Obama’s Royal Toast Faux Pas


So the print and visual media, on both sides of the pond, have had a field day over President Obama’s royal toast faux pas during the recent state banquet at Buckingham Palace.

President Obama had hardly finished his toast speech to the Queen when the orchestra of the Scots Guard prematurely began playing God Save The Queen.  The President continued with his toast speech and breached royal protocol by speaking over the national anthem. When he raised his glass to the Queen, while the anthem was playing, Her Majesty did not respond.

Although the president later remarked that he thought the national anthem was a “soundtrack to his speech,” some have criticised him saying he should know better. On the other hand, strangely enough, some of our American cousins take the view that the Queen’s snub of President Obama’s toast is a snub of the American people. Okay, the U.S. is a former British colony, but it’s not as if Americans are still British subjects. Anyway, let’s press on.

Adhering to royal protocol may not always be easy for those who do not normally mingle in royal circles. There are far too many complex points of etiquette to remember. Nevertheless, our American cousins should understand that political clout, power or money does not exempt foreign dignitaries, visiting Buckingham Palace, from observing royal protocols.

Those of us who do not ordinarily move in royal circles are more prone to royal protocol gaffes when in the presence of royalty. Members of the Royal Family generally ignore such gaffes when they do occur. Quite ironically, it is the media and, sometimes, a few royal courtiers, who take offence when these gaffes do happen.

I remember vividly my first meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2002. I practiced my curtsy extensively the day before and I hardly slept that night from worrying. To hold me in good stead, I sought advice on royal etiquette from some royal courtiers I knew professionally. The pointers given to me included the following:

  • how to curtsy correctly;
  • to address the Queen initially as “Your Majesty and then “Ma’am;”
  • to shake the Queen only if she extends her hand to me, and then to shake her gently;
  • not to wear a trouser suit as the Queen does not like them on females;
  • not to wear over-powering perfume;
  • not to stare at the Queen’s jewellery;
  • not to speak until I am spoken to; and
  • not to turn my back on the Queen.

Incidentally, I was too nervous to remember any of the cues when I was presented to the Queen. My curtsy wasn’t deep enough and my legs almost gave way under me. As I couldn’t remember which to use first, “Ma’am” or “Your Majesty,” I simply used both interchangeably. What’s more, I stuttered through the first half of my conversation with the Queen before finally gaining my composure. Thankfully, my breach of royal etiquette, which was down to nerves, didn’t receive any airtime. More importantly, the Queen didn’t seem perturbed by my exhibition.

Now back to President Obama. Even when you park royal protocol to one side, one would expect President Obama, as Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to know that it is wrong to speak over any national anthem.

So far, two official visits to Buckingham Palace and two breaches of royal protocol. Hopefully it will be third time lucky for the Obamas.

The CNN video clip below shows the breach of protocol and the subsequent reactions from the media.

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8 responses to “Obama’s Royal Toast Faux Pas

  1. I met Oba Oyekan of Lagos in his life and the protocol was much simpler. However, I needed to remember to literally lie down with my entire body, toes and chin touching the floor – and not rise until told to do so. So, count yourself lucky.

    • Br. Nojeem, thanks for your comment. I wonder how long you were flat out on the floor for?
      To be honest, given the tension I was feeling at the time, being flat out on the floor would have been a relief for me 🙂

  2. Obama really should have known better and should not be so flippant when his gaffe was brought up. How disrespectful! Tsk. Soundtrack to his speech indeed…

  3. Ola, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I did think President Obama’s “soundtrack” comment was a bit rich. Maybe in that split second he thought Hollywood had finally come to London.

  4. Hi, but if the music started to play before Obama finished speaking how is it his fault?

  5. Hallo Aaliyah and thank you for commenting. Agreed the orchestra started playing while the President Obama was speaking, but that was because the president’s toast was unconventional. He started his speech toast with “To her Majesty the Queen” when conventionally that should have been the end bit of his speech, which would also be the cue for the orchestra to begin.

    But then, as the national anthem began playing the president should have interrupted his speech until it played out. Perhaps a little prep on royal protocol, for a state visit, would have held the president in good stead.

  6. Hi, It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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