Review: A royal wedding TV spectacle where the new world met the old and showed a rethinking of the monarchy
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.
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre arrive for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.(WPA Pool / Getty Images)
Oprah Winfrey arrives for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19 at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.(Ian West / AFP/Getty Images)
Former Prime Minister John Major and his wife, Norma, arrive for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.(Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)
Lady Kitty Spencer arrives for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.(Chris Jackson / Getty Images)
David and Victoria Beckham, right, talk with Elton John and David Furnish, left, and Sofia Wellesley and James Blunt, foreground, as they arrive for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.(WPA Pool / Getty Images)
Cressida Bonas arrives at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle before the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle.(WPA Pool / Getty Images)
Amal and George Clooney arrive at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.(Chris Jackson / Getty Images)
David Beckham arrives for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.(WPA Pool / Getty Images)
Serena Williams and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, arrive for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.(Odd Andersen / AFP/Getty Images)
British singer Joss Stone, right, arrives for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.(Chris Radburn / AFP/Getty Images)
Actress Gina Torres arrives at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle before the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19.(WPA / Getty Images)
Actor Gabriel Macht and wife Jacinda Barrett arrive for the wedding ceremony of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19.(Ian West / AFP/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrive for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on May 19.(WPA / Getty Images)
Actor Rick Hoffman arrives at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle before the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19.(WPA Pool / Getty Images)
Abigail Spencer and Priyanka Chopra arrive at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19.(Chris Jackson / Getty Images)
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.
Meghan Markle and and Prince Harry kiss as they exit St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after their royal wedding ceremony on May 19.(Neil Hall / EPA / Shutterstock)
Meghan Markle and her mother, Doria Ragland, are driven down the Long Walk as they arrive at Windsor Castle ahead of her wedding to Prince Harry on May 19.(Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)
Princes Harry and William arrive at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle for Harry’s May 19 wedding to Meghan Markle.(Gareth Fuller / AFP/Getty Images)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle kiss on the steps of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after their wedding on May 19(Ben Birchhall / Associated Press)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, leave St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after their May 19 wedding ceremony.(Neil Hall / EPA / Shutterstock)
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, leave St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after their wedding ceremony on May 19.(WPA / Getty Images)
The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex hold hands as they exit St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after their royal wedding ceremony on May 19.(Neil Hall / EPA/ Shutterstock)
The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex ride in the Ascot Landau carriage during the procession after their marriage in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19.(Matt Cardy / Getty Images)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex scan the crowd as they ride in the Ascot Landau carriage during a procession after their marriage in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19.(WPA / Getty Images)
The Duchess of Sussex, formerly Meghan Markle, smiles during a procession after getting married at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19.(WPA Pool / Getty Images)
The newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, leave Windsor Castle after their wedding Saturday, May 19, 2018, to attend an evening reception at Frogmore House, hosted by Harry’s father, the Prince of Wales.(Steve Parsons / Associated Press)
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, helps his new bride, the Duchess of Sussex, into the car as they leave Windsor Castle after their wedding to attend an evening reception at Frogmore House on May 19.(WPA Pool / Getty Images)
Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, leave Windsor Castle on May 19 in an E-type Jaguar after their wedding to attend an evening reception at Frogmore House.(Steve Parsons / AFP/Getty Images)
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.”
It was a colorful start to America’s renewed fascination, and connection, with the crown.
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