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Feel a little insecure about breaking into groups? It could never be worse than breaking wind in front of the Queen.

One of the weirder traits humans have is the ability to be deeply unnerved by situations or contexts that many others would find utterly mundane. There are many examples of this. Here’s one from my own life: I don’t really like meeting new people. Never have. Not that I’m incapable of being a social type – I love being with my friends – it’s just that I suffer with an inexplicable nagging anxiety that comes with meeting new people.

If you have ever suffered with social anxiety or felt like a spare part in a well-oiled group, you are certainly not alone. The bedrock of this anxiety is the fear of the faux pas, the pregnant pause, the great terror of being ‘found out’ as someone socially lacking with substandard conversation about the weather, Eastenders or the cost of a pint of milk. Heavens forbid that we may say the wrong thing. We’d be an outcast, immediately sent to Coventry with laughter ringing in our ears – it fuels our insecurity. Our fear of all things new.

To celebrate this wonderfuly idiosyncratic paranoia, I thought it would be a suitably cringeworthy idea to compile a selection of infamous goofs and gaffes. For if there is one thing I know about the human condition, it is that while we would rather burn in the fires of hell than commit a social faux pas, we certainly relish reading about the indiscretions of others. So here goes:

According to John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, when the Earl of Oxford went to bow before his monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, he accidentally passed wind, which was so mortifying that he ran away from Court, staying away for a very long time. “The Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, let out a Fart,” Aubrey quips, “at which he was so abashed that he went to travell, 7 years.” When he eventually made his way back to Court, the witty Virgin Queen told him, “My Lord, I had forgott the fart.” That must have taken the wind out of his sails.      

Keeping with the regal theme, The Duke of Edinburgh has made a string of glorious gaffes during his reign as the Queen’s consort. In no particular order:

In Cardiff he told children from the British Deaf Association, who were standing by a Caribbean steel band: “If you’re near that music, it’s no wonder you’re deaf”.

To Australian Aborigines during a visit down under with the Queen, Prince Philip asked: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

To a 13-year-old while visiting a space shuttle.“Well, you’ll never fly in it, you’re too fat to be an astronaut.”

In 1992, George H W Bush attended a state dinner in Tokyo, Japan. Before the event, President Bush complained of a dicky tummy. However, the president decided to attend the dinner and was seated next to the Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi. During the meal, Bush felt ill, turned and vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister. This remains the only recorded case of a head of state throwing up on the head of another country’s government.

As the story goes, former British Foreign Minister George Brown attended a state dinner in Vienna in 1966. After enjoying a little too much wine and upon hearing the orchestra strike up a tune, he turned to “an exquisite creature in violet” sitting beside him to say “Madame, you look ravishing. May we dance?” The exquisite creature in violet turned to him and replied, in perfect English, “No, Mr. Brown, for three reasons. Firstly, this is a state dinner, not a ball. Secondly, were this a ball and not a state dinner, this would still be the Austrian state anthem, and not a waltz. And thirdly, were this a ball and not a state dinner, and were that a waltz and not the Austrian state anthem, I would still be the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna.”

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