Barack Obama’s former Chief of Protocol has revealed the rather dramatic lengths the Queen’s staff go to protect her privacy – and her signature handbag.
Capricia Penavic Marshall, who worked for former President Obama from 2009 to 2013, advising him on all matters of national and international diplomatic protocol, recalled to People the embarrassing moment she was scolded for trying to help the royal with her purse during an official visit to Buckingham Palace in 2011.
After stepping forward to assist the Queen with her bag so that she could greet the Obamas without it, Marshall, 56, says her British counterpart quickly pushed her back and told her simply: ‘We do not touch the bag.’
Awkward! Former President Barack Obama’s Chief of Protocol has opened up about an awkward moment when she was reprimanded for trying to hold the Queen’s handbag in 2011
Speaking out: Capricia Penavic Marshall, 56, pictured with Barack and Michelle in 2010, said she tried to hold the royal’s purse so she could pose for photos – but was quickly scolded
‘As Her Majesty walked out, I made a comment to my counterpart. I said, “Oh, my goodness, Her Majesty has her bag.” And I made an ever so slight move with my left foot,’ she recalled.
‘He, with both of his hands, pushed me back against the wall and said, “Do not touch the bag,” and I said, “Oh, my goodness. I’m so sorry.”‘
Snafu: According to Marshall, she made a move to hold the Queen’s bag and was pushed back by one of the royal’s staffers
Marshall says the unnamed royal staffer reiterated his point again, insisting that nobody ever touches the Queen’s purse – which she is often seen carrying during official engagements – while admitting that, despite her snafu, she dared to ask whether anyone knows what the royal actually carries in it.
‘He goes, “We do not touch the bag.” And I said, “Okay, I apologize. I would never. But do we know what’s in the bag?” And he said, “We don’t know what’s in the bag. But we never touch the bag,”‘ she revealed.
While discussing her new book, Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You, Marshall explained that she later learned the Queen may actually use her bag as a means of signaling to her staff – which is why she almost always has it on her arm.
According to the protocol expert, the positioning of Her Majesty’s bag indicates to staff when they need to step in and interrupt a meeting – without the Queen actually needing to verbalize when she no longer wishes to speak to someone.
‘If it’s on one part of her arm, it means the meeting is going fine, leave me alone. But if she lowers it, it means, “End this now. I want to go,”‘ Marshall explained.
Signs: Marshall, who just released a new book, Protocol, suggested that the Queen uses her handbag to signal to staff when she wishes to end a meeting or conversation with someone
Hint hint: ‘If it’s on one part of her arm, it means the meeting is going fine, leave me alone. But if she lowers it, it means, “End this now. I want to go,”‘ Marshall explained
As for what the Queen carries around in her purse, the protocol expert-turned-author never did get an official answer, however she revealed that several people have speculated that ‘in the bag, she has a cell phone so that she can call and speak to her grandchildren’.
Despite the awkward moment between Marshall and the Queen’s staff member, she says that the visit went incredibly well, noting that both President Obama and his wife Michelle were ‘so, so very fond’ of the royal.
Marshall also revealed that the then-First Couple even went out of their way to put together an incredibly special and very sentimental gift for Her Majesty, after the Queen expressed that she wished to exchange presents with the Obamas.
‘We wanted to make sure that what we were furthering this special relationship with the U.K. and particularly with Her Majesty,’ Marshall explained, before adding that the Obamas’ staff did research to find out what gift might impress the Queen most.
The team discovered that the Queen was known for collecting ‘anything and everything she could about’ her late father, King George VI, so they decided to put together different pieces of memorabilia from the final trip he made to the US before his death.
They found several different items to include in the collection, including a few letters and some invitations, which were all bound together in a leather portfolio and then presented to the Queen during the visit.
According to Marshall, the gift meant the world to the Queen, and the former protocol advisor said she even had ‘a little glisten of a tear in her eye’ as she read through all of the different pages, before expressing her deepest thanks to President Obama.
Friends: Marshall, pictured in 2012, worked for Obama from 2009 until 2013, during which time she advised him on matters relating to national and international diplomatic protocol
Close: The protocol expert, pictured with Obama in 2013, said that working for the former President is one of ‘the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life’
That was not the only gift that the Obamas gave to the royal during their visit, with Marshall revealing that they also presented her with a beautiful floral brooch – which, interestingly, the Queen chose to wear during President Donald Trump’s visit to the UK last year.
At the time, there was some speculation that the royal had chosen that specific brooch in order to ‘troll’ President Trump – although she did not actually wear it on a day when they met, merely stepping out with the accessory after he had arrived in the country.
However, Marshall makes sure not to speculate on why exactly Her Majesty may have worn that particular item during Trump’s official trip, saying only that she would ‘like to say that [the Queen] was proud to wear a piece of a presidential gift’ and that she was perhaps using it to ‘display the unity between the two nations’.
‘I think that she has the capacity to always lift the message up right now and to create those stronger bounds. But she herself is the only one who will really know,’ she added.
Marshall is full of praise for the Obamas – as well as Barack’s rival in the 2008 Democratic candidate race, Hillary Clinton, and her husband Bill, both of whom she worked for over several years.
The protocol expert served as special assistant to Hillary during Bill’s 1992 presidential campaign, and continued that role in the White House before being promoted to Deputy Assistant to the President in 1997.
Then, in 2006, Marshall rejoined the Clintons, working on Hillary’s presidential campaign, before being sworn in as US Chief of Protocol in August 2009 – a role that she held for four years.