The centuries-old practice of servants and guests walking backwards when leaving a room after seeing the monarch has been dropped after health and safety concerns.
The protocol was observed as a sign of respect but royal aides feared it could lead to someone getting hurt – and potentially suing Buckingham Palace for damages.
Only two visitors are now expected routinely to walk backwards as they exit the Queen's presence: Charles Gray, the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, and Wing Commander Andy Calame, the Queen's equerry.
Their successors will also be expected to learn to walk backwards safely and discreetly when leaving the monarch's presence. The Queen, say royal aides, does not want the tradition to die out entirely.
"Allowing only two people in royal service to walk backwards was seen as a pragmatic solution to the health and safety issue," one royal source said.
The two senior members of the Royal household are expected to walk backwards leaving the room when they have either been summoned to see the Queen personally or they are introducing others – such as senior foreign diplomats – for audiences with the Queen. Such audiences normally take place at Buckingham Place, usually in the magnificent first-floor 1844 Room.
Only one other person now walks backwards in the presence of the Queen, but this is restricted to an annual ceremonial occasion. Tradition dictates that the Lord Chancellor, currently Jack Straw, walks backwards down the steps from the throne after presenting the monarch with the words for the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament.
Mr Straw had made it clear he is happy to continue with the pageantry associated with the State Opening, although his predecessor, Lord Falconer, wanted to scrap the title of Lord Chancellor and, with it, some of its centuries-old traditions. The Lord Chancellor is the monarch's formal link with Parliament and is sometime known as "Keeper of the Queen's Conscience".
The prospect of breaking etiquette when in the presence of the monarch has struck fear into subjects and foreign dignitaries for hundreds of years. Today, those introduced to the Queen are asked to refer to her as "Her Majesty" when they first talk to her and then as "ma'am" – pronounced so as to rhyme with spam. Men are asked to give a short bow from the neck – not the waist – and women are asked to curtsy.
Charles Kidd, an expert on royal etiquette and editor of Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage, said that the practice of walking backwards when leaving the monarch's presence was believed to date back to Medieval times. "It goes back to the times when it was considered terribly impolite to turn one's back on the sovereign," he said.
The introductions of foreign ambassadors and High Commissioners are still highly formal occasions. At "credentials", ambassadors are usually escorted to Buckingham Palace in a horse-drawn, open-top Landau. Dressed in morning suits and accompanied by the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, the ambassador is politely instructed about what to do when he enters the presence of the monarch: "One step, neck bow. One step, a second neck bow." Then he is to hand over formally his Letters of Credence – official papers confirming his status as ambassador.
But the ambassador, and other visitors, are no longer expected to walk backwards from the room, unlike the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps and the Queen's equerry.
The Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps is a senior member of the Royal household and widely regarded as the expert on all matters of royal etiquette. He is the Queen's link with the diplomatic community in London. Mr Gray supervises the attendance of diplomats at state events and organises the regular presentation of credentials.
The post is usually held for about a decade, often by a retired senior military officer. However, Mr Gray, who has been in the post for just a year, is a diplomat rather than a military man. The office was created in 1920, to replace the position of Master of Ceremonies, which dates back to the 17th century.
The position of equerry dates back hundreds of years. Traditionally, "Equerries of the Crown Stable" were responsible for breaking and caring for the monarch's saddle horses.
However, more recently, the post has involved being in close attendance to the Queen at public and private engagements. The position of equerry is traditionally held by a senior officer from one of the three Armed Services who usually wears his military uniform for official engagements. Wing Commander Calame, who is two years into his three-year posting, recently described the Queen as "the best boss I have ever had". — This article, by Andrew Alderson, first appeared in The Telegraph in 2009
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