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How sensitive tactile greetings from royals signal to be more approachable

The protocol surrounding touching the royal family has historically been so strict that a simple snap like a hand on the back, even by a well-meaning dignitary, was enough to cause column inches of outrage.

But today, the royals, led by the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, are taking a more relaxed approach to being sensitive in an effort to make themselves approachable, according to a body language expert.

Camilla, 74, was photographed today with Spice Girl Geri Horner giving her a hug during a reception at St James’ Palace.

Yesterday she was photographed embracing the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, 33, as the couple hugged and kissed after meeting for a reception at the Wellcome Trust in London. Earlier this week, the royal also greeted Dame Judi Dench with a friendly hand on the shoulder, with the actress going back and forth with a hand on the royal’s arm.

A similar well-known approach was taken earlier this month by Prince William, 39, and Kate Middleton, 39, when they hugged Dame Emma Thompson at the Earthshot Awards.

Speaking to FEMAIL, body language expert Judi James noted that being more physically available in this way could be part of a push to make the royal family more recognizable and accessible.

Camilla, 74, was photographed today with Spice Girl Geri Horner giving her a hug during a reception at St James' Palace

Camilla, 74, was photographed today with Spice Girl Geri Horner giving her a hug during a reception at St James’ Palace

Yesterday Her Royal Highness was photographed embracing the Prime Minister's wife, Carrie Johnson, 33, as the couple hugged and kissed after meeting for a reception at the Wellcome Trust in London.

Yesterday Her Royal Highness was photographed embracing the Prime Minister's wife, Carrie Johnson, 33, as the couple hugged and kissed after meeting for a reception at the Wellcome Trust in London.

Yesterday Her Royal Highness was photographed embracing the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, 33, as the couple hugged and kissed after meeting for a reception at the Wellcome Trust in London.

A similar well-known approach was taken earlier this month by Kate Middleton, 39, when she greeted Dame Emma Thompson with a hug at the Earthshot Awards.

A similar well-known approach was taken earlier this month by Kate Middleton, 39, when she greeted Dame Emma Thompson with a hug at the Earthshot Awards.

A similar well-known approach was taken earlier this month by Kate Middleton, 39, when she greeted Dame Emma Thompson with a hug at the Earthshot Awards.

Royals, led by the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, are taking a more relaxed approach to being sensitive in an effort to make themselves approachable, according to a body language expert.  Pictured, Camilla greets Judi Dench on Tuesday

Royals, led by the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, are taking a more relaxed approach to being sensitive in an effort to make themselves approachable, according to a body language expert.  Pictured, Camilla greets Judi Dench on Tuesday

Royals, led by the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, are taking a more relaxed approach to being sensitive in an effort to make themselves approachable, according to a body language expert. Pictured, Camilla greets Judi Dench on Tuesday

Conversely, the Queen and older generations of royals may have seen a lack of contact as a way to communicate higher status, but the younger royals are trying to be more approachable.

There are no mandatory codes of conduct when meeting the Queen or any member of the Royal Family, but many chose to observe traditions, which is to bow or bow.

“Royals of the Queen’s generation and before saw the depiction of defined and exaggerated space around them as part of the ritual of their high office,” Judi said.

“They sat higher and on bigger chairs or thrones and their spatial distances were greater than anyone else, and very few moments of that distance were visible in public.

“This meant touch wasn’t on the menu either. Tactile rituals were limited to occasional handshakes, and anyone who has met the Queen knows that her handshakes involve offered fingers, rather than pressing palms.

The rule also applied to family members. While their private greeting rituals were often even more tangible than those of the public, a famous photo of a very small Charles greeting his mother with a handshake after returning from one of her foreign trips illustrates the ‘no-touch’- rule that was part of the basic structure of what being royal meant.’

Traditionally, there was a no-touch rule regarding royalties, with the queen opting for a simple handshake on the receiving lines.  Pictured, greeting John Kerry at Windsor Castle last week

Traditionally, there was a no-touch rule regarding royalties, with the queen opting for a simple handshake on the receiving lines.  Pictured, greeting John Kerry at Windsor Castle last week

Traditionally, there was a no-touch rule regarding royalties, with the queen opting for a simple handshake on the receiving lines. Pictured, greeting John Kerry at Windsor Castle last week

Prince William and Dame Emma Thompson share a hug as they pass each other at the Earthshot Prize awards

Prince William and Dame Emma Thompson share a hug as they pass each other at the Earthshot Prize awards

Prince William and Dame Emma Thompson share a hug as they pass each other at the Earthshot Prize awards

What is the protocol for meeting a member of the royal family?

There are no mandatory codes of conduct when meeting the Queen or any member of the Royal Family, but many people like to observe the traditional forms.

For men, this is a neck bow (from the head only), while women make a small bow. Other people prefer to just shake hands in the usual way.

When presented to the Queen, the correct formal address is ‘Majesty’ and then ‘Ma’am’, pronounced with a short ‘a’, as in ‘jam’.

The same rules apply to male members of the Royal House, with the title initially being ‘Your Royal Highness’ and then ‘Sir’.

For other female members of the royal family, the first address is conventionally ‘Your Royal Highness’ and then ‘Ma’am’.

It’s best not to start touching unless the royal family gives you their arm.

Noting that this approach to interacting with people was kickstarted by Princess Diana, she said, “Even after her gloriously spontaneous PDAs, it took decades plus some nudge from Harry and Meghan to get things where they are today.”

But royal expert Robert Jobson, bestselling author of Prince Philip’s Century, said there was a misconception about the royals’ approach to physical contact.

He pointed to an example of the Queen being hugged by a woman during her 1991 tour of the US, and the Duke of Edinburgh lifting a little girl from the crowd during a walk for the Queen’s 90th birthday.

He said, ‘You would be surprised. Yes, the young royals may be a bit more open and expressive. I remember seeing the Prince of Wales embraced by the young son of a friend of his.

Sure, Harry and Meghan were very fond of cuddles during their time as working royal couple, just like Diana.

“Maybe it was Diana more than anyone else who changed that. She was always open to hugging people and shaking hands with a man with HIV/AIDS, almost eliminating the stigma associated with touching someone with that disease overnight.”

According to Lucy Hume, the associate director at Debrett’s, a professional coaching company founded in 1769 and an authority on modern British etiquette, meetings with royals should never involve psychological contact, but it’s okay to hug them back.

“It is better not to have personal physical contact with a member of the royal family. Again, they may have offered to hug you or put their arms around you, but mostly wait and see what is expected or what is appropriate for the event,” she told Reuters news agency.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were known for their tactile approach to royal engagements

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were known for their tactile approach to royal engagements

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were known for their tactile approach to royal engagements

Princess Diana shakes hands with an AIDS patient at Middlesex Hospital, London, in 1987. Judi and Robert agreed that Diana was the turning point in the royal approach to physical touch

Princess Diana shakes hands with an AIDS patient at Middlesex Hospital, London, in 1987. Judi and Robert agreed that Diana was the turning point in the royal approach to physical touch

Princess Diana shakes hands with an AIDS patient at Middlesex Hospital, London, in 1987. Judi and Robert agreed that Diana was the turning point in the royal approach to physical touch

Whether it’s through social media, a Zoom engagement or a hug at a royal engagement, there is a shift towards making royalty more accessible, Judi said.

“Status-lowering rituals are much more the norm and touch is often used to signal empathy, rapport and a more down-to-earth form of affection,” she said.

“This trait now goes further for them than most of the public would ever experience, as the royals are expected to embrace total strangers in a way that is less common with the rest of society.

“This immediacy and intimacy of communication has translated into more tactile behavior as lockdowns have eased.

“Even William and Kate seem to be upping their PDA rations with each other and she and the rest of the generation of royals after the Queen seem to be much more open to tactile behavior than before.”

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