As Diana awkwardly makes her way around the room, curtsying to the Queen and dizzyingly trying to greet everyone (to little success) in the fourth season of The Crown, one thing is clear: she is an outsider. When teenage Diana was introduced to the royal family, she was expected to follow their etiquette perfectly, which was no small feat.
The curtsying example, however, is likely a Hollywood flourish to illustrate the princess-to-be’s learning curve. “It speaks more to nerves than anything else,” says royal commentator and expert Victoria Arbiter. “Diana grew up in royal circles and her family home was on the Sandringham estate; her grandmother was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother. She was familiar with royal protocol—better prepared than Kate or Meghan—but she was so young to be just thrust into it.”
The 1980s were ruled by a different style of royals than we see today. “The Queen Mother was an absolute stickler for rules because she grew up in an era of deference and she wanted people to show her daughter the same respect they showed her,” Arbiter says. “Once she died in 2002, Queen Elizabeth started doing things her own way and the family began to reflect a more casual society.”
According to Arbiter, in 2020 the only person members of the royal family would usually curtsy or bow to is Queen Elizabeth, and even then, only the first time they see her that day and upon leaving. However, Diana would have experienced a family with a more extreme deference to the rules, and that would have been intimidating for anyone.
Although it may be in a rule book that Meghan must curtsy to Eugenie (according to reports, blood princesses outrank those who marry in, when they aren't with their spouses), that isn’t necessarily a reality. And, despite criticisms when President Trump and First Lady Melania didn’t bow and curtsy to the queen, foreign dignitaries and ordinary British citizens are not required to, so they were not breaking any rules.
So if you panic like Diana, then just try to curtsy to the Queen (a quick bob, no need to be elaborate) and you'll receive a royal welcome.
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