Prince Harry, sixth in line to the British throne, and American actress Meghan Markle exchanged marriage vows Saturday in a tradition-imbued ceremony that was seen by millions worldwide but filled with intimate moments, including the groom’s almost bashful-sounding aside as the bride arrived at the altar: “You look amazing.”
In an eclectic and evocative wedding service that blended the stylings of a gospel choir with a soprano’s classical rendition of Handel, the two — gazing into one another’s eyes and smiling — were pronounced man and wife in the gothic St. George’s Chapel within the walls of Windsor Castle, a millennium-old seat of British royalty.
“I will,” each said as they was asked if they would wed the other. The audience greeted the vows with ripples of joyous laughter. And in just one hour, it was over, with the two emerging from the chapel for a kiss in the bright sunshine.
“Two young people fell in love, and we all showed up,” said Bishop Michael Curry, the African American head of the Episcopal Church, in a rousing address — the likes of which was likely never heard within the chapel’s walls — that invoked the biblical Solomon and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In another departure from tradition, his remarks were followed by a gospel rendition of the Ben E. King song “Stand by Me.”
Looking on were Queen Elizabeth II and a bevy of royal relatives; friends of the couple from worlds as diverse as the entertainment business and the British armed forces; and a glitzy array of celebrities both British and American.
Outside the castle walls, tens of thousands of well-wishers thronged the streets and eagerly awaited a glimpse of the newlyweds.
The royal wedding capped an unconventional romance that brought together the prince and an American divorcee who’s had a successful TV acting career. She’s even slightly older: 36 to his 33. The two met on a blind date set up by a mutual friend, conducted an under-the-radar romance and announced their engagement last year.
Tens of thousands of spectators, many having traveled from far-flung parts of the world, flooded into Windsor on Saturday for a spectacle that was part Old England and part Hollywood.
The guest list with coveted inside-the-chapel invitations included the likes of George and Amal Clooney, soccer star David Beckham and his fashion-designer wife Victoria Beckham, British actor Idris Elba, tennis great Serena Williams and entertainment powerhouse Oprah Winfrey. There were friends of the bride from her TV legal drama, “Suits,” and army buddies of Harry, who served in Afghanistan.
About 20 minutes before the start of the ceremony, the groom arrived at the chapel, accompanied by his best man and elder brother, Prince William. Each was dressed in the dark blue frock-coat military uniform of the Blues and Royals, a cavalry regiment.
The brothers waved to a crowd of some 2,000 well-wishers who were invited onto the grounds of the castle before ascending the steps of the chapel together.
In the crowd outside the castle, spectators donned regalia of their own: paper crowns and plastic tiaras, Union Jacks deployed as capes, even a sprinkling of wedding dresses.
One woman who was dressed as a bride displayed a placard that read: “Harry, I’m Here,” while her bridal-clad friends’ signs read "And So Am I” and “And Me Too.”
In Windsor, about 24 miles west of London, the Union Jacks were flying, security barriers were up and police patrols were constantly in view. Some fans had already camped out for days.
After the ceremony at St. George’s Chapel within the castle walls, the newlyweds are to ride a royal carriage on a circuit through the streets of Windsor to greet the public.
When wedding details were still emerging Friday, the biggest news was that the bride would be walked down the aisle by Prince Charles, her father-in-law-to-be.
Markle’s 73-year-old father, Thomas Markle, a former Hollywood lighting director who now lives in Mexico, dropped out amid health concerns and controversy over staged paparazzi-style photos.
In another departure from tradition, Meghan Markle was to be escorted to the castle by car with her mother, Doria Ragland. The two were spending the night at a hotel near the venue.
One longstanding question was answered Saturday: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be known, post-wedding, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
The dukedom was conferred on Harry by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. Harry’s full title is a bit of a mouthful: Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel, the latter two used in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
When brother William married Kate Middleton in 2011, the queen also bestowed a dukedom on him. They are known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The day’s events were expected to draw a worldwide television audience of tens of millions, together with the throngs camped out in hopes of catching a glimpse of the couple. British media for weeks have been breathlessly following every detail about the festivities — the guest list, the dress, the flowers, the cake.
Prince Charles’ stand-in role was at the request of his future daughter-in-law, and Kensington Palace said the heir to the throne "is pleased to be able to welcome Ms. Markle to the royal family in this way."
Security was tight. Authorities are employing scanners, bag inspections, sniffer dogs and barriers blocking off nearby roadways and the procession route.
Even confetti-throwing is being discouraged as a potential risk. Plus, police pointed out, it’s messy.
The queen, who is 92, had long been expected to attend, and on Friday, Buckingham Palace announced that her 96-year-old husband, Prince Philip, would attend as well. Ill health had kept Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, largely out of the public eye.
Ragland met the queen for the first time on Friday at Windsor Castle. They had tea.
The Church of England ceremony was performed by the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Markle converted to the Anglican church after she and Harry became engaged.