Category Archives: In the News

Addressing knights and dames: why it’s not “Dame Angelina Jolie”

The Queen greets Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie was granted an audience with HM The Queen

Last week, HM The Queen made Ms Angelina Jolie an honorary dame for her services to UK foreign policy and the campaign to end sexual violence in war zones. But as a US citizen, she cannot be addressed as Dame Angelina.
The title of Sir or Dame may only be used by citizens of the UK and Commonwealth nations with The Queen as their head of state. In the past, honorary knighthoods have been conferred to U2 singer Bono, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

A knighthood is awarded to recognise merit in terms of achievement and service to the sovereign. It is an honour under the crown and therefore can be withdrawn. Knights prefix Sir to their forenames while wives of knights may add the title Lady to their surnames.
Thus, the celebrated actor and director Kenneth Branagh and his wife are officially addressed as Sir Kenneth and Lady Branagh.

“The Prince of Denmark” receives a knighthood. Sir Kenneth Branagh in 2012. Photo from The Observer.

A dame is the female equivalent of a knight, and the title Dame is prefixed to their foremanes. Generally, an individual cannot derive privileges from their wives or mothers. Therefore, no equivalent titles are granted to the husband of a dame.

Double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes photo from

Knights and Ladies of the Garter and the Thistle
The Order of the Garter and The Order of the Thistle are the two highest orders of chivalry in the United Kingdom. Knights and Ladies of the Garter and Thistle rank higher than a baronet.

There are no dames in the Orders; instead, female members of the Order are addressed as Lady. For example, if a Mrs Lorna Willis is created a Lady of the Thistle, she is addressed as Lady Lorna Willis, not Lady Willis, which would imply that she is the wife of a knight, instead of a Lady in her own right.

HM The Queen, HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duke of Cambridge in the robes of The Order of the Garter. Photo from

Best wishes,

For Homer.


How to wear a tiara: a tribute to The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

Last night, over a post-supper Earl Grey, the grave voice of BBC Radio 4 announced that Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the Mitford sisters had passed away.  I was filled with profound sadness. I knew the Mitford sisters. That is, I knew of them.

The Mitford sisters (L-R top): Unity, Jessica, Diana; (L-R bottom): Pamela, Deborah, Nancy. Photo from BBC News

If you are not familiar with the Mitfords, I encourage you to find out more about them. They are a fascinating collective; six sisters who, in the course of their lives would become involved with some of the most influential figures of the last century. The sisters were often described thus: novelist Nancy, farmer Pamela, Diana the beauty, communist Jessica, Nazi sympathiser Unity and Duchess Deborah. Their lives are documented from the hundreds of letters the sisters wrote to each other.

The youngest Mitford sister, Deborah married the Lord Andrew Cavendish, the future Duke of Devonshire. (Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes played ancestors of the family in the film The Duchess).  Deborah is credited with transforming the family seat, Chatsworth, into one of the most popular visitor’s destinations in England.

Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Photo from

I have visited Chatsworth, and it was from Deborah’s book All in One Basket that I learned my tiara etiquette. She recalled attending a dance given by The Queen at Windsor Castle where she came down to dinner wearing the Devonshire tiara (see picture below), to find she was the only person wearing one. Embarrassed for being overdressed, she sat through the meal wishing she was anywhere else. When the dancing began, she took it off, put it under a chair and enjoyed herself enormously. She said,

‘I suppose Windsor Castle is the only house where you could be sure of finding the blessed thing still there at bedtime.’

The Devonshire tiara. Photo from

Why wear a tiara
‘They are the nighttime equivalent of an Ascot hat. They are the finishing flourish to the best evening dress; the opposite of dressing down.’ So Deborah described what tiaras are for.

Traditionally, tiaras were worn only by married women. This was because they were heirlooms, and belonged to the men from great families and were worn by the wives. Today, tiaras continue to be a popular feature of the bridal trousseau. Indeed, for a bride blessed with a slightly large head, a tiara would look more becoming than a full veil.

Wearing a tiara automatically improves one’s bearing. One cannot slouch when wearing it. In spite of the combs and pins, there is a possibility of it slipping. I should know, I once wore one to a fancy dress party. They make the wearer sit and stand straighter, thereby making them look more distinguished and instantly taller.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Photo from The Independent

How to wear a tiara
Queens and empresses wear one at state occasions. Holly Golightly wore one as if it were part of her being. Always put your tiara on fully coiffed hair. The stones atop your head won’t shine and glitter as well when placed on unstyled hair.
Wear your tiara 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches in old money) from your hairline. If worn too far to the front, one risks looking somewhat like a Neanderthal. If worn too far back, it will not be seen in photographs.

The Manchester tiara

Should you get a chance, do pay a visit to the jewellery gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where you will find tiaras that provide a delightful insight into the history of their owners. My favourite is the Manchester tiara, made for Consuelo, Duchess of Manchester. She was an American socialite who married into one to the great English families in the late 1800’s. The credit line of the tiara display reads, ‘Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, 2007’. Like I said, absolutely delightful!

All the best,

To Duchess Deborah and the Mitford sisters.

Aeroplane (airplane!) etiquette

This week, a plane had to be diverted because a fight broke out between two passengers. While on his laptop, a man used a Knee Defender, a device that stopped the woman in front of him from reclining her seat. He refused to remove the device when asked by a flight attendant. ‘The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him’, the enforcement official said.

A United Airlines plane on the tarmac.

A United Airlines plane on the tarmac. Photo from The Guardian.

I have written posts on bus etiquette, commuter train etiquette and also what to do when you have a private chauffeur. I have been requested to write about aeroplane etiquette previously, which I have declined. In light of recent events, I now feel it is my duty to share basic aeroplane etiquette.

Photo from

I’d like to believe that those in the middle seats should get armrest priority. After all, the ones in the window and aisle seats have one for their exclusive use. But I realise, I might be the only one who thinks this way. Be willing to share the armrest. If your fellow passenger is taking up all the space, slip your elbow behind theirs. If they are polite, this will likely force them to make some space for you. If not, discreetly take up an inch more of the space at a time.

Be prepared to share the armrest. Photo from

Reclining the seat
It is only fair to mention the incident that is the inspiration for this post. It’s very easy to avoid unwanted beverages thrown at you: do not use a Knee Defender. You must expect that the person in front of you will recline their seats. You can try to avoid reclining seats by requesting the first row seats or the emergency exit row, the both usually has more leg room.

The Knee Defender, a device designed to keep the seat in front from reclining. Photo from

It is perfectly acceptable to recline your seat during long haul flights. The cabin lights are dimmed creating an atmosphere conducive for naps. It should go without saying, do not rest your head on the stranger’s shoulder when you sleep. If you find yourself unwittingly made into a headrest, feel free to wake the sleeping person a violent shake.

Do try to avoid reclining your seat in short flights. The United Airlines flight which experienced the fracas was flying from Newark to Denver, a 4 hour journey. Arguably, a 4 hour flight is neither long nor short. Avoid the aggravation and simply keep your seat upright if you are sat in front of a whiny person. I was informed that the seats in most budget airlines do not recline because there is no need for it during short flights.

Flight attendants
The cabin crew are trained to deal with difficult and irritating passengers.
Do speak to them if the child behind you keeps kicking or someone’s music is blasting through their headphones. Let the cabin crew handle the situation and you will be spared awkward discussions and nasty stares for the duration of your flight. I suppose if if the woman who threw water had let the flight attendants sort the incident out, it would have been very likely that she or the Knee Defender man would be moved to a different seats.

I hope that this post will help make your flights more pleasant and agreeable. At the very least, I hope it will prevent future altercations with fellow passengers. When in doubt, be aware of other people’s discomfort; be considerate and do not to be the annoying passenger.

Bon voyage,

Update: Only days later, a second plane had to be diverted due to a similar incident involving a passenger row over reclining seats . Read the full report dated 29 August 2014 here. We are grateful to our reader Ruth for bringing this to our attention.

Do leave a comment below if you would like me to write a piece on airport etiquette or if you’d like me to share etiquette tips that will help you get flight and hotel upgrades.

Spain’s two kings: how to address a former monarch

A commentary on the forms of address for former monarchs.

A week and a half ago, the Crown Prince of Spain formally acceded to the throne following the abdication of his father, thus becoming King Felipe VI. Although no longer “The King of Spain”, King Juan Carlos, never stops being a king, of course. What he has done is resign from his job; he is no longer the reigning monarch.

From left: Queen Letizia, King Felipe VI, Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos. Photo from The Telegraph

From left: Queen Letizia, King Felipe VI, Queen Sofía and King Juan Carlos. Photo from The Telegraph

In the last year, three monarchs and a pope have abdicated in favour of the next generation. The Dutch and The Belgians have new Kings, and Qatar has a new Emir.

Former monarchs are often afforded the same title and style they had during their reign. Thus, King Juan Carlos is referred to as His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain, and his wife remains Her Majesty Queen Sofía of Spain.

For many reasons, including political, Britain’s Edward VIII was made a royal duke, HRH The Duke of Windsor when he abdicated in 1936. Do keep an eye out for my future post on the forms of address of the British royal family.

At your service,

Country Life Magazine: Gentleman of the Year Awards

Country Life magazine has released their ‘Gentleman of the Year’ list. It looks like the key to being a modern gentleman is to be named David. There are four of them in the top five!

David Dimbleby- our Gentleman of the Year. Photo from The Guardian

David Dimbleby- our Gentleman of the Year. Photo from The Guardian

Veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby is revealed to be the number one British gentleman based on nominations. ‘…Every week, with both fairness and humour, he brilliantly controls the rat pack on Question Time,’ says novelist Jilly Cooper, who is a member of the panel of judges.

Other names include footballer David Beckham, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins and former MP David Miliband, who has been commended for resisting the temptation to “smirk” at his brother’s political career.

Read the full list here.

Arriving late: comedian Jason Manford buys audience drinks to apologise

Jason Manford bought audience drinks as an apology. Photo credit:

Jason Manford bought audience drinks as an apology. Photo credit:

Last week, Jason Manford bought a round of drinks for his 835-strong audience as an apology for keeping them waiting. The comedian was stuck in traffic for two hours and eventually made it to the stage 40 minutes late. I imagine the audience were very appreciative of his generosity as he took to the stage, and ultimately did not mind the late hour.

Is it the casual, modern way to be relaxed about punctuality? I certainly believe it’s impolite to be more than half an hour late for no good reason. Text messages saying, “So sorry, I’m running a little late. Be with you soon.” hardly makes up for it.

Waiting patiently. Photo credit:

Waiting patiently. Photo credit:

I’m not talking about Mr Manford here. He had a genuine reason for being late and made up for it. I’m talking about habitual offenders who constantly make their friends wait. I myself favour being on time, and feel positively embarrassed if I have kept someone waiting.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

On this matter, I defer to the more expert hand of Thomas Blaikie, etiquette writer for The Lady magazine. He advocates being ruthless with friends who keep us waiting in public places. “If they are more than 15 minutes late for the third time, don’t wait another minute… Go off and amuse yourself elsewhere. With some people, lateness is a symptom of deep-seated unreliability and selfishness…But sometimes they reform. Always give them a chance if they promise to do better.”

However, Mr Blaikie advises arriving a little late for parties and dinners at other people’s houses. I do agree that it seems rather curious about guests who arrive on the dot. It gives the impression that they have been lurking just beyond your house, waiting for the exact moment to ring the bell. Often, hosts are grateful for the extra ten minutes after the stated time in which the guests don’t arrive. But do not be more than 15 minutes late without giving prior notice.

As a host, I sometimes have a quiet word with the notorious latecomers beforehand. I would give them an earlier start time than the rest of my guests. That way, I know the event will not overrun as a consequence of needless waiting. If they still arrive late, try starting without them. This happened to me in my early teens, and I’ve remembered the lesson ever since. I know it’s extreme, but it obliges us to respect other people’s time.

There may be an unspoken understanding in society that “if you are important, people will wait.” To some extent, this is practiced. However, do keep in mind that waiting for one person is discourteous to everyone else who made the effort to arrive on time.

Late for a date. Photo credit:

Late for a date. Photo credit:

Have you spotted an etiquette-related article in the news? Do tell us about it on Facebook, via Twitter, or on the comments section below.

Army officer bans sandwiches

An army commander has banned the practice of officers and soldiers eating with their hands. The Telegraph writes, ‘Sandwiches have been banned from an officers’ mess after a commander noticed many soldiers were eating them with their hands as he insisted “a gentleman or a lady uses a knife and fork.”’

Photo credit

Photo credit

In his three-page note addressed to the ‘Chaps’ of Bulford Camp, Major General James Cowan offered a string of etiquette tips that covers not only the “proper” way to eat a sandwich, but also seating arrangements for dinner parties and thank you letters.

A spokesperson for the Army insisted the note was meant to be taken as fun. They said, ‘This note was part of a light-hearted correspondence between a commander and his officers about an expected code of behaviour.’

Below are a few of Maj Gen Cowan’s etiquette tips followed by my own views.

“Quite a few officers in the divisional mess seem to be under the impression that they can eat their food with their hands. The practice of serving rolls and sandwiches in the mess is to stop. A gentleman or lady always uses a knife and fork.”

Cucumber sandwiches. Photo credit

Cucumber sandwiches. Photo credit:

Sandwiches were named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who is said to be fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, while eating, without using a fork, and without getting his cards greasy from eating with his bare hands as the meat was “sandwiched” between two pieces of bread. Others then began to order “the same as Sandwich”.

I still maintain sandwiches should be eaten with one’s hands. Knives and forks should be used only as a last resort. If anyone is still in doubt, just go to any Pret A Manger for proof. For further details, read my previous post on how to eat messy food.

Knife and fork
“The fork always goes in the left hand and the knife in the right. Holding either like a pen is unacceptable, as are stabbing techniques. The knife and fork should remain in the bottom third of the plate and never be laid down in the top half.”

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

I agree completely. To indicate that one has finished with the meal, the knife and fork should be placed together with the handles pointing to 5 o’clock. Placing the cutlery in the bottom of the plate has practical reasons. It allows the server to clear the plate while pinning down the cutlery and thus preventing them from sliding to the floor.

Successful marriage
“I recently went to a Burns night, spoilt only by a curious decision to sit husbands next to wives. The secret of a successful marriage is never to sit next to your spouse at dinner, except when dining alone at home. It displays a marked degree of insecurity.”

Photo credit

Photo credit:

I know someone who believes a dinner party is not a success unless guests have heated arguments during the course of the meal. She would purposefully seat two individuals with drastically different views to guarantee a lively evening.

During the Edwardian times, married couples were expected to sit apart from each other as it is presumed that they would want a break from one another’s company. (Take notice of this the next time you are watching Downton Abbey.) Conversely, betrothed couples are seated next to each other so they can get to know each other while chaperoned. This is rarely the case now, couples are often seated together. To insist upon seating married couples separately can seem old fashioned, since society’s opinion is divided on this matter.   

Ultimately, a seating plan is the responsibility of the host. In formal occasions, seating plans help catering staff identify dietary requirements without having to call attention to the guest. If a seating plan is not provided, guests are free to choose where they sit.

The Armed Forces have a stricter code of conduct and views of social etiquette. I once attended an RAF Officers’ Ball. After the meal, several officers took off their dinner jackets in preparation for dancing. They were then asked to provide the champagne (or whatever choice beverage) for the next ball. As it turned out, officers are not allowed to take off their jackets without approval from the compere. Etiquette is fun, and I am delighted our Army has the same opinion.