SUNLIGHT warming its 14th century bones, St George’s Chapel was a picture of unyielding tradition on Saturday as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchanged vows.

Then along came an American preacher with a voice like thunder and the walls of the British Establishment came tumbling down.

That, at any rate, was the consensus in some parts after a royal wedding that looked and sounded like no other. For an hour on a Spring day in 2018 it was possible to believe that Britain might, just might, be a changed place, with the promise of more to come. As proclaimed by the Most Reverend Bishop Michael Curry, he of the voice straight from Jericho, it is a powerful thing, love.


A sermon quoting Dr Martin Luther King and condemning poverty; a gospel choir singing Stand By Me; Sheku Kanneh-Mason on the cello; the congregation leaving to the sounds of the civil rights anthem This Little Light of Mine – all of it willed into being by a young woman of mixed race determined to have a wedding that reflected and respected where she came from. It is not just the British who can do history.

At the same time, the American and the actress in Ms Markle insisted on putting on a show. If JFK was the first television president, she is the first small screen princess. From smartphone to iPad she knew exactly the message she wanted to send. Even the hipsters from BuzzFeedNews were impressed.

“A black reverend preaching to British royalty about the resilience of faith during slavery is 10000000% not what I thought I was waking up for,” tweeted Elamin Abdelmahmoud of the social media giant’s Canadian operation. TJ Holmes, the ABC news anchor, added: “I’m from West Memphis … and my wedding wasn’t even this black.”

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Here, BBC Sports reporter Karthi Gnanasegaram said: “Can’t help but feel rather emotional about how much this royal wedding means for non- white people in this country and how far we’ve come since the police were needed at mixed race marriages in the 70s/80s to keep out the BNP.”

Labour MP David Lammy added: “Making my beautiful mixed heritage family’s shoulders stand a little taller. Against the odds a great new symbol of all that is still possible and hopeful in modern Britain.”


Change was also apparent in a congregation that included Oprah and Serena Williams, billionaire media mogul and tennis legend respectively. Footballer David Beckham chatted to Sir Nicholas Soames, the MP grandson of Winston Churchill. Elton John and his husband, fathers to two sons, mingled with lords and ladies who, in Alan Clark’s memorable phrase, were not the sort who had to buy their own furniture. The bride’s mother, Doria Ragland, a woman summed up by her daughter as a mix of “dreadlocks, nose ring, yoga instructor, social worker, free spirit”, was the epitome of grace under amazing pressure.

And then there was Harry. The boy frozen in time as a 12-year-old walking behind his mother’s coffin was now a man bursting with happiness. When his bride reached him at the altar the cameras were so close it was possible to read his lips. “You look amazing,” he said.

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For those who wanted a fairytale wedding, the British monarchy had delivered. In his 1867 treatise on the English Constitution, Walter Bagehot argued that a successful constitution required two parts: one “dignified”, the other “efficient”. The dignified part, chief among which was the monarchy, was there to “excite and preserve the reverence of the population”. The efficient part, the government, kept the wheels of state turning.


In delivering the dignified part so efficiently on Saturday, the monarchy today stands reinvigorated. Gone, for some, will be memories of the Great Wobble after Diana’s death, when the royals were seen as remote and uncaring. Here is the House of Windsor with a new wing added. Not a monstrous carbuncle, as Prince Charles once said of the National Gallery extension, but a shiny, architectural wonder built around four pillars: William, Kate, Harry and Meghan. A structure built to last, or so it is hoped.

In that sense, this wedding was a fairytale come true for the monarchy. Yet for some it is a fairytale with an Angela Carter side to it. Admirers of the writer who had no truck with happy endings might look on this wedding and conclude that the more things change the more they stay the same.


The multicultural Britain on show at the weekend is the same country in which 71 people, most of them non-white, died in a fire in Grenfell Tower less than a year ago. Windsor is just over 20 miles away from Grenfell. Further up the road is the Scots town which now comes under the purview of the new Earl and Countess of Dumbarton, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be known here. There, a quarter of children live in low income households.

Add to this the continuing debate about how much the monarchy costs the taxpayer (£82 million a year in 2018/19) and Bishop Curry’s sermon on inequality begins to seem like so many words written on the wind. Whether that turns out to be the case depends to some extent on a young couple who on Saturday made promises to each other and, in their style of doing things, raised wider expectations. The world was watching then. It is watching still.