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LONDON — Canada’s Governor General David Johnston caused a media storm in Britain after he gently touched Queen Elizabeth II in an apparent breach of royal protocol.
Johnston, who is the queen’s representative in Canada, was caught on camera helping the 91-year-old sovereign down red-carpeted steps at an event to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in London.
The governor general could be seen gently holding the queen’s elbow in an effort to keep her from slipping.
"I was just anxious to be sure there was no stumbling on the steps," Johnston told Canadian broadcaster CBC.
"It's a little bit awkward, that descent from Canada House to Trafalgar Square, and there was carpet that was a little slippy, and so I thought perhaps it was appropriate to breach protocol just to be sure that there was no stumble," he added.
Royal experts told NBC News that while it is widely accepted that touching members of the royal family breaches royal etiquette there is no official protocol which stipulates that that is the case.
“There has never been a diktat from the queen saying she should never be touched or that you must bow or courtesy,” said Camilla Tominey, Royal Editor of the Sunday Express newspaper.
“It’s the stuff of myths. Obviously there is a way of behaving around the queen, you show deference and respect, but there is a sense that the royal family just wants everyone to be normal,” she said, adding, “I think it’s a storm in a teacup.”
Grant Harrold, a British etiquette expert known as The Royal Butler, said members of the public should always take their lead from the royals, but added that the governor general was right to assist the queen.
“A gentleman should always assist a lady,” he told NBC News, “if he had done it for no apparent reason that would be a different, but when you’re assisting someone there’s a good argument for why he did it.”
Harrold added: “He’s been an absolute gentleman and from that point of view I think it’s fantastic.”
Johnston, 76, is not the first person to potentially breach royal protocol by touching the queen.
Former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama similarly ruffled feathers when she touched the monarch while attending a reception at Buckingham Palace ahead of a G20 summit in 2009.
Pictures from the reception show the queen and Obama with their hands resting on each other’s backs.