The Queen returned Michelle Obama's "instinctive" hug during a 2009 visit to Buckingham Palace as a gesture of "affection and respect for another great woman," one of her closest aides has revealed. Images of the monarch and the then First Lady of the United States standing with their arms around each other during a G20 reception at the Palace prompted global headlines about a supposed breach of royal protocol. But Angela Kelly, the Queen's dresser and close confidante has set the record straight, saying that "when human instincts kick in, sometimes this is absolutely the appropriate thing to do."
In her new book, The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, The Dresser and the Wardrobe, which was written with the Queen's blessing and is exclusively serialised in HELLO! this week, she says: "There are certain things that are understood to be accepted protocol when it comes to interacting with Her Majesty. 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. The Queen has the ability to make everyone feel so relaxed that sometimes it feels instinctive to be tactile with her, just as Michelle Obama demonstrated during the State Visit with her husband, President Obama, in 2009."
"Really there is no protocol that must be adhered to," said Angela Kelly
Angela, who has worked with Her Majesty for 25 years, adds: "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.
"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. 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. Anyone who is close to Her Majesty is not a threat and is certainly trusted."
The clarification will come as a relief to several other prominent figures who have been accused of breaking royal protocol in the past. In 1992, Australian prime minister Paul Keating was dubbed the "Lizard of Oz" after he was photographed with his arm around the Queen. His successor John Howard was forced to deny touching the monarch after appearing to put an arm around her during a visit to Canberra in 2000.
Read the full report in this week's issue of HELLO! magazine, out on Monday.
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