What Do You Say to a Queen—or a Prince?

By Jack Limpert

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Before becoming a best-selling author, Simon Winchester had some fun in The Washingtonian.

Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, are in the United States and today are visiting the White House. They will go on to see Abraham Lincoln’s summer cottage, then split up for a variety of Washington meetings with congressional leaders and the public. Prince Charles, 66, would become king if his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who will be 89 on April 21, steps aside.

In July 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, Queen Elizabeth was in Washington to help celebrate American independence from Britain and at the Washingtonian we asked Simon Winchester, then the Washington correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, to write about the queen’s visit. His story—“What Do You Say to a Queen?”—might be helpful to anyone hoping to meet the future king or any other royalty. Some of his advice:

“If the Queen approaches, fear not. Curtsey, though not overly so, if you are a woman; bow a little from the waist if you are not. Speak only after you are spoken to. Blush a little and murmur, “Good day, Your Majesty,” forgetting for the moment any bitterness about that little skirmish two centuries ago. If you are wearing gloves, do not remove them on being introduced (the Embassy says they are not necessary for the occasion). Her Majesty will wear gloves, of course, to prevent any harm to the Royal Hands.

“Engage the Queen in light conversation; she knows about a great many things but prefers to talk about the weather, corgi dogs, the cost of living, and horses. Ask about the children, Charles, Anne, Edward, and Andrew, but on no account mention Princess Margaret, unless you want to be cut dead—and believe me, the Queen can cut very quickly and effectively indeed, even if you are American.

“At formal parties, someone called an equerry—a very tall and handsome British military officer—will single you out and ask you to stand by a certain tree in the garden because the Queen wishes to talk to you. She will have been briefed about your interests and she knows enough to talk to you for up to five minutes on any subject under the sun.

“If front of the Lincoln Memorial, however, she will not have been briefed, and must pick her subjects at random. Therefore, expect spirited discussions about teapots or tropical underwear. They seem to be topics that fascinate the Royal Family, and some knowledge of their intricacies should guarantee social success with the grandest woman ever to have graced the streets of your capital city.”
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Simon Winchester went on to write a number of best-selling books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, and The Map That Changed the World. In 2006, he was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth.

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