Can I let my child leave the house in pyjamas? How often should they get their hair cut? Should I monitor their social media? Princess Marie-Chantal’s new book is a modern etiquette guide for families in an age where she sees our moral compass waning. Words: Jonathan Whiley
How do you like your eggs in the morning? If they are soft-boiled, take note. The correct etiquette is as follows; place the egg in the egg cup with the pointy end upward. Tap the knife against the side of the egg to make a small incision. Cut smoothly and remove the top completely. Then, simply eat with a teaspoon or ‘soldiers’, making sure your knife sits on the side of the plate.
Egg etiquette for Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece is no yoke (ahem). In fact, it has an entire page in her beautiful new book, Manners Begin at Breakfast. The mother-of-five, who founded her designer children’s clothing brand in 2000 — she recently reopened her Motcomb Street boutique with enhanced safety measures — spent six months piecing together her guide on modern etiquette for families.
Pre-dating the pandemic, it covers anything and everything; from sartorial dos and don’ts (“at a formal party boys should wear a button-down shirt, tie, jacket and slacks”) to grooming (“I’m a fan of the old-school yellow-duck scrubbing brush to clean glitter, soil and everything else under a child’s fingernail) and the perils of breaking bread (“never be tempted to cut it with a knife, always break it with your hands”).
After years of writing a parenting blog and fielding countless inquiries about proper etiquette, she realised “there was a place for a book to help navigate today’s social dos and don’ts.” “Even more so in this frenetic digital age where we are seeing less of a moral compass to help navigate children in a positive way.”
The 51-year-old, who opened her Belgravia flagship in 2018 and counts Ottolenghi, The Good Life Eatery and Daylesford among her favourite local haunts, delivers her guidance as a blueprint. “My approach is no more ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ than the next person’s’,” she says.
It sets out the parameters for play dates, ‘petiquette’ (it’s bad form to stroke a stranger’s dog without consent,) and tackles the thornier issues of the day including limits on social media (the Princess always keeps an eye on her children’s accounts).
“In today’s instant, digital world, where social graces have made way for social media posts, teaching children good manners is more important than ever before,” she says. “Yet, as we rush around frantically with our endless commitments, this essential element of day-to-day human interaction is, it seems, rapidly becoming a lost art. Covid, in a way, has brought the frenetic rush that we’ve all become accustomed to a halt. It’s been a wonderful time to reflect on what is truly important.”
The daughter of duty-free billionaire Robert Miller spent lockdown at her townhouse in New York with husband Prince Pavlos, their five children and two dogs. She married Pavlos, son of the former King of Greece, in London in 1995 (he proposed six months earlier on a ski lift in Gstaad).
They celebrated their 25th anniversary with a snap on Instagram earlier this month and her account during the crisis is testament to carving out precious family time.
“Even more so during these challenging times, I believe in setting structures around our days spent at home,” she says. “Kids love routines so make it fun with fun breaks. Aristide, my youngest, gets special treats now more than ever to keep him enthusiastic. Tino is writing music, Olympia is learning Greek. I am painting and teaching the kids and cousins how to cook and Achileas, the actor, is face timing his acting coach as he is about to film a movie. We all need to keep on going in a positive way.”
More than ever, she believes we should be teaching our children to use their devices as “tools for school” and to communicate with family and friends.
“Of course I allow my children to have their fun screen time but as long as it stays healthy and they limit it (just the youngest ones). It’s so important to take this time to teach them fun skills; to paint, draw, learn a musical instrument, cook and to stay creative.”
How does she achieve balance in her own life? “I prioritise,” she says. “Family comes first and foremost… I keep social engagements to a minimum and try my best to create a healthy home environment. It’s important to be there for them, but also to create a healthy work ethic and set examples. They’ve all grown up seeing that I work and love what I do but they also know that I would drop everything for them if they needed me.”
She has fond memories of her own childhood, particularly sitting at the table for family meals where she would listen to stories and discover the art of a healthy discussion. “I think most parents look to their childhoods and draw on their experiences and I definitely did! I always say how important it is to remember that children pick up all the good habits from you and also the bad, so pay attention.”
Would she do anything differently with the benefit of hindsight? “I suppose parents will always question themselves and ask if they could have done better – myself included. I’m still telling my grown-up kids as well as the younger ones to sit up straight, stand up to greet an adult, hold their knife and fork correctly – the list goes on.
“My mother still does it to me. It’s what parents do. We hope to send our kids out into a world where they will do well, with the hope that we taught them as best we could. It brings me back to the importance of carving out family time – not just sharing meals but sharing memories.”
Carrying a title, does she feel people hold her to higher standards? ”I have had my fair share of parenting trials and tribulations; and being married to a Prince brought with it the added pressure of raising our children under extra scrutiny (and, sadly, there was no golden ticket to always ‘getting it right’),” she says. “But, having had the privilege of meeting so many people from all walks of life, is what it has given me is a unique insight into why manners matter.”
Bullying or failure to acknowledge someone (or ignoring them purposefully) she finds among the rudest habits of all and believes parents need to constantly remind their children of the code of kindness. Remember, she says, manners cost nothing at all.
Manners Begin at Breakfast, published by Vendome, is out now, £19.95.