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32 times the royals broke protocol, from Diana's 'revenge dress' to touching gestures of compassion

 Examples of the Royal Family breaking protocol over the years.
Examples of the Royal Family breaking protocol over the years.

The Royal Family have perfected the art of following a seemingly diverse and never-ending list of protocols. 

From when exactly they're meant to wear diadems to create their best tiara moments to other dress code rules and regulations, there's usually a story behind everything we see the likes of Kate Middleton and Princess Anne wear.

But every now and then, even the royals like to play fast and loose with the rules. In fact, some of Princess Diana's most memorable moments came about from the royal rebel pushing the boundaries.

Here, we take a look at memorable examples of royals breaking the rules.

32 times the royals broke protocol

When King Charles enjoyed oysters

Prince Charles eating an oyster
Prince Charles eating an oyster

Out of the (surprisingly long) list of foods the royals can't eat, seafood is understood to be of the most forbidden. Why? Because of the greater risk of contracting parasites or food poisoning.

However, during the Whitstable Oyster Festival in Kent back in 2013, the now King Charles threw caution to the wind and slurped some of the seafood delicacies.

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All the times Prince William has flown with George

Prince William and Kate Middleton leaving an airplane with Prince George and Princess Charlotte
Prince William and Kate Middleton leaving an airplane with Prince George and Princess Charlotte

Direct heirs to the throne are not meant to travel together should anything happen. This is why, back when the late Queen Elizabeth was alive, King Charles and Prince William would never get the same plane, even if they were meeting at the same destination.

It's rumoured to be one reason why the family didn't wait for Prince Harry to join their flight to Balmoral when the Queen was dying, as there were already said to be multiple members of the family on board.

The protocol seems to be a little more relaxed when the children are younger since they could understandably want the comfort of their parents when flying. However, Prince George could potentially have to travel separately to his father when he turns 12.

When King Charles walked Meghan Markle down the aisle

Prince Charles walking Meghan Markle down the aisle on her wedding day
Prince Charles walking Meghan Markle down the aisle on her wedding day

It may not be protocol-breaking but it definitely wasn't in line with tradition when Charles walked Meghan down the aisle to marry his son Harry. Meghan Markle opened up about why her father-in-law, Charles, walked her down the aisle during her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry in the Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan. 

"Harry's dad is very charming and I said to him, "'I've lost my dad in this.' So him as my father-in-law is very important to me," Meghan said. "So I asked him to walk me down the aisle and he said 'yes.'"

When Princess Diana chose her own engagement ring

Princess Diana, and a view of her engagement ring
Princess Diana, and a view of her engagement ring

Princess Diana's iconic sapphire engagement ring is one of the most popular treasures among royal fans. It is now Kate Middleton's, as Prince William used the heirloom to propose to his future wife in 2010.

While it's now legendary, it was unusual for a royal bride to not have a ring designed specifically for them. Diana, instead, picked the ring from a catalogue for royal jewellers, Garrard.

Princess Diana reportedly picked the sapphire ring because it matched her blue eyes.

Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake

A shot of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding cake
A shot of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding cake

In one of those strange-but-true examples of royal protocol coming across as totally random to the common person, it was considered a break from tradition when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle chose not to serve a fruitcake at their wedding.

For centuries, all special occasions in England, from Christmas to christenings, had been celebrated with fruitcakes.

Meghan and Harry chose a sponge cake with elderflower syrup for their wedding.

When Prince Philip was in the room for Edward’s birth

Queen Elizabeth with a young Prince Andrew and Prince Edward
Queen Elizabeth with a young Prince Andrew and Prince Edward

Before the late Queen accepted Prince Philip into the delivery room, royal women didn’t usually have their husbands witness the moment their children were born.

According to the royal book, My Husband and I: The Inside Story Of 70 Years Of Royal Marriage, the Queen was inspired after reading a women’s magazine. The book reports, "The Duke of Edinburgh was actually holding his wife's hand as their youngest was born on March 10, 1964."

"The Queen, by then aged 37, had asked him to be there; she'd been keenly reading women's magazines that stressed the importance of involving fathers in childbirth and had become fascinated by the idea. Thus Philip became the first royal father in modern history to witness the arrival of one of his children."

Princess Eugenie’s all-black outfit in 2017

Princess Eugenie wearing all black
Princess Eugenie wearing all black

When Princess Eugenie attended a media event in 2017 wearing all black, most people wouldn't have questioned it. However, Prince Andrew's daughter was seemingly breaking royal protocol with her innocuous outfit.

While it's never officially been confirmed, it is understood that a royal is only meant to wear all black when in mourning.

This idea was mentioned in a documentary about Princess Diana, too. In a clip from Diana: In Her Own Words, Diana recalls a time Charles scolded her for wearing a black dress to a royal engagement.

“I remember walking into my husbands-to-be's study, and he said, ‘You’re not going in that, are you?’” Diana recalls in archival footage and voiceovers in the show.

Charles reportedly said, "But it’s black. Only people in mourning wear black."

Kate Middleton's short dress

Prince Harry and Kate Middleton in a short white dress
Prince Harry and Kate Middleton in a short white dress

As the future Queen, Kate Middleton quite often pushes the boundaries of a dress code protocol the late Queen Elizabeth was rumoured to advocate. In fact, many of Kate Middleton's best style moments could be considered protocol-breaking.

The late Queen reportedly preferred skirts or dresses to be cut on the knee or just below.

There have been several examples of the Princess of Wales attending events where her skirts or dresses are just a touch shorter - though we have (yet) to see Kate take it to the extremes of a full mini.

When Meghan Markle spent Christmas at Sandringham

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Sandringham
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Sandringham

When Meghan Markle spent her first Christmas at Sandringham with the royal family in 2017, it marked a break in tradition for the family.

Typically, only spouses of members of the royal family are invited to Sandringham. Meghan wouldn't marry Harry until May 2018, so it was a special privilege and a break from protocol.

And it was one special allowance that even Kate Middleton didn’t get, she only joined the family for Christmas after marrying William in 2011.

When the Queen went to a friend’s funeral

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attending a funeral
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attending a funeral

The late Queen enjoyed a good relationship with many of her household staff, but she'd rarely attend their funerals. This was because of the logistical nightmare that could easily arise and the fact that her presence could potentially be a distraction. Normally, as a mark of respect, the Queen would send a representative instead. It is not known if it's against protocol to attend friend's funerals, but it is certainly unusual.

However, when Annette Wilkin passed away, the Queen attended the funeral to pay her respects.

Annette started working for the Royals in 1974 and served Windsor Castle for 45 years as well as Frogmore House. The Queen was so close to her, she gave her one of her Corgis.

When Meghan gave the toast at her own wedding

Meghan Markle in her wedding dress
Meghan Markle in her wedding dress

It's not expected or customary for the bride to give a speech on their wedding day, but Meghan Markle has always been about challenging convention.

So it might not be surprising to hear she did indeed give a speech at the 2018 wedding to Prince Harry.

It is claimed in Omid Scobie's book, Finding Freedom, the Duchess of Sussex said finding love was "worth the wait" and she then went on to describe Harry as "the one."

At the time it was reported Meghan also thanked the Royal Family for "welcoming her in."

When Kate Middleton was allowed to take photos at Balmoral

Kate Middleton holding a camera
Kate Middleton holding a camera

Before William and Kate were even engaged, Kate was invited to spend a summer holiday at Balmoral, the royals’ Scottish castle where they are all thought to relax and enjoy special time together.

This was back in 2009, and perhaps as a showing of respect for her grandson's future wife (and a future Queen Consort), royal biographer Katie Nicholl shared that the late Queen Elizabeth let Kate take photos of the castle - something that is widely believed to be against protocol.

Kate has a well-known passion for photography, so being allowed to take snaps of the private estate was a break from protocol and a warm gesture from her future family.

Meghan's #MeToo comments

Kate Middleton sat with Meghan Markle, who hides her face in her hands
Kate Middleton sat with Meghan Markle, who hides her face in her hands

In 2018, during the Royal Foundation Forum, Meghan Markle's first official event alongside William and Kate, Meghan spoke out on a hot political issue which many people at the time believed broke protocol.

The former Suits actress spoke out in support of the recent Time's Up and #MeToo movements, which focused on exposing sexual harassment across all industries and supporting gender parity in the workplace.

"I hear a lot of people speaking about girls’ empowerment and women’s empowerment — you will hear people saying they are helping women find their voices," she said. "I fundamentally disagree with that because women don’t need to find their voices, they need to be empowered to use it and people need to be urged to listen."

When Kate made a subtle show of support for Time’s Up

A pregnant Kate Middleton at the 2018 BAFTAs
A pregnant Kate Middleton at the 2018 BAFTAs

While Meghan Markle explicitly spoke out on the #MeToo movement, her sister-in-law appeared to mark her support more subtly.

The women attending the 2018 BAFTAs were encouraged to wear black as a sign of support for Time's Up. Kate might not have been able to wear all black as it went against multiple protocol issues, including the mourning dress code, but she did wear a notably dark olive with a prominent black sash.

Meghan Markle’s dark nails

A pregnant Meghan Markle in a black gown
A pregnant Meghan Markle in a black gown

During an appearance at the British Fashion Awards, Meghan Markle debuted a dark manicure which perfectly matched her outfit.

Again, while not immediately obvious as to why this might cause an issue, the late Queen reportedly preferred royal women to wear light colours on their nails, or no polish at all.

The late Queen wore the same shadeBallet Slippers by Essie – for decades.

Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh has sported dark red nails since the Queen died, so perhaps this is a bit of protocol that won’t be carried into the future.

Diana’s barefoot school race

Princess Diana taking part in a school race
Princess Diana taking part in a school race

In 1991, Diana participated in a race with other parents for sports day at Wetherby School.

She ran barefoot and lost the race, despite giving it her all.

Royals are usually expected to keep their shoes on when in public. Most of these royal guidelines are learned and unspoken and there are exceptions, like when Kate took her shoes off during a visit to a mosque on a memorable royal tour, however they are rare.

Kate Middleton's relaxed hairstyle

Kate Middleton wearing a red blazer
Kate Middleton wearing a red blazer

While attending a special educational session as part of her work with early years development in September 2023, Kate debuted a new hairdo which was a departure from her usual style.

The chic new chignon replaced Kate's usual go-to hairstyles like a smooth and sleek bun, ponytail, or her trademark wavy tresses.

Kate's more relaxed look was interpreted as a sign that some of the old protocols insisted upon by the late Queen Elizabeth II might have been relaxed under King Charles.

It was thought the late Queen insisted women's hair must be impeccably neat and natural, and this is why Meghan Markle received some flack for a messy bun style similar to Kate's back in 2018.

Prince George’s outfit for Harry's wedding

Prince George at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Prince George at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

It’s tradition for royal boys - and upper-class British boys, in general - under the age of 8 to wear shorts all year round.

This is why it was expected to see George and Louis wear shorts even during the cold Christmas walkabouts in Sandringham

However,  George broke this rule during Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding, wearing custom Dege & Skinner long trousers which matched those of his father and uncle.

Princess Eugenie’s short dress

Princess Eugenie's powder blue dress for Harry and Meghan's wedding
Princess Eugenie's powder blue dress for Harry and Meghan's wedding

Wearing a simple light blue dress designed by Gainsbourg, Princess Eugenie looked stunning when she attended the wedding of her cousin, Prince Harry in 2018.

While many loved the simple but effective look, the short style of the dress was considered a break in protocol. While other royals have worn shorter dresses before, Eugenie wearing such a short dress to something as high profile as a royal wedding was a bold choice.

When the Queen signed her autograph

Queen Elizabeth II signs a football
Queen Elizabeth II signs a football

The Queen signed a football for Malaysian Manchester United supporters in Kuala Lumpur back in 1998. While unconventional considering nobody could mistake the late Queen for a striker on the squad, it was considered an even greater break of protocol as royals aren't permitted to put their signature to things.

The risk of forgery is too great, some sources suggest.

Diana’s big night out at the gay bars

Princess Diana in a short floral dress
Princess Diana in a short floral dress

Dancing the night away in a crowded, London bar is not exactly where you'd expect to find the likes of the Princess of Wales.

While royals are allowed to party, it's usually venues packed full of the same social circles. But, in actor Cleo Rocos’s book, he recounts a night when Princess Diana joined him, Freddie Mercury, and comedian Kenny Everett for a night on the town. Diana was “in full mischief mode” and they disguised her in sunglasses, a cap, and an army jacket before heading out to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

When William and Kate turned up late

Prince William and a pregnant Kate Middleton
Prince William and a pregnant Kate Middleton

The royal family have strict protocols in place for their order of arrival at any given event - and the Queen was always expected to arrive last. The only notable exception was during the funeral for Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when the Queen allowed his family to arrive after her.

However, during the 2018 Easter service, disaster struck and William and Kate arrived after the monarch.

In defence of the couple, they were reportedly stuck in heavy traffic! Everyone's been there, so we're sure the Queen understood.

William and Kate’s wedding guestlist

Prince William and Kate Middleton on their wedding day, 2011
Prince William and Kate Middleton on their wedding day, 2011

Every now and then, even the late Queen Elizabeth, who served for a history-making 70 years, proved she understood modern sensibilities.

When it came to her grandson's 2011 wedding, according to royal biographer Marcia Moody, William was presented a guest list of hundreds of people with important connections to the royal family, as was custom.

However, Marcia suggests the Queen approached the situation as a grandmother first. She told William to "tear up the list, invite his friends, and start from there."

When Diana sent her children to a ‘normal’ school

Princess Diana with a young Prince Harry and Prince William in their school uniforms
Princess Diana with a young Prince Harry and Prince William in their school uniforms

It was customary for the royal children to be taught by private tutors. However, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Diana decided to buck this trend.

In one of the most memorable Princess Diana moments, the Prince of Wales and the then Prince Charles decided to send Prince William (and later Prince Harry) to Mrs Jane Mynors’ Nursery School in London.

This made William the first heir to the modern British throne not to begin his education at home.

Prince Harry marrying a divorcee

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, wearing an emerald green gown and matching hat
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, wearing an emerald green gown and matching hat

Proving they were capable of adapting with the times and changing dated protocols, Harry was granted permission by the Queen to marry Meghan, despite her being a divorcee.

All direct heirs must request permission from the reigning monarch to marry, and, historically, having a prior marriage might have made this more difficult to achieve.

Meghan was married to American film producer Trevor Engelson from 2011 until 2014.

Edward choosing love over the crown

Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor
Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor

When it comes to defying protocol, there's perhaps no greater example than Edward, Duke of Windsor (briefly King Edward VIII) giving up the throne to be with the woman he loved.

Wallis Simpson was considered an unacceptable Queen Consort, being an American woman with two living ex-husbands. Facing a crisis that could've damaged the crown for good, he abdicated.

He was succeeded by his younger brother, George VI, father to the woman who'd become Queen Elizabeth II.

With a reign of 326 days, Edward was one of the shortest-reigning British monarchs to date, and the only British sovereign to resign the throne of his own will.

Harry and Meghan not doing the Lindo shoot

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle holding baby Archie at their press conference introducing him to the world
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle holding baby Archie at their press conference introducing him to the world

There's a royal custom of taking portraits outside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington where most of the royal women have their babies, but Harry and Meghan broke with that tradition.

According to a statement from the royal family at the time, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, "have taken a personal decision to keep plans around the arrival of their new baby quiet. The Duke and Duchess look forward to sharing the exciting news with everyone once they have had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family."

They would later introduce their first child, Archie, to the world via a photocall at Windsor Castle a few days after his birth.

Princess Diana's 'revenge dress'

Princess Diana in the iconic revenge dress
Princess Diana in the iconic revenge dress

During the summer of 1994, Princess Diana wore the now-iconic off-the-shoulder silk dress to attend a party hosted by Vanity Fair at Hyde Park.

The daring gown became known as the "revenge dress”, as Princess Diana wore it amid the scandal of Prince Charles confessing to the world his infidelity in a TV documentary.

Princess Diana's revenge dress most definitely broke all protocol when it came to royal dress codes, but that was perhaps the point. As Charles confessed to his adultery with the now Queen Camilla, Diana showed she was a Princess who wasn't going to follow the rules any longer.  The revenge dress immediately went down in history as one of Princess Diana's most iconic dresses.

When Michelle Obama put her arm around the Queen

Queen Elizabeth II with Michelle Obama
Queen Elizabeth II with Michelle Obama

Former First Lady Michelle Obama says she was not aware of the royal protocol when she placed her arm around the Queen in 2009.

In her memoir, Becoming, the First Lady said they had just agreed a long day wearing heels had left them with sore feet. She wrote that they were just "two tired ladies oppressed by our shoes."

At the time, Mrs Obama's embrace was described by one commentator as "extraordinary" and the Queen's relaxed nature with it was also widely seen as a positive sign of their relationship.

Prince William comforting someone with a hug

Prince William hugging someone
Prince William hugging someone

It's widely reported that Royals aren’t generally supposed to hug people.

But Prince William made an exception to this 'rule' on several occasions, proving that he is perhaps taking after his mother, Princess Diana, who was known for her compassion and affection.

Some notable examples of William offering comfort to the public include during a trip to Wales to honour the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush.

Another moving moment involved a woman breaking down in tears and embracing William tightly after the Grenfell Tower fire in London.

Princess Diana’s compassion for AIDS victims

Princess Diana visits AIDs patients
Princess Diana visits AIDs patients

In 1987, Princess Diana broke not just royal protocol, but general societal guidance at the time when she intentionally shook hands with an AIDS patient.

While fear gripped the nation over the epidemic, people were working to dispel the myth that HIV/AIDS could be spread through touch. Many would wear gloves or masks when dealing with those suffering from AIDS.

Instead, proving her warmth and empathy, Diana made a point of being seen embracing those living with HIV/AIDS, encouraging more dignity, respect and understanding for people affected.

The Queen bowing her head to Diana’s coffin

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the funeral of Princess Diana
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the funeral of Princess Diana

One of the greatest examples of protocol being broken for the most moving of reasons, the late Queen Elizabeth bowed her head in a historic first at the funeral of Princess Diana.

As the gun carriage bearing the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, passed by, the Queen, who was standing with Princess Margaret, bowed her head in public. The first and only time the monarch ever did such an act. While it is not known if it's actually enshrined in protocol, it is highly unusual for a monarch to bow for other people.