Biden has insisted at just about every turn that people address her by her first name. She means it — people actually call her that or, sometimes, “Dr. B.” The familiar approachability is part of the Biden narrative, and an aspect of her personality into which she leans hard.
“Put her in a palace with a Queen, or wherever you want, she’s ‘Jill from Philly,’ ” says one longtime acquaintance of Biden, when asked if the first lady might maintain her casualness while in the presence of one of the most formally nuanced people in the world. Internally, embracing her down-home roots is fine, but externally, meeting Queen Elizabeth II involves a curtsy, speaking only when spoken to, and making sure the royal is always leading the encounter, whether she sits or stands or walks — the guest does so only after Her Royal Majesty.
A State Department official who worked in the protocol office during previous administrations notes the instructions from the Palace about world leader visits is “rigorous.” The State Department will send memos to the East Wing staff in advance about particularities with a visit, passed along from the Palace, as well as detailed outlines of each person the first lady might come in contact with, what their role is and how to address said person.
And, in a pinch, the chief of protocol is on hand to brief ahead of meetings, to answer any questions throughout the visit, and to help procure, research and vet any gifts exchanged between the leaders. (When the Obamas first met the Queen in 2009 they gave her an iPod filled with videos and photos of her 2007 trip to Virginia.)
The current acting chief of protocol, Asel Roberts, is part of the entourage traveling with the President and first lady in England this week.
Avoiding protocol pitfalls
Of course, all of this preparation is there for the “just in case.”
The choreography and tick-tock precision of a visit with a monarch is nothing new, it is expected and by most accounts, appreciated. What matters is how each first lady chooses to embrace the protocol that could determine their success.
“I think Dr. Biden is seeking to be far more accessible and relatable than most of her predecessors, with the exception of Michelle Obama who had a similar approach,” says historian Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women:…
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