Embarrassing Things Celebrities Did When Meeting Royals

Meeting a member of Britain's royal family is typically seen as a huge honor for any celebrity, a surefire sign that said celeb has attained enough fame and success to be on the radar of the royals — or, to be fair, on the radar of the people who arrange the royals' schedules. These meet-and-greet situations, however, can also be fraught and anxiety-ridden for those who receive an invite. Does one curtsy? Handshake or no handshake? Who speaks first, the celeb or the royal? And what kind of conversation topics should be broached when making small talk with royalty? Should actors discuss their latest projects, or is it best to lay back and ask how the Queen's corgis are doing? 

Thinking too much about it, trying to weave through the dos and don'ts — to say nothing of the vast opportunities for public humiliation on a global scale — can be paralyzing, leading the whole thing to become overwhelming. In fact, over the years, there have been many a star to have watched their composure crumble upon coming face to face with a royal, resulting in encounters that can charitably be described as awkward.

These meetings aren't just newsworthy, they're also cautionary tales for anyone famous who may have the opportunity to rub shoulders with a royal at some point in the future. To find out more, keep reading for a rundown of embarrassing things celebrities did when meeting royals.

Barefoot Allison Janney called Princess Kate 'honey' at an award show

Allison Janney earned some of the best reviews of an already-impressive career for her portrayal of Tonya Harding's mother in the 2017 biopic "I, Tonya." In addition to winning an Oscar, Janney was also honored with an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, a.k.a. the BAFTAs. Attending the celebration in London, Janney had the opportunity to meet Prince William and wife Kate Middleton, who then held the title of Duchess of Cambridge (William has served as BAFTA's president since 2010).

Meeting Duchess Kate under those circumstances led to an unusual moment after the event, when Janney chose to gave her aching feet a break by removing the high heels she'd been wearing throughout the evening. "My feet had had it," Janney recounted during a subsequent appearance on James Corden's "Late Late Show." While explaining the photos of her attending the BAFTAs in bare feet, Janney revealed that while barefoot, she met William and Kate. "And she was in her heels and pregnant, so I felt like a bit of a wimp that I was there in my bare feet," Janney recalled.

Unsure of what to say, Janney advised the pregnant royal to follow her lead and remove her heels as well. The duchess demurred. "It was an awkward moment," Janney admitted, adding, "I called her 'honey.' That might not have been royal etiquette."

Emilia Clarke totally froze when she met Prince William

Emilia Clarke famously portrayed Daenerys Targaryen on "Game of Thrones," Mother of Dragons and rightful heir to the Iron Throne of Westeros. Playing fake royalty in an HBO fantasy show, however, left her wholly unprepared for meeting actual royalty, as was the case when Clarke was introduced to Prince William. "You have to do the whole thing, you can't turn your back, you have to curtsy, you have to say — he has his title, His Royal Highness, or something along those lines ... I struggled with that," Clarke recalled in an interview with Vanity Fair — while hooked up to a lie detector, no less.

Clarke offered more details about the meeting, which took place in Kensington Palace, when she dropped by "Late Night with Seth Meyers." "It's kind of a frightening thing, going to the palace," she observed. 

As Clarke recounted, she was presented an array of detailed instructions on how to behave, including when and how to use William's title. "After that, you can say Prince William, and there's lots of formalities that you kind of need to adhere to," Clarke explained. While she felt calm when awaiting the royal's arrival, her nerves overcame her when arrived and she met him in person, leaving her unable to spit out the words correctly. "So it was like, 'Your Roy...'" she said, mimicking her sentence devolving into muttered mumbling. "Yeah, it was pretty much all I managed."

Shawn Mendes spent 10 awkward, silent minutes with the Queen because of royal protocol

Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes was among the performers at the Queen's 92nd birthday celebration concert, and had an unexpected run-in with Her Majesty while waiting backstage.

As he recalled during an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," the most memorable thing about his encounter with the Queen was its cringe-worthiness. According to Mendes, while he hung around waiting to go onstage, the Queen strolled over and stood next to him. "And I'm looking at her. And you can't say anything," explained Mendes. "You're not allowed to speak to her unless she speaks to you first." Since the Queen remained silent, Mendes had no choice but to stand next to the monarch as neither said a word. "So it was like this very 10 minutes of awkward silence between me and the Queen," Mendes recollected. "She didn't look at me at all. I looked over a couple of times, and I was like, 'I probably shouldn't be looking.' It was super weird." 

Later at that same event, Mendes came across Prince Harry and Meghan Markle backstage, sitting together deep in conversation. Seeing an opportunity for a more successful meeting with a royal, Mendes entered the room intending to introduce himself — only to immediately chicken out and beat a hasty retreat. "I've never been so starstruck like that," he marvelled of his near-miss with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 

Helen Mirren came down with a case of 'Queen-itis' when she met Elizabeth II

Helen Mirren met the Queen when she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2003. "You get this thing called Queen-itis which is like a terrible virus that hits you the minute you are in front of the Queen," Mirren said on "The Tonight Show" (via NBC News New York). "You start saying weird things like 'it was terribly good fun,' and 'frightfully nice to meet you.' This weird voice comes out."

They met again in 2019, when Mirren was invited to have tea with the Queen. "I thought it was going to be in a room with 200 other people, which it often is," Mirren explained (as reported by People). When she arrived, however, she found herself part of an intimate gathering that included the Queen and just a few others, leaving the nervous star "desperately trying to make polite conversation and it's just coming out like gobbledygook."

A further conundrum emerged when she wanted milk for her tea — which would have meant asking Prince Philip, sitting beside her, to pass it over. Mirren, however, drew a blank at how to address him — or if she should ask at all. "I mean, is it sir? Is it Your Majesty? Is it Your Highness?" Mirren said. "Is it rude to ask him to pass the milk? Or should I just ask for a lackey?" Ultimately, Mirren drank her tea sans milk.

David Duchovny explained the meaning of 'bootie call' to King Charles

During a 2018 edition of "The Late Late Show," host James Corden asked guest David Duchovny about a photo in which the "X-Files" alum was having a conversation with King Charles back in the 1990s, when he was still known as Prince Charles. As Duchovny explained, he'd been randomly seated next to Charles at a concert, and they got to talking. 

One of the acts at the show was All Saints, an all-female British singing quartet, who performed their hit single "Bootie Call." In the song, the singers repeat the phrase "bootie call" repeatedly, which opened the door for an unexpected ice-breaker. "I saw Prince Charles was just kind of looking perplexed," Duchovny said, " And he said, 'Bootie call?' And I said, well, I can explain it to you, it's a little off-color, but I can do it. And he said, 'Yes, please.'"

So Duchovny tactfully explained the term, in a manner he felt would be appropriate for the future king of England: "And I said, it's when a man or a woman calls a man or a woman to come to their home, late at night, for the express purpose of, uh, getting together, and leaving right afterward." Duchovny also offered an impersonation of Charles' response to learning the meaning behind the phrase, with the royal nodding thoughtfully and muttering, "Ohh ..." 

Margot Robbie mistook Prince Harry for a different ginger-haired Brit

Back in late 2015, Prince Harry was still several months away from meeting future wife Meghan Markle when he attended a star-studded housewarming party for model/actor Suki Waterhouse. Among the celebrity attendees was Margot Robbie, who shared a series of photos via an Instagram post (since deleted) in which she and her pals clown around with a bespectacled Harry in a photo booth at the soiree.

In a subsequent interview with "Entertainment Tonight," Robbie revealed that she didn't recognize him at first. "I didn't know it was him for a half hour," Robbie said, recalling being greeted by some random ginger-haired bloke who held open the door for her when she arrived. Not only did Robbie not recognize it was Prince Harry holding the door, she actually mistook him for another famously red-headed Brit. "When I saw him in those glasses, I was like, 'Oh my god, I didn't know Ed Sheeran was at the party!" Robbie recalled during an appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." "[Harry] got really offended," Robbie joked. "He was like, 'Shut up!'"

Interviewed by fellow celeb Cara Delevingne for Love magazine (per the Daily Mail), Robbie credited her gaffe to Harry's unassuming manner. "He's the most normal guy ever. I didn't realize it was him," she explained. "I just thought it was a guy named Harry and thought, 'What a nice guy.'"

Ben Affleck didn't realize the kids playing with his son were Prince George and Princess Charlotte

Back in 2016, Ben Affleck appeared on Britain's "The Graham Norton Show," alongside fellow actors Claire Foy and Matt Smith. Given the latter two were starring as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on "The Crown" at the time, Affleck felt it apropos to detail his own personal experience with the royals. 

During a family trip to London, Affleck recounted bringing his son Samuel, whom he shares with ex-wife Jennifer Garner, to a place called Kidnasium. "You know, germy balls they kick around," Affleck jokingly described the place. According to Affleck, when he and his son entered, he was surprised to find the place mostly empty. "And then I noticed this sort of weird vibe from some of the other grown-ups that were there," he recounted, explaining that he eventually identified several well-dressed people wearing suits, and then noticed some of them were equipped with earpieces, of the kind worn by Secret Service agents. "And I thought, 'Wow, Kidnasium is tight," Affleck quipped.

It then dawned on him, albeit slowly, just what he had wandered into. "I was the last person in there, for sure, to realize that the royal ... [Prince] George and [Princess] Charlotte, those kids were in there playing, and my son was in there playing," Affleck said. "So now I can tell him, 'You got a cold from the King of England.'"

Lady Gaga's outfit made the Queen giggle

Lady Gaga took to the stage of the Royal Variety Performance in 2009, which was attended by the Queen. As a result, Gaga had the rare opportunity to briefly meet Her Majesty, which she did while outfitted in her stage costume: a red latex gown with puffy sleeves and an appropriately Elizabethan-style collar, honoring the Queen's namesake descendant Elizabeth I. Gaga also sported an array of tiny red beads surrounding her eyes, giving her the appearance of a demonic panda with platinum-blonde hair. In a video taken from their brief introduction, the Queen can be seen smiling delightedly and chuckling — presumably at Gaga's extreme getup — as the singer curtsied.

Years later, Gaga sat down for an interview with Vogue, sharing her recollections as she looked back at some of her most memorable outfits over the years. "Oh I love this one!" Gaga said of what she wore to the Royal Variety Performance. "This is when I was in England and I was meeting the Queen and I wanted to dress like a queen in a British fashion and I also wanted to do it in my way."

While rubber typically wouldn't be the material of choice with which to design a dress for meeting royalty, Gaga has built a career on zigging when the rest of the world zags. "We thought that we would give this look of a queen a modern twist by making it in latex," Gaga shared.

The Spice Girls gave the future king more than he bargained for

During the late 1990s, no British musical act capitalized on their Britishness more than the Spice Girls, consisting of Melanie "Mel B" Brown (a.k.a. Scary Spice), Melanie "Sporty Spice" Chisholm, Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton, Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell, and Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham. Given the group's cheeky, irreverent reputation, it shouldn't be surprising that they remained hilariously on brand when meeting then-Prince Charles in 1997. 

Protocol, in fact, went right out the window when Brown asked Charles if they could accompany him to dinner. She then gave him a kiss on the cheek, leaving a bright red lipstick mark. "I think you're very sexy," Halliwell told Charles before likewise giving him a kiss on the cheek and then focusing on a different cheek when she leaned over and gave him what, at the time, was reported to be a pinch on his butt. Probably not coincidentally, Charles was whisked away immediately after that.

Nearly two decades later, Halliwell — now Geri Horner — insisted that the media had misreported what had actually taken place. "I didn't pinch Prince Charles's bum, as was reported. I patted it," she clarified in a 2016 interview with The Times. Whether it was a pinch or a pat, it was still seen as a big deal at the time. "Patting him on the bottom was against royal protocol," she confessed, "but we're all human."

Emma Thompson made 'a loud and inappropriate noise' while receiving a medal from Prince William — and then asked for a kiss

While Emma Thompson may not have pinched any royal bottoms (that we know of), she's no slouch when it comes to ignoring royal protocol. That was the case in 2018, when the sneaker-clad star was made a Dame of the British Empire by Prince William. Interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres, Thompson recalled feeling a twinge of pain when William pinned the badge to her lapel, and expressed it vocally. "I made a very loud and inappropriate noise in Buckingham Palace," she declared

Subsequently appearing on "Live with Kelly and Ryan," Thompson was asked what she said to William. "I was saying, 'Darling, how are you? I'm so proud of you, can I give you a kiss?' because I've known him since he was little," Thompson explained. "And he said, 'No, don't do that, otherwise everyone will want one.'"

During an appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," Dame Emma explained that she learned she was chosen to be honored in a letter from Buckingham Palace, asking whether she would accept (it's not mandatory). "You can choose to say, 'Well, of course we don't have an empire anymore, thank God, because it was a ghastly, colonial, racist, dreadful undertaking on every level,' and actually have some moral principle about it. Or you can be like me and think, 'Hmm, it's gonna be a really nice badge,'" she quipped.