I was King Charles’ butler for 7 years – these are his dinner party rules

When it comes to being a working royal, there are lots of reported protocols that must be followed both in public and behind the Palace walls. From dressing modestly to not using social media, being a royal has its own rules and regulations. The same can apply for guests of the Royal Family too.

One person who knows about these golden rules and the expected etiquette all too well is Grant Harrold who was a royal butler to King Charles III between 2004 and 2011. During his seven years in the role, Grant, 44, gained a fascinating glimpse of the traditions and rituals observed by the monarchy, from how to behave at a dinner party and the strict timings to follow at dinner. Here he reveals some of the rules that govern royal households and what Charles was really like as a boss…

The golden dinner rules

“The royal household is very traditional with their dinner party rules. The gentlemen will always wait until all the ladies are present before they sit down and, if they can, they will assist the ladies to their seats first. Guests then place napkins on their lap – if the ladies use their napkin to dab their lipstick, they fold it over so the stain isn’t visible. The napkins are big enough so that this can be done several times.

Charles always sits at the top of the table, and the more senior people, like other royals and prime ministers, will sit closest to him. The food is served to those at the top first.

During the starter and main course, the royals always speak to the guest sitting on their right. After the main course and throughout dessert, it’s the guest sitting on their left. This creates a knock on effect along the whole table, so everyone has always got someone to talk to. In terms of conversation topics – sex, religion, money and politics are always off limits.

The only time where it’s suitable to go to the bathroom is after the main course as that’s when one conversation ends.

Guests attending a royal dinner aren’t given etiquette lessons – you’d be surprised how quickly people pick things up. They follow the lead of the royals or the more experienced guests.”

Attention to detail

“The late Queen Elizabeth would personally check every dinner table before guests arrived and King Charles always did this when I worked for him. He will notice things that many won’t, like a bulb not working in a small lamp, a missing piece of cutlery or a piece of tableware not exactly aligned. Charles is a great host because he wants to make everyone feel comfortable and thinks about people’s needs.

He has to live his life very precisely – even if he’s just one minute late it will throw off the schedule for the entire day. This will definitely be the case for the coronation. The butlers will run a very tight ship, and assist Charles in every way they can.”

Tea time

“Afternoon tea is a very important tradition and the royals take it between 4-6pm pretty much everyday. They’re all big tea lovers – Charles likes an earl grey with honey.

There’s no rule on whether the cream or jam goes first on a scone. Charles is very diplomatic so he’ll prepare his scone the same way his guests do. The pinky finger shouldn’t be raised. Also, the milk often goes in before the tea – this dates back to the 1700s to limit the chances of cracking the china with the heat of the water. They also never have champagne with afternoon tea. That’s a hotel custom, not a royal thing!”

Manners don’t cost anything

“King Charles treats everyone with the same respect. He had an appreciation for what I did, and was an excellent boss. I remember one of his guests wasn’t saying please or thank you when I was serving them. Charles began to thank me even more than usual, saying, “I really appreciate that” when I placed down his meals and drinks. Before long, the guest followed suit. He subtly made them change their behaviour. He taught me a lot about kindness and fairness.

Charles was also a really fun boss with a great sense of humour. Once I unexpectedly saw him approaching in a hallway. I panicked, opened a nearby door and nipped inside what I thought was a room. It turned out to be a cupboard; I was stood in the pitch dark amongst cleaning supplies. As I emerged, we looked at each other, and just had a little laugh. He always made me feel very relaxed.”

Putting in the hours

“It could be quite long days as Charles’ butler but I loved the job so it didn’t bother me. I could start at 6am, and not finish until 11pm but on other days I’d get afternoons off.

I would describe myself as a personal assistant. I’d do whatever it takes to ensure the smooth running of the royal household day to day whether that was running errands, walking the dogs or lighting fires. Even now when I’m a guest at my friends’ houses, I can’t get out of butler mode. Making sure everyone is happy gives me joy.”

Thou shalt never

“No matter how casual an occasion, and even if there’s only family present, the royals never ever wear pyjamas, tracksuits or athleisure to eat. It’s not black tie for breakfast, but they certainly wouldn’t ever be seen in a onesie. If you want to be royal-esque then even if you’re having a casual dinner make a little bit of effort.”

Dream come true

“I was invited to the Ghillies Ball in Balmoral as a guest having secretly taken dance lessons just in case this day ever came. On the night I was very nervous. I told Camilla and she promised me that we’d have a dance together. We did exactly that and while moving around the dance floor together I confessed that it had always been a dream of mine to dance with the Queen. She told me that as there were only 150 people there, I was in with a pretty good chance. Sure enough, when we stopped dancing, the Queen was right behind me and I got to spin around the floor with her. I couldn’t believe it – a truly magical moment, that was also slightly terrifying! I called my mum straight after to tell her, and she said: ‘That’s lovely, but I’m just doing dinner. Can I call you back?’”


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