The royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was grand in many ways, but perhaps the most striking aspect were the myriad collisions of American and British culture.
The wedding was an unprecedented mix of royal pomp, British tradition, African American culture and Hollywood celebrity. Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, named a TV star the Duchess of Sussex before the native Angeleno was wed by the archbishop of Canterbury in a ceremony that opened with the soft serenade of a string section and ended with a gospel choir’s rousing rendition of “Stand by Me.”
In between was the animated sermon of the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, the first African American to serve as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He took a solemn royal ritual dating back to the Anglo-Saxons and infused it with the new world.
Pressed and groomed wedding guests such as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and others related to the crown by marriage, blood or circumstance shared stunned expressions, stifled smirks and uncomfortable glances as the bishop’s animated delivery permeated every ancient beam and buttress in the 14th century chapel. Many of the 600 in attendance had likely never stepped foot in a black church, let alone heard such a style outside footage of Martin Luther King Jr., whom Curry quoted during the hourlong ceremony Saturday.
At the same time, social media erupted with accolades for the breakthrough sermon, and CBS’ Gayle King, who was covering the wedding from Windsor, reported that he took the British chapel “to church.”
It was the clearest example of why this was a very different royal wedding from that of William and Kate seven years ago or Diana and Charles decades ago — and illustrated how new generations of royals are rethinking the monarchy’s global image and role.
American media who covered the daylong event in broadcasts that ranged from two to six hours did their best to honor British tradition by wearing flouncy hats (King’s was a flowery yellow number, ABC’s Deborah Roberts’ was a blue teapot), interviewing experts on the British monarchy and using words like “mum” and “blimey.”
“Good Morning America” and HBO’s fictitious team of Cord and Tish (Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon) were among the army of anchors in studios and along the Windsor procession route who commented on the “California-like” weather, Harry’s surprisingly thick beard and the lovely burgundy shade of the queen’s Rolls-Royce, which delivered Markle to St. George’s Chapel.
They gushed over the Clare Waight Keller/Givenchy-designed dress, brought in more British experts to explain things like the meaning behind the tiara the bride had chosen to wear (it was made for Queen Mary) and added awkward asides that will surely come back to haunt them at 3 a.m. In one instance, an ABC commentator mentioned how Harry’s mom was the same age as his bride, 36, when she died in 1997.
The broadcasts started as early as midnight on the West Coast, so there was plenty of time to fill — more than four hours — before the wedding ceremony. ABC did so by including old interview footage of Harry’s mother, the late Princess Diana, about what she hoped for in her sons’ lives. It was an emotional moment, followed by another recent interview with Harry, asking him what Diana might have thought about his union with Markle.
But there was plenty of filler as well, including speaking with a friend of Markle’s over the phone to see what she thought, or discussing the age of the horses pulling the processional carriage.
The media’s effort to devote so much time to an event that isn’t in the usual American morning news wheelhouse of outrageous Trump tweets, #MeToo scandals and mass shootings produced a challenge at times.
Roberts early on in the broadcast referred to Harry and Markle’s courtship as “a love story that can only be described as a modern-day fairy tale.” One had to wonder whether she was really referencing a mandate that all the news networks had to follow, because collectively they used those three words, and similar descriptions, about a billion times Saturday. In trying to switch things up, one anchor said “a love story more glamorous and real than any Hollywood movie.”
Hollywood was represented, too, at the Windsor chapel. Oprah Winfrey, George and Amal Clooney, Elton John, Idris Elba, James Corden, Victoria (dressed in dark colors and red stilettos) and David Beckham and Serena Williams — along with nearly the entire cast of Markle’s USA Network series “Suits” — were among those who were filmed walking carefully across uneven stone drives and walkways.
A crowd of onlookers waving British and American flags lined the area around the castle to watch the famous arrivals and later witness the newlyweds’ horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets of Windsor. And there was plenty to see. Before the ceremony, Harry and brother William walked together from the castle to the chapel, shaking hands with onlookers.
When Harry and Meghan exited the chapel as husband and wife, the crowd cheered, and above the noise could be heard Middle Eastern and North African wedding calls traditionally delivered in those regions (some of which were British colonies) by women. It was another sign this was a global version of a very British royal tradition.
Other traditions also remained, such as tabloid-style coverage of the monarchy. Many outlets noted that the queen barely acknowledged her grandson when arriving for his wedding, and then there were the dirty looks between Kate and Camilla. And we won’t even get into the snarky comments about who was wearing what.
There also were unfortunate signs of the times. Security was tight for the event, the media noted. A no-fly zone was ordered over the scene. Windsor’s red postboxes were searched and sealed. Police with guns (a rare site in Britain) patrolled the perimeters. The 60,000 who arrived in Windsor by train were put through airport-like security screenings.
But all that was supposed to be obscured by what one reporter called “a magical kiss under white roses, Diana’s favorite flower.”
Ferrell and Shannon’s Cord and Tish, who also covered the Rose Parade this year, satirized the more emotionally manipulative and gushy aspects of the media’s wedding coverage using some of the same expressions, including “fairy-tale wedding.” Coming out of their mouths, at their weird broadcast location under the Tower Bridge in London miles from the wedding, it was funny rather than grating.
At one point, Tish referred to the majestic horses that would be pulling the carriage. Cord shuddered. “As you know, I’m not a big fan of horses, but here’s where you put the journalism cap on and try to be a pro.”