Fans of the royal family surely couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw photos and videos of Michelle Obama breaking royal protocol while greeting Queen Elizabeth back in 2009. It’s been over 10 years, but has anyone really gotten over it?
In April 2009, the then-first lady of the United States arrived at Buckingham Palace with then-President Barack Obama to meet the British monarch and her husband, Prince Philip. While the meeting started out very formal — with the former president shaking hands with and tilting his head towards the royals — the former first lady and Queen Elizabeth immediately hit it off, leading Michelle to put her arm around Queen Elizabeth. Photos of Michelle holding the monarch spread across the web, and fans couldn’t help but notice the queen’s reaction to Michelle’s unexpected display of kindness.
While Buckingham Palace guests are not usually allowed to embrace the monarch in such a way, in the moment, the queen seemingly threw protocol out the window and embraced Michelle right back. What a royally sweet moment!
Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth had a connection
In 2019, a decade after the embrace seen ’round the world, Angela Kelly, Queen Elizabeth’s personal assistant and senior dresser, discussed the incident in her memoir, The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe.
“There are certain things that are understood to be accepted protocol when it comes to interacting with Her Majesty,” she wrote, according to an excerpt obtained by Hello! magazine. “Supposedly, you should never put your arm around the Queen, for example, but when human instincts kick in, sometimes this is absolutely the appropriate thing to do.”
Kelly added that it was evident that Michelle Obama and the queen had an emotional connection, and when that occurs, royal protocol is not as important as friendship. “Much has been made about the meeting between Michelle and Her Majesty, when an instant and mutual warmth was shared between these two remarkable women, and protocol was seemingly ‘abandoned’ as they stood closely with their arms around each other’s backs,” she wrote, adding that Queen Elizabeth was happy to return the gesture.
“In reality, it was a natural instinct for the Queen to show affection and respect for another great woman, and really there is no protocol that must be adhered to,” Angela continued. “When fondness is felt or the host of a State Visit goes to guide Her Majesty up some steps, it truly is about human kindness, and this is something the Queen will always welcome warmly.”
There is no beef between Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth
In her own memoir, Becoming, Michelle Obama also addressed her friendly, yet controversial, meeting with Queen Elizabeth, which took place during an elegant reception at Buckingham Palace ahead of the G20 summit in 2009, according to The Telegraph.
“Forget that she sometimes wore a diamond crown and that I’d flown to London on a presidential jet; we were two tired ladies oppressed by our shoes,” she shared in her book, per Business Insider. “I then did what’s instinctive to me anytime I feel connected to a new person, which is to express my feelings outwardly. I laid a hand affectionately across her shoulder.” Apparently, at the time, Obama didn’t realized she had committed “what would be deemed as an epic faux pas.”
However despite the criticism, Obama had this to say: “I daresay that the Queen was okay with it, too, because when I touched her, she only pulled closer, resting a gloved hand lightly on the small of my back.”
At the time, Buckingham Palace responded to the situation, defending Obama’s actions.”It was a mutual and spontaneous display of affection,” a spokesperson told the Associated Press (via HuffPost). “We don’t issue instructions on not touching the queen.”
Michelle Obama doesn't regret her meeting with Queen Elizabeth
While it’s clear that there are no hard feelings between Queen Elizabeth and Michelle Obama, the former first lady discussed her royal protocol mishap as recently as 2019.
While in London for the European book tour for her memoir, Becoming, she joked about the incident to a friendly crowd. “Yikes! Sorry, guys,” she said during a talk addressing the royal meeting (via HuffPost). Seeing the humor in the situation, she added that she has now taught herself to hold her hands together when meeting people so as not to make the same “human” mistake of suddenly wrapping her arm around them.
Despite her jokes, the former first lady made it clear that she stands by her decision to hug the queen, and she doesn’t believe her act of kindness was taken out of context by the monarch, telling the crowd, “I don’t know that I could have done anything differently because it was a natural human reaction.”
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