Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge had the kiss seen ’round the world on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on April 29, 2011 when 23 million Americans and 27 million British viewers tuned into the royal wedding. Other than that embrace, notable public displays of affection between Prince William and Kate Middleton have been few and far between. But that’s not to say it doesn’t ever happen.
Prince Harry and his fiancée Meghan Markle maintain a different approach to PDA as their May 19 wedding nears. After their public appearance together in September at the Invictus Games and their subsequent engagement announced on November 27, 2017, the couple is not necessarily reading from the same royal handbook as William and Kate. TIME took a look at why the couples differ in their methods of showing affection in public.
Are Prince William and Kate Middleton allowed to hold hands in public?
Yes. There is no official rule per se preventing them from showing public displays of affection. Grant Harrold, former butler to Princes William and Harry, told TIME that when it comes to hand-holding and moments of touching, it “depends on where the royals are and what situation they’re in.” Their casual touching during a Royal visit at a ski jump in Oslo, Norway is more relaxed than a formal and ritual event, such as Trooping the Colour.
“The British Royal family has been creating etiquette rules for centuries,” Harrold said. “The Royals adapt etiquette for what is best at that point in time.”
In addition, the amount that they touch and hold hands could be a completely personal preference for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Harrold said, “We don’t need to see too much—they have a private life of their own.”
Don’t Meghan Markle and Prince Harry hold hands all the time?
They often do. Meghan’s first royal engagement in Nottingham with Prince Harry in December was no exception to this as they held hands and each other’s backs throughout the day. Situations like the Invictus Games allow for a more relaxed and informal atmosphere where hand holding and cuddling would not be unheard of.
While Meghan continues to make her foray into the British royal family and society, she and Prince Harry can still enjoy PDA like the rest of us mere mortals. In fact, it makes them more relatable. Plus, the public wants to see their affection. “The younger royals are re-writing the etiquette rules. We should expect them to become more relaxed over time, especially with Harry and Meghan,” Harrold said.
Do Prince William and Kate ever show public displays of affection?
Yes, of course. The touches appear very subtle most of the time, with Prince William touching Kate’s back or his arm around her shoulder. Here are a few instances when that happened.
Introducing the new royal baby into the world outside the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s hospital
Prince William touches Kate’s back during the 2018 Irish Guards St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
They smile and laugh during hike in Bhutan
William and Kate after a polo match in 2011
William and Kate walking together after a crew race in Heidelberg, Germany
Does the order of succession to the throne have anything to do with the royal PDA rules?
Most likely, yes. William is second in line to the throne whereas Prince Harry is now sixth. Prince Harry was fifth, but the birth of the new royal baby bumped him down a spot in accordance with the British line of succession and the new Succession to the Crown Act. “Prince William could one day be king,” Harrold said. “There are very strict rules around that. William and Kate have a modern feel, but still do things by the book.”
According to Harrold, Harry and Meghan have more flexibility to “be themselves.” He explains, “It’s not that William and Kate are not themselves, but there is not the same pressure for Harry.”
How different did William and Kate’s engagement look from Harry and Meghan’s?
Prince William and Kate got engaged on Nov. 16, 2010, which is almost seven years to the day of Prince Harry and Meghan’s Nov. 27 engagement announcment. Their official engagement photos nonetheless have some major differences. In one of Prince William and Kate’s photos, they are seen standing in a grand room smiling with her hands on his arm and his hand on her hip. Their second photo appears much more candid. According to Harper’s Bazaar, Prince William and Kate’s photographer Mario Testino was one of Princess Diana’s favorites.
Similar to their differences in PDA, Prince Harry and Meghan’s photos involve more physical contact. Harry and Meghan are sitting down with their heads touching with Harry’s arm on top of hers. Just like William and Kate, their second photo looks like they were focusing solely on each other, not the photographer Alexi Lubomirski.
Are there any other etiquette rules we should know about?
According to Harrold, “Never hug a Royal unless they offer it first.” Noted.