The Royal Wedding
The interest in the forthcoming wedding of actress Ms Meghan Markle to His Royal Highness Prince Henry Charles Albert David (aka Prince Harry) is reaching fever pitch as fans and subjects from both the United States and the United Kingdom look forward to a fairytale made real.
But, of course, this is not the first unification of American and British cultures. The much quoted (particularly by British politicians) ‘special relationship’ across the pond has existed ever since the Mayflower first set sail from Plymouth in Devon way back in 1620.
The wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is one in a long line of star couplings in which Hollywood glamour meets English tradition. The most famous and controversial Anglo-American relationship was surely the union of US socialite Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII – the resulting constitutional crisis (caused by the King’s desire to marry a divorcee) ended with his abdication, which rocked the royal family. Prince Harry and Meghan’s marriage is less controversial – Meghan is a divorcee but Harry’s father, Prince Charles, was divorced before marrying Camilla Parker Bowles, and as Prince Harry is currently fifth in line to the throne (subject to any new royal babies), it’s unlikely to have constitutional significance.
Even the couple’s date nights have become political – the two went to see Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre, which tells the story of the Founding Fathers of America and makes a villain out of Harry’s ancestor, George III. As we all wait to see what role the relationship will take on the world stage, here’s our look at the American and British wedding traditions we can expect on the big day, and our verdict on which country will come out on top.
Following the abdication, Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, a place that will have significance for Harry and Meghan – St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is to be the venue of their wedding on 19 May. The couple are in good company, because the chapel has been the place of many royal weddings: Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (who became King Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra of Denmark married here in 1863, and Harry’s uncle Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie Rhys-Jones followed in 1999.
Just 20 miles to the west of London, Windsor Castle makes for a fantastic day trip, but there are other popular royal wedding venues in London itself. The first royal wedding at Westminster Abbey took place in 1100 between King Henry I of England and Matilda of Scotland, and there have been many more celebrations at the abbey, including that of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947. Meghan’s first wedding took place over four days on a beach in Jamaica, while her parents, Doria Loyce Ragland and Thomas Wayne Markle, wed in a Self-Realisation Fellowship Temple in LA.
UK wins for fairytale churches
For many people, the ultimate royal wedding was that of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in July 1981, which took place at another stunning venue, St Paul’s Cathedral. Yet possibly the most memorable scene of the day was the royal family grouped together on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with the crowds below cheering the couple. Diana wore an iconic dress – an ivory silk taffeta gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel.
Meghan Markle’s chosen designer will have the gulp-inducing task of matching up to the achievements of royal dress designers such as Norman Hartnell, creator of Queen Elizabeth II’s dress, and Sarah Burton (of Alexander McQueen), who designed Kate Middleton’s dress. Designers in the running for Meghan’s dress include Vera Wang and Oscar de la Renta. Rumour has it that she might opt for the British fashion house Ralph & Russo, which designed the gown she wore for her engagement photos.
UK wins for patriotic designers
There is still some debate as to whether Prince Harry will elect to wear military uniform or a traditional morning suit. Pundits seem to be suggesting that a morning suit will win out, but Harry is extremely proud of his career in the army in which he served as a captain and may choose to reflect that. Although retired from the army, he continues his work with armed services personnel through the Invictus Games, an international sports event he set up for wounded and sick personnel. Should Harry choose to wear a morning suit, he’s highly likely to source one from Savile Row in Mayfair, which is famous around the world for its traditional men’s tailoring.
UK wins for world-class tailoring
Meghan and Harry’s reputation as a couple of the people is sure to be enhanced by the announcement that 1,200 members of the public from across the United Kingdom will be invited to the wedding. A further 200 people from Prince Harry’s charities, 100 school pupils, 610 Windsor Castle community members and 530 members of the Royal Households and Crown Estate will have received wedding invitations. Many royals, dignitaries and politicians are invited, but it’s the star names from Hollywood who we all want to hear about, particularly as Meghan, who was born in Los Angeles, is one of their own.
As the USA does not have a monarchy, the fascination with the UK’s past makes the wedding hugely alluring to Americans. For many people in the States, film stars and politicians are held in the same regard as royalty, and it is acceptable for them to move between these realms – from calls for Oprah Winfrey to run for President, to Barack Obama singing at his rallies. Speculation about some of the big names who will attend include Meghan’s friend and tennis champion Serena Williams, actress Priyanka Chopra, actors from her TV show Suits and Barack and Michelle Obama, who are friends of Prince Harry through his work on the Invictus Games.
US wins for a-list celebrities
THE WEDDING SINGER
With the world’s biggest entertainers at their fingertips, there is already much speculation about who will be singing the song for the couple’s first dance. Mel B of the Spice Girls hinted on a TV chat show that the band had been invited, while Sir Elton John, who is good friends with the princes and performed at the funeral of their mother Princess Diana, is bound to be attending. There has been no formal announcement, but Ed Sheeran, who is pals with the royals, is said to be in the running. His song Thinking Out Loud is synonymous with weddings – it’s a popular proposal song, so much so that when he performs it, couples are invited onstage to pop the question.
UK wins for British talent
Wedding traditions in the United States and the UK are very similar, but there are a few differences worth noting. Bachelor and bachelorette parties in the States become stag and hen dos in the UK – but whatever side of the Atlantic you’re on, they tend to involve laughter and alcohol. The UK has ushers, not groomsmen, and only the best man, the groom and the father of the bride give a speech, unlike in the States where the chief bridesmaid also gives a speech. Everyone will be waiting for the best man’s speech – these are much kinder in America where it’s traditional to share positive stories about the groom, while in the UK you have to be prepared to wince as best men dig out the most embarrassing stories they can find. The question we’d all like to ask is what has (likely) best man Prince William got on Prince Harry that will make his royal cheeks blush?
Breaking with tradition, Meghan is planning on doing something that has never happened at a royal wedding: she is giving her own speech. She has confidently spoken on women’s rights for the United Nations, so this will not come as a surprise. Given that she has called her husband a feminist and the family she is marrying into has, for the first time in its 300-year history, changed the succession rules so the eldest daughter can inherit the throne – this is truly a landmark moment.
US wins for GIRL POWER