Monday 23 September 2019

Disney could not have come up with a better princess

The bride was sublime, the wedding the most-loved up in Windsor history - and yesterday was Prince Harry's happily ever after. Amen to that, brothers and sisters, says Allison Pearson

RING OF HISTORY: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchange vows in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle before Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Photo: Owen Humphreys
RING OF HISTORY: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchange vows in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle before Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Photo: Owen Humphreys

Allison Pearson

Heavens above! Beat that, brothers and sisters, as I suppose embarrassed Anglicans must now learn to call themselves.

The wedding of Harry and Meghan had threatened to go awry all week - the 'Markle Debacle' insiders were calling it - but fears and cynicism were vanquished yesterday by a wonderful and uplifting ceremony.

It somehow managed to combine traditional and modern, accessibility and elitism, British and American, black and white, Thomas Tallis and Ben E King, young and old, Serena Williams and Prince Philip, skimmed-milk C of E and full-throttle Episcopalian, heart-stopping beauty and stifled giggles, George Clooney and a heavily-bearded rhino-conservationist from Botswana who was wearing a suit for the first time.

Doubters who may have tuned in to scoff ended up with a Prince Harry tear rolling down their cheek. It was less pomp and circumstance, more land of hope and glorious frocks.

Even the weather cooperated, laying on a soaring Goldilocks Day. "Not too cold and not too hot. Just right," beamed the BBC forecaster around quarter to eight. "An estimated worldwide audience of 1.9 billion," said Kirsty Young who was on the sofa for the BBC with Dermot O'Leary. Over on ITV, Julie Etchingham and Phillip Schofield were weighing up the vital question of the moment, "Who will she be wearing?"

Many of us had watched the wedding of William and Harry's father and mother, so perilously young, though we hardly gave it a thought back then. We saw both boys come into the world. Too soon, we saw them at their mother's funeral. Twelve-year-old Harry, shell-shocked, clasping his hands like the men walking beside him, his handwritten card on her coffin. "Mummy".

Diana's ghost was never far away yesterday. She was there in the reading from the Song of Solomon by her sister, Lady Jane Fellowes; in a beloved hymn, Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (Harry broke down during it), and she was present in her favourite flowers which her younger son had picked for his bride's bouquet, including forget-me-nots.

Yesterday was the Prince's happily ever after and everyone knew it. No wonder the flags waved and the people cheered for their beloved young royal. However wretched he was feeling, Harry always made us smile. "There used to be a lot of volatility, but Meghan has really calmed him down and she's great for him," his friend Tom Bradby said outside the chapel. Behind Bradby, a lofty woman stalked by wearing an entire peacock on her head.

"If they're tall and thin they're aristocrats, if they're small and thin they're actresses," ITV's Eve Pollard, always brilliant value on these occasions, explained.

Real royalty was now up against Hollywood royalty. The invited crowd outside was much more excited by the arrival of Oprah and Idris Elba than Eugenie and Beatrice. Hopes that the princesses would top their legendary Kate'n'Wills wedding appurtenances and wear hats of the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House respectively were sadly disappointed.

While most of us got into the party atmosphere, the BBC conducted endless virtue-signalling interviews about Meghan Markle's "diversity" when all anyone wanted was to stare at the frocks and the famous. Victoria Beckham was perfectly dressed. For a funeral. Her navy outfit was as glum as her expression, which didn't even change inside the church when kind people tried to show her to her seat. (If she thinks it makes her look cool, it doesn't; it makes her look rude.) Amal Clooney showed how it should be done, going head to head with her in an outfit of Colman's mustard yellow and emerging triumphant. The absence of heads of state made for a much nicer, less stuffy atmosphere.

In his dark Blues and Royals uniform, Harry looked like the foxiest Salvation Army sergeant ever, but he appeared pensive and nervous in a way we've never seen him before (since his mother's funeral). Seated beside him, Prince William did his best to reassure his brother.

Outside, the excitement and anticipation were off the scale. "Let's get back to the important thing," insisted Kirsty Young. "The Dress! There is the car! Here she comes!"

Well, it was worth waiting for. The Rolls-Royce Phantom 4 pulled up and the bride emerged. If cynics were expecting the biracial American actress to lower the tone - and the neckline - they were instantly confounded. The Dress was a reminder of the style of the last American actress who married into European royalty. The Givenchy gown had a, Grace-Kelly-like simplicity and fierce elegance, its boat neck revealing Meghan's beautifully articulated collarbone.

All 10 bridesmaids and pageboys, corralled by their mothers, were enchanting. I was rather hoping seven-year-old Brian (one of the Mulroney twins) would run amok with the lace train, but he did his duty like a trooper. The smile (of relief, of joy) Prince Harry gave when he finally glimpsed his future wife caused delighted uproar on social media. "Find me someone who looks at me like Harry looks at Meghan," cried the women of Twitter.

Honestly, if Walt Disney had spent 50 years at the drawing board, he could not have come up with a better princess. Meghan had a look of glistening adoration on her face that must have made the man on the receiving end of it feel like a god, never mind a prince.

When the Archbishop asked if there was anyone present who knew of any reason why the couple might not lawfully marry, there was a tense 30 seconds when you half expected one of the rogue Markle step-siblings to pop up from behind a pillar. Mercifully, none came and, with a reassuring smile from the bride, vows were exchanged.

Harry palmed the tears from his cheek. Meghan, the leading lady, had found her perfect role. Her mother Doria Ragland had a face full of emotion, but cut a lonely figure without anyone to support her and remind her of home.

She didn't have to wait long. Next up was an extraordinary address by Bishop Michael Bruce Curry from Chicago. In "The Power of Love", which he wrote specifically for the wedding, Bishop Curry took in slavery (Meghan's ancestors were owned by a master called Ragland) and Martin Luther King. "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave," said the Bishop, gesturing exuberantly, "Its flashes are flashes of fire."

The candle in front of him swayed dangerously in the tornadic gusts of his enthusiasm. A new kind of candle in the wind.

The English upper classes famously struggle with any heartfelt emotion which isn't related to racing horses or chasing foxes. As Doria and the American guests nodded approval, the camera inspected the Royal family, some of whom were struggling to keep a straight face. It was fortunate the Duchess of Cornwall was wearing such a large hat.

After that, it was straight into a gospel choir and a magnificent rendition of Ben E King's Stand By Me. All things considered, it was a good thing there wasn't a sing-off between the Church of England choristers and The Kingdom Choir - both being heavenly, but in drastically different ways.

Favourite moments? Hard to say, though perhaps when Harry drew back the veil. The couple actually looked blissfully in love, which is never a given at a royal wedding. Harry would not struggle to articulate "whatever love means". Love is Meghan holding your hand and promising to cherish you for the rest of your days.

An astonishing occasion. Not just the most loved-up wedding in Windsor history, but a huge shift in the British monarchy. What must the Queen have thought? Her uncle abdicated to marry an American divorcee; her sister had to give up the man she loved because he'd been married. All changed, changed utterly. And for the better.

"We've got a sister in the palace," a black woman in the crowd had cried joyfully. And Harry has a wife of his own. "In Hollywood, brides keep the bouquets and throw away the groom," quipped Groucho Marx. Not this time.

For a day it was even possible to believe the bishop: "Sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives and can change this world."

Amen to that, brothers and sisters.

© Telegraph

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