The royal wedding proves there's 'nothing essentially white about Britishness'

by Diana Wichtel / 25 May, 2018
Meghan Markle and her mother Doria Ragland. Photo/Getty Images

Meghan Markle and her mother Doria Ragland. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Royal wedding

There was pomp. There was circumstance. But the union of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was never going to be a royal wedding as usual.

The royal wedding: this time the American commentators had a horse in the race. CNN was early to the party, “covering this monumental day as only we can!”, which meant as if their more-than-usually-well-tailored pants were well alight. Don Lemon reported from Windsor, his bow tie knocked askew by astonishment at finding himself teleported into an episode of Downton Abbey: “Look at the sunrise over the castle!”; “We should dress like this all the time!” Commentators were wheeled on. One, a journalist possibly chosen because her name is actually Sophia Money-Coutts, earned this dead-impressed caption: “Daughter of a Baron”.

Meghan Markle, or “Markle Meghan!” as an over-excited presenter cried, is not the daughter of a baron. She is, someone insisted, “known for being biracial”. This comment set off a punishing assault on the world record for using the word “biracial”. Anyone who decided to toast the happy couple every time they heard it would never have made it to the altar.

Don Lemon did his bit. “What we in the US want to see is a royal baby that’s of colour!” he declared. “With ginger hair,” chipped in Ms Money-Coutts. “Biracial babies are gorgeous,” concluded Lemon.

They were getting ahead of themselves. The wedding guests were only just arriving: George and Amal Clooney; Elton John; the perpetually scowling Victoria Beckham … There was Harry’s ex, Chelsy Davy, “looking, I have to say, rather thoughtful”, mused a commentator.

There was excitement on the local front, too. Over on TVNZ 1, Matty McLean was at a royal wedding party in Sandringham – Sandringham, Auckland – talking to a woman in a fascinator with a blow-up corgi.

Scenes from a wedding. Photo/Getty Images

Scenes from the wedding. Photo/Getty Images

Thank God for CNN’s favourite Brit, Richard Quest, over-caffeinated at the best of times, who was going ballistic: “We cannot buy this kind of publicity! UK Inc!”

The female guests looked like survivors of an explosion in a millinery factory, sporting whatever debris – hubcaps were popular – happened to have landed on their heads. There was a possibly culturally insensitive headdress involving lethal-looking white feathers aimed at the heavens like a trio of armed missiles. Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie played it down after the Teletubbies-like creations they sported at Wills and Kate’s wedding, provoking such disappointed online commentary as, “People Are Pissy Princess Beatrice & Eugenie Wore Boring AF Hats.”

Here was a chance to observe that a combination of high heels and ancient cobbles causes women to develop the over-disciplined gait of horses in a dressage competition. Her Majesty, determined not to be upstaged amid the almost radical novelty of an occasion that included blimmin’ Oprah, arrived to a blast of trumpets in an outfit so blindingly lime she looked like a radioactive Popsicle. To be fair, one rocked it.

Scenes from the wedding. Photo/Getty Images

Scenes from the wedding. Photo/Getty Images

There was pomp. There was circumstance. But this was never going to be a royal wedding as usual. The words “fairy tale” were optimistically deployed, despite the royal family’s lack of form in that sort of ending, but it didn’t really capture the spirit of an occasion where the bride pretty much walked herself up the aisle, with ring-in assistance from Prince Charles. “Thanks, Pa,” said Harry.

CNN’s royal correspondent, Max Foster, burbled about a sense of change in the air: “She wants to be relatable,” he declared, of the Queen. “She feels the public is ready now to accept someone like Meghan Markle.” Of course it was never “the public” that needed to change. No one mentioned the royal who had left the House of Windsor with little choice but to adapt. Diana, official ghost at every royal feast, had her subversive fingerprints all over the show.

There was the diverse guest list, the gospel choir. The faces of some guests during the barnstorming sermon by chief Episcopalian bishop Michael Curry were priceless: Elton John’s mouth; Princess Beatrice’s eyes, near popping out of her head; Camilla hiding behind her hubcap.

Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, who cut a solitary figure, nodded contentedly as Curry preached; she was back on familiar turf. The Queen maintained her characteristic slightly dyspeptic and enigmatic demeanour but, as The Crown revealed, she was pals with evangelist Billy Graham, so Bishop Curry can’t have come as too much of a shock.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Photo/Getty Images

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Photo/Getty Images

He did go on, and he knew it. “I will sit down,” he promised, “We got to get y’all married!” Then it was back to a sermon that looped giddily from the Bronze Age to Twitter, via slavery. Who can blame him? Two billion in the congregation. That’s some barn, and he was going to storm it. Or, as a BBC commentator squeaked: “Well, that was a very forceful and uplifting message from Bishop Michael!”

There was the familiar flannelling: “And what a dress it proved to be, Dermott!”; “Breaking news: I think I just saw Victoria Beckham smile!” And it’s worth remembering there’s nothing new under the sun, even in a Trumpian world, where celebrities seem intent on invading the corridors of power. An actress has married royalty before – think Grace Kelly. The New Yorker contextualised this new union: “An American divorcée married a man whose brother will only become king because of his paternal grandmother’s father, who only became king because his brother wanted to marry an American divorcée.”

History, concluded the New Yorker, goes around in circles. Sometimes it also inches a few incremental, high-heeled steps forward. Writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch spoke about the pressure she’d felt as a black woman in Britain to downplay her identity. If nothing else, this wedding provided evidence, in the most traditional and privileged of settings, that, as Hirsch said, “there is nothing essentially white about Britishness”.

God was still called upon, as per, to save the Queen. But Michael Curry also called upon the two billion-odd mortals tuning in. Quoting Martin Luther King, he said, “We must discover the redemptive power of love and, when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world.” All in all, it was a nice day for a proudly not-so-white wedding.

This article was first published in the June 2, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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