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Royal Visit: William And Kate Will Face Relaxed Protocol, Experts Say

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WILL AND KATE
William and Kate will be visiting Canada later in June. | AP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- TORONTO - Prince William and Kate have good reason to hope that Canada's history doesn't repeat itself during their upcoming royal tour.

If it does, the newlyweds could find themselves fielding unwanted lessons in small-town etiquette, struggling to understand incomprehensible toasts, or even fighting to free themselves from the literal clutches of a hysterical crowd.

Egregious gaffes have been as much a part of past Canadian royal tours as pomp and circumstance, but experts expect fewer opportunities for embarrassment next week when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge make their inaugural visit as a married couple.

Protocol standards will likely be more relaxed for William and Kate than they were when the Queen toured the country last summer, said Kevin MacLeod, Canadian secretary to the Queen and co-ordinator of the 2011 royal tour.

"There are some rules of protocol that would apply more specifically now to Her Majesty because she is the sovereign and less to other members of the Royal Family," MacLeod said in an interview.

"With the passage of time, some rules of protocol become a little more flexible."

Nothing typifies evolving standards more than the approach to the handshake, now the most common form of interaction between commoners and royalty.

The handshake was once a protocol faux-pas in Canada, said royal tour historian Garry Toffoli, but a new precedent was established in 1860 during an exchange between an Ontario farmer and the Prince of Wales.

The farmer raised a lot of eyebrows with his extended hand and hearty, "Put 'er there, Prince," Toffoli said.

Such a casual greeting still wouldn't pass muster, but MacLeod said Canadians who get to meet William and Kate are encouraged to initiate handshakes and conversations, just so long as they do so politely.

Both should be addressed as "Your Royal Highness" at the start of an exchange, followed by "sir" or "ma'am," he said. Men wishing to observe the niceties of protocol can bow discreetly from the neck, while ladies may curtsy with their right foot behind the left. Eye contact should be maintained throughout the greeting.

Conversational icebreakers can include a welcome to the region, comments on the weather or information relevant to the area, MacLeod said.

Invitations to stray from the pre-planned itinerary, however, may not go over as well.

Toffoli said staff on the 1860 tour were horrified when acrobat Charles Blondin, famed for his death-defying aerial stunts, offered to escort the Prince of Wales over Niagara Falls in a wheelbarrow suspended from a tightrope.

Toffoli said the prince only declined the offer at the insistence of his advisers.

The perils of spontaneous hands-on contact with royalty were displayed in dramatic fashion in 1919 when a new Prince of Wales arrived in Toronto for a ceremony honouring veterans of the First World War.

Prince Edward's entrance on horseback was marred when the crowd decided to take matters into their own hands -- literally.

"They just swarmed the prince on the horse, and the horse got really skittish, of course, and started going crazy," Toffoli said.

"The end result was they actually lifted the prince off the horse."

Edward was carried into the crowd, raised in the air and, as he wrote later in his personal memoirs, passed overhead "like a football at a rugby game."

Toffoli said the incident stands as a particularly dramatic example of a common royal blunder: touching a member of the Royal Family for something other than a handshake.

Physical contact beyond a handshake is indeed "discouraged," but nonetheless happens frequently without anyone taking offence, MacLeod said.

Historically, comments that might have elicited a collective gasp of alarm from the public have been greeted with a comparative shrug from the royals themselves.

The most famous example came in 1939 during a visit from King George VI and his wife, who later became known as the Queen Mother.

During a formal dinner in Montreal, the King noticed that mayor Camillien Houde was not wearing his official chain of office, and inquired if he even had one.

Houde's reply was likely rooted in absent-mindedness rather than malice: "Oh, yes, Your Majesty, but I only wear it on special occasions."

Small-town hospitality can backfire, too.

Though the story has proven difficult to verify, Toffoli tells the anecdotal tale of Queen Victoria's son Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, who was visiting an unnamed Canadian town sometime between 1911 and 1916, when he served as Governor General.

Following the meal, when the main-course dishes were being cleared, a well-meaning waitress is said to have returned a piece of the astonished aristocrat's used cutlery, saying, "Keep your fork, duke, there's pie coming."

Other blunders, however -- such as the one committed in 1983 by New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield -- are harder to explain.

Hatfield delivered a barely coherent toast to Diana, Princess of Wales, who was visiting the province with husband Prince Charles. The speech caused consternation in the media and embarrassment for the bemused royals.

"We have heard and read the lies," Hatfield said. "Your Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales, as it always is, today it was wonderful to meet and know the truth."

Not all breaches of protocol are committed by commoners, Toffoli said.

The Queen Mother herself, known to delight in straying from the script, once gate-crashed a high school dance that was taking place in the same hotel where she had presided over a function for the Black Watch regiment in Montreal.

The Queen Mother's grandson and his new bride may be the most inclined to follow in her footsteps, said MacLeod -- William and Kate are keen to forge relaxed, personal connections with the Canadians they will meet.

"My sense with the duke and duchess is that informality will very much be the name of the game," he said.

"Just walking up to people and embarking on conversation about their hat, or whatever. My sense is they really want to be engaged in lively discussion with individuals."

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