Michelle Obama tells her side of the time she broke royal protocol and touched Queen Elizabeth

michelle obama queen elizabeth april 2009


In her new memoir, Michelle Obama writes about breaking royal protocol to touch the Queen of England.

  • In her new memoir, "Becoming," Michelle Obama details the time she broke royal protocol by touching Queen Elizabeth.
  • During their first meeting in April 2009, Obama says the two bonded over the pain of wearing heels.
  • Michelle says she placed a hand on the Queen's shoulder, which she learned was against the rules.
  • But the monarch appeared to reciprocate the feeling since she placed a hand on her back.
  • During their final meeting, the Queen surprised Michelle again when she told her to sit wherever she liked.

Michelle Obama certainly had a special relationship with Queen Elizabeth during her husband's eight years in office.

In her new memoir, "Becoming", the former first lady details the two times she broke royal protocol while meeting with the Queen of England, and how the monarch never seemed to care.
The first faux pas happened during their first meeting in April 2009. At a reception for G20 leaders at Buckingham Palace, Michelle says she and the Queen bonded over their shared pain standing in heels for hours.

"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," Obama recalls. "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."

That moment was caught on camera, and she wouldn't realize until later that she had committed "what would be deemed as an epic faux pas" because one wasn't supposed to touch the Queen.

Pictures of the moment were published in papers around the world, and Obama says it "revived some campaign-era speculation that I was generally uncouth and lacking the standard elegance of a First Lady."

While she was initially concerned that she had "distracted from Barack's efforts abroad," looking back, Michelle is hardly sorry for cozying up to the monarch."But I tried not to let the criticism rattle me. If I hadn't done the proper thing at Buckingham Palace, I had at least done the human thing.

"I daresay 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," Obama recalls.

Read more: Historic photos show every time American presidents met British Kings and Queens

The Obamas' final audience with the Queen

michelle obama queen elizabeth prince philip barack april 2016

Geoff Pugh/AP

Britain's Prince Philip chauffeurs his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and Barack and Michelle Obama to Windsor Castle in April 2016.


In April 2016, the Obamas flew to the UK for one final state visit with the Queen.

The plan was to fly by helicopter from the ambassador's residence in London to the Windsor Castle to meet with the Queen and Prince Philip, who would greet them in a field on the estate and drive them back to the palace in their own vehicle.

It was a big deal for the Obamas, since it would be the first time they had ridden in a car that wasn't driven by Secret Service, and without agents in the car. So every detail about the ride was planned in advance.
Read more: 25 things we learned from Michelle Obama's new memoir, 'Becoming'

The plan was that Prince Philip would drive the car back to Windsor Castle, with Michelle sitting in the front seat, and the Queen and Barack in the back seat.

But when they touched down on the estate, Michelle writes that the Queen "threw a wrench into everything by gesturing for me to join her in the backseat of the Range Rover."

She continues:

"I froze, trying to remember if anyone had prepped me for this scenario, whether is was more polite to go along with it or to insist that Barack take his proper seat by her side."The Queen immediately picked up on my hesitation. And was having none of it.

"'Did they give you some rule about this?' she said, dismissing all the fuss with a wave of her hand. 'That's rubbish. Sit wherever you want.'"