Friday 20 September 2019

Kirsty Blake Knox: A right royal day

Windsor was treated to an extraordinary spectacle after a build-up full of speculation and silliness, writes Kirsty Blake Knox

NEWLY WEDS: Harry and Meghan emerging from the church yesterday. Picture: Rex/Shutterstock
NEWLY WEDS: Harry and Meghan emerging from the church yesterday. Picture: Rex/Shutterstock
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

The delirium that engulfed the pretty market town of Windsor last week was impossible to escape. It swept you up and spat you out in a stream of miniature flags, H&M embossed teaspoons, and Union Jack bunting.

Yesterday, in the baking Berkshire midday heat, 150,000 people gathered in the town to watch the Royal Wedding 2.0.

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchanged their solemn vows. Or, as the countless American TV reporters roaming the streets of Windsor preferred to call it, created ''a modern day fairytale''.

For the Royal Watchers, who had camped out in collapsing chairs since Tuesday, it felt like Christmas morning.

"This is it!" a woman with two flags shoved into her bra said cheerfully. "The day we've all been waiting for!"

Another bystander on the crowded High Street believed that "now Ant and Dec have split, the Royal Family are all we have left".

The few days preceding the wedding had been delightfully and disarmingly ridiculous. People dressed up as Queen Victoria stood on street corners practising their royal waves.

Three rival town criers (including Britain's Official Unofficial Royal Crier) vied for attention. Marks & Spencer had been rebranded ''Markle & Sparkle'', and the Windsor branch of KFC had served up a limited edition Royal bargain bucket (which, by all accounts, is Prince Harry's favourite snack).

This was coupled with extensive - and, at times, invasive - coverage of Markle's family. This had focused, in particular, on her father Thomas's absence.

But the speculation and silliness gave way to an extraordinary spectacle yesterday.

As the Irish Guards Band marched through the centre of town, details start to trickle out. They would become the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Oprah was coming, and she was wearing a Philip Treacy hat! The Clooneys, the Beckhams and Elton John had also flown in.

The heat was beginning to make the crowd wilt, but some showbiz spark seemed to liven them up again. The PA system told us that Prince Harry had arrived, and I rushed to a nearby shop to watch the action on a TV screen.

Throughout the week, everyone in Windsor had spoken about Harry with a huge degree of affection.

Patrick O'Neill (28), from Andersonstown in West Belfast, had camped outside the Palace since Tuesday to see Harry's Big Day.

"I lost my mammy when I was 13, Harry was 12 when he lost his mammy Princess Diana so I have a connection with him," he explained.

"That's why I am so very Royalist."

Others described Harry as ''down to earth'', ''relatable'', ''grounded'' and ''just like us''.

I scribbled all this in my notebook.

"You think Prince Harry, sixth in line to the British throne, is just like you?" I asked Bernadette Christie, a 64-year-old retiree from Alberta, Canada. "Yes, everyone can connect with Harry."

His openness was evident as he sat next to William - smiling and joking one minute, and biting his bottom lip with nerves the next.

At 12 minutes to noon, Markle left Clivedon House for Saint George's Chapel.

"It's long sleeved!" one woman noted as we saw fleeting glimpses of the dress.

Once all the baby bridesmaids and page boys - including Prince George and Princess Charlotte - had toddled up the steps, Meghan arrived. Flying solo.

Her Givenchy dress was discreetly understated and elegant: the veil was anything but, and seemed to stretch on for weeks behind her.

In one of a number of breaks with tradition, she began to walk up the aisle on her own.

Prince Charles met her half way down the aisle, and accompanied her to the top of the nave where she met her Prince.

It's easy to be cynical about weddings, but there is, and always will be, something moving about watching two people completely in love make very serious and deeply idealistic vows of fidelity, loyalty and respect to each other.

And in this case, they were making those vows in front of several million people who were watching in every corner of the world.

In other ways, Meghan and Harry's marriage is a radical departure from the norm. She is, after all, bi-racial, a divorcee and American.

The last time an American divorcee married into the British Royal family, it led the abdication of Edward VIII.

The ceremony reflected both their diverse and shared backgrounds, and as a consequence felt much more contemporary than Prince William and Kate Middleton's 2011 ceremony.

The gospel choir, and the different ethnic inputs to the Anglican service was considered a step forward for many.

American Bishop Michael Curry was an unexpected star of proceedings. The Primate of the Episcopal Church in the US delivered a passionate lesson to the 600-strong congregation.

"There's power, power in love!" he preached. I half-expected someone to call out: "Tell it like it is, brother!"

Watching Zara Phillips's and Elton John's expressions of utter bemusement during his sermon also provided some comic relief.

There was a monumental cheer in the streets in Windsor when Harry and Meghan exchanged vows and began walking down the nave. People wiped away tears, and raised glasses of Prosecco.

"At home, our attitude to the Royals seems more complex.

An announcement of a Royal Wedding stirs up equal amounts of hot air and hot heads.

This month, RTE were forced to defend its decision to broadcast the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after some individuals took umbrage.

Sinn Féin Fingal councillor Paul Donnelly stated is was a 'disgraceful waste of taxpayers money' adding "surely there's something happening in Ireland more worthy" of broadcast.

RTE had to clarify that all the coverage was being provided for free.

In Buncrana, the Inishowen Gateway Hotel was forced to cancel a Royal Wedding-themed afternoon tea event after intense threats from republican groups.

But the Irish who had travelled over for the festivities seemed to be having a good time. Hazel Kearney (45) and Michelle Browne (43) from Ballina were among the crow,d and encouraged an American group named The Travelling Divas to chant ''Mayo For Sam'' instead of ''God Save The Queen''.

They shrugged off any talk of hostility between republican values and royalist obsession. "Sure, what harm is there in enjoying a wedding?"

That's true. We all love weddings: after all, they show the triumph of hope over experience.

Sunday Independent

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