer House charity auction. A series of mega-rich tycoons – used to giving the orders – queued up to talk to Prince Charles. One of them was visibly sweating at the prospect of meeting him. Again, an aide took Charles round the room, sweeping him away from any gazilliona­ire in danger of trapping him.

Prince Harry, like his father, absorbed all these rules in his childhood, and deployed them effortless­ly. I met him in April 2015 at Gallipoli, Turkey, for the centenary of the Dardanelle­s campaign (my great-grandfathe­r was killed at

Gallipoli). He followed the same etiquette as his father, who was also meeting descendant­s of Gallipoli combatants on the flight deck of HMS Bulwark.

Again, we were divided into little groups to meet the princes; again, the princes were moved on seamlessly from group to group by aides. Harry had read his brief closely and knew the Gallipoli stories of our ancestors.

Dressed in his dashing uniform, Harry was helped, too, by military etiquette – he was then two months away from retiring from the Army. The Armed Forces, like the Royal Family, provide a hierarchy and rules that allow a complicate­d operation to work smoothly.

Take away all that hierarchy and all those rules – rules that Meghan, understand­ably, found so oppressive – and you’re in deep, uncontroll­ed waters.

Thus the embarrassi­ng scene when Prince Harry promoted his wife to Bob Iger, head of Disney, last July at the première of The Lion King. Both with Iger and Jon Favreau, the film’s director, Harry acted as Meghan’s agent, saying she was available for voice-overs.

Meghan has duly agreed to do a Disney voice-over in return for a donation to Elephants Without Borders, an anti-poaching organisati­on.

That exchange – with a prince touting for jobs from business – is unappetisi­ng. It also breaks down the sophistica­ted barriers royal and military etiquette create: the barriers of formality that help keep the monarchy and the Army separate from commercial interests.

As the Queen realised in her deal with the Sussexes, those etiquette barriers, with their deep layers of protection built up over centuries, must stay completely in place; or be removed altogether.

The Sussexes will rightly maintain their security protection. It’s yet to be revealed who will pay for it.

But they have lost the protection afforded by royal etiquette and the HRH forcefield. Their lives won’t necessaril­y be easier without them.

‘Take away all the hierarchy and rules and you’re in deep, uncontroll­ed waters’

 ??  ?? Royal wave goodbye
Royal wave goodbye

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