The rich man at his castle,/ The poor man at his gate;/ God made them high or lowly./ And ordered their estate.
That was one of the verses of a popular hymn we used to sing when I was a child.
Exactly one mile away from my primary school is a real castle and it was here that Henry Charles Albert David Windsor married Meghan Markle on 19 May.
Given the subsequent headlines, I half expected to learn that Harry had fist bumped his way to the altar, his bride had lindy hopped down the aisle and that they had served soul food at the wedding breakfast. In fact, we are reliably informed that at the evening’s second reception, guests feasted on “dirty burgers” while dancing to tunes spun by Idris Elba OBE, aka “DJ Dris”. The highlights of the ceremony itself were the fiery sermon from black American preacher Michael Curry and the Kingdom Choir’s rendition of Stand by Me.
We are encouraged to believe that this wedding showcased a royal family that is in touch with the times. In particular it is one that encompasses multiculturalism. Ms Markle is a proud black woman and a self-declared feminist. It prompted author and Guardian columnist Afua Hirsch to describe the ceremony as a “celebration of blackness”. Meanwhile Doreen Lawrence welcomed the potential of the marriage to promote positive race relations.
The newlyweds’ devotion to each other is doubtless sincere, at least for now, but it is also highly convenient. The younger royals are vitally important to “the Firm”. Apart from the Queen herself, we hardly see any of the older generation including even Charles the heir to the throne. The reason is obvious — they are an outdated embarrassment.
Even though he is now only sixth in line to the throne, Harry is arguably even more important than William. Complete with his rapidly receding hairline, the Duke of Cambridge appears to have settled into his role as future king, dutifully producing his heirs and saying nothing of interest. In contrast, not least to his cantankerous father and grandfather, Harry is the embodiment of change. He has apparently shown that he can put behind him a murky past of Nazi uniforms and the dismissal of enemy combatants as “rag heads” and “Pakis”. He now displays a human touch, opening up about his bouts of depression but continues to show his dedication to duty through the inauguration of his Invictus Games.
For all her comparatively humble roots and commitment to equality, Meghan is seemingly determined to stand by her man and was not averse to gushing “So much fun!” as her horse drawn carriage swept along the streets. It remains to be seen whether she will be fully embraced by the Firm. Harry is all too aware of what happens to those who step out of line.
The plain truth is, however, that for all its nods to multiculturalism, the wedding reinforced the traditional role of the royal family. Thus both Harry and William fetched up in the frockcoat of the Blues and Royals despite neither being serving officers. Meghan wore Givenchy white and a veil “representing the distinctive flora of each Commonwealth country united in one spectacular floral composition”. Meanwhile on the morning of the ceremony, Kensington Palace announced that the people of Sussex are to have a new Duke and Duchess.
We should remember that the wedding provided a brief respite from the Windrush scandal that has exposed what successive governments really thought of those imperial subjects who contributed to the “Mother Country”. It also came days before the testimonies at the inquiry that should expose how another royal borough, that of Kensington & Chelsea, treated the working poor of Grenfell Tower. Locally, the leaders of Windsor & Maidenhead Council made sure that the town’s homeless people were swept out of sight so as not to spoil the enjoyment of the fawning crowds.
Apparently that verse from All Things Bright and Beautiful is rarely sung nowadays, but as this wedding showed, we are most certainly still meant to know our place. It was a £32 million publicly funded charade. They didn’t even have the good grace to give their subjects a day off.
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