10 Times Royals Broke Protocol and Made Their Own Rules

Princess Diana was the royal family's rulebreaker-in-chief but instead created a new tradition—for breaking tradition.

The lives of royals are governed by strict rules and traditions, covering everything from the order they walk into the room to how much physical contact they have with strangers.

However, protocol is not always followed and the late-Princess of Wales played an important role in showing the family the public could support a more modern approach.

Biographer Andrew Morton wrote of her dislike of the regimented structure of royal life in his 1992 book Diana: Her True Story.

He wrote: "One of the many perplexing contradictions about Diana was that while she did not value herself highly as an individual she did understand her worth on the public stage, seeing that her standing in society, both at home and abroad, gave her a unique springboard to support the causes and issues she cherished.

"Yet she was deeply disenchanted with the protocol, the flummery and the artifice which inevitably surrounded royalty."

1. A Black Dress

Princess Diana broke the mould from her very first public engagement when she wore a daring black taffeta dress.

The couple had just got engaged but were yet to marry and attended a fundraising concert at London's Goldsmiths Hall in aid of The Royal Opera House on March 9, 1981.

The outfit was eye-catching but breached royal protocols, which reserve black to be worn in mourning.

Prince Charles picked up on the rule immediately on seeing her in the dress, the princess later revealed to her biographer.

Princess Diana's Famous Black Dress
Princess Diana wearing a strapless black taffeta dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel attends a fundraising concert and reception at Goldsmiths Hall in aid of The Royal Opera House on March 9, 1981 in London, United Kingdom. Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

In tapes recorded for Morton, she said: "I remember my first [royal] engagement so well. So excited.

"I got this black dress from the Emanuels and I thought it was OK because girls my age wore this dress.

"I hadn't appreciated that I was now seen as a royal lady, although I'd only got a ring on my finger as opposed to two rings.

"I remember walking into my husband-to-be's study, and him saying: 'You're not going in that dress, are you?'

"I replied: 'Yes, I am.' And he said: 'It's black! But only people in mourning wear Black!'"

2. A Hospital Birth

Prince William was the first royal born in hospital ending a long tradition which saw members of the family born at home.

Princess Diana gave birth to the Duke of Cambridge at the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital, London, in 1982, and Prince Harry at the same hospital, in 1984.

Kate Middleton continued the tradition, giving birth to her children in the same wing of the same hospital.

Meghan Markle also avoided a home birth, opting instead for the Portland Hospital, in London.

3. Autographs

Members of the royal family are not supposed to sign autographs to reduce the risk they fall victim to forgers.

However, when Meghan Markle first began doing royal engagements she had forged her existing career and reputation as a famous actress.

Meghan was photographed writing in an autograph book for an adoring fan during one of her first "walkabouts," meeting the public at Cardiff Castle, Wales, in January, 2018.

She may have broken the rules but 10-year-old Caitlin Clarke from Marlborough Primary School was not complaining.

Meghan Markle Gives Autograph
Meghan Markle writes a note for 10 year old Caitlin Clarke from Marlborough Primary School as Prince Harry looks on during a walkabout at Cardiff Castle on January 18, 2018 in Cardiff, Wales. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

4. The Royal Touch

Princess Diana famously took the hand of an Aids patient at a time when many people still, wrongly, believed the virus could pass through touch.

The moment came as she opened London Middlesex Hospital's dedicated HIV and Aids ward in April 1987 and helped show ordinary people they need not be scared of meeting people with the virus.

While handshakes are permitted if a royal instigates them, the tactile approach to communicating an important public message was seen as a break from the traditional royal way of doing things.

In 2008, Diana's former police protection officer Ken Wharfe told the inquest into her death: "The Princess would go to see the queen on a number of occasions. [Once] she returned to the car distressed.

"I asked 'What's the matter?' and she said 'The queen doesn't like me getting involved with Aids... [and said] 'why don't you get involved with something more pleasant?'.

"I think Diana was very angry and annoyed the Queen could not see what she was doing. She felt a member of the Royal Family should be involved with campaigns to find a cure for Aids."

5. A Royal Kiss

Meghan Markle took Princess Diana's tactile approach to her royal work a step further when she allowed student Aker Okoye to give her a kiss on the cheek at Robert Clack Upper School in Dagenham, Essex, during one of her final royal jobs.

The visit on March 6, 2020, was two days before International Women's Day and as he joined her on the stage, Okoye kissed the duchess on the cheek.

He then took to the microphone to tell his peers: "She really is beautiful, innit?"

The comment left good-humoured Meghan bursting with laughter.

6. Off the Shoulder Dresses

Princess Diana was a royal fashion rule breaker, wearing a number of dresses that other royal women may have considered too daring.

In particular, royals ordinarily avoid off the shoulder dresses fitting into a more conservative traditional style, The Sun reported.

There are many examples to choose from but here she attends the premiere of the film 'Stepping Out' at the Empire Leicester Square, in London, September 19,

Princess Diana in Off-the-Shoulder Dress
Princess Diana attends the premiere of the film 'Stepping Out' at the Empire Leicester Square in London, 19th September 1991. She is wearing an assymetrical evening gown by Catherine Walker. Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

7. No Gloves

Royals ordinarily wear gloves to state banquets and other significant evening events.

Queen Elizabeth II is also regularly seen in gloves, with the tradition originating from a desire to protect royals from germs, the Daily Express reported.

Princess Diana, however, was not one to keep to the rules and attended many royal events with her hands bare.

8. Hugs

The royals are not normally a huggy bunch but Princess Diana changed all that too.

On a visit to Luanda, in Angola, she took 13-year-old landmine victim Sandra Thijika onto her lap.

The princess visited Neves Bendinha, an ICRC orthopaedic workshop, during a visit for the Halo Trust to raise awareness of the damaging affect of landmines, in 1997.

The Royal Family website describes traditional ways to greet a royal: "For men this is a neck bow (from the head only) whilst women do a small curtsy.

"Other people prefer simply to shake hands in the usual way."

Princess Diana's Landmines Work
Princess Diana at Neves Bendinha, an ICRC Orthopaedic Workshop In Luanda, Angola, with 13 year old Sandra Thijika from Saurino in the East of Angola who lost her leg to a mine. The princess was known to be a rulebreaker. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

9. Letting Their Hair Down

Kate Middleton wore her hair down on her wedding day in 2011 in a break with royal tradition.

The Duchess of Cambridge was asked to wear an up do for her Westminster Abbey service but declined, according to documentary William & Kate: The Journey.

Royal reporter Ashley Pearson said on the show: "Royal sources tell me that the royals indicated very strongly to Kate that they would prefer her to wear her hair up for this very special occasion."

10. Supporters

Prince William and Kate Middleton broke with protocol at their 2011 royal wedding when they had a Best Man and Maid of Honor.

Traditional royal weddings have guests who perform similar roles but they are known as "supporters."

Prince William chose Prince Harry to be his best man and his brother returned the favor seven years later for his own wedding at Windsor Castle, in 2018.

Kate Middleton chose her sister Pippa Matthews to be her Maid of Honor for the Westminster Abbey ceremony.

However, Meghan Markle did not have a Maid of Honor, Harper's Bazaar reported.