The royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was grand in many ways, but perhaps the most striking aspect were the myriad collisions of American and British culture.
The wedding was an unprecedented mix of royal pomp, British tradition, black-American culture and Hollywood celebrity. Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, named a TV star the Duchess of Sussex before the native Angeleno was wed by the archbishop of Canterbury in a ceremony that opened with the soft serenade of a string section and ended with a gospel choir’s rousing rendition of “Stand by Me.”
In between was the animated sermon of Bishop Michael Bruce Curry, the first black American to serve as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He took a solemn royal ritual dating back to the Anglo-Saxons and infused it with the new world.
At the same time, social media erupted with accolades for the breakthrough sermon, and CBS’ Gayle King, who was covering the wedding from Windsor, reported that he took the British chapel “to church.”
It was the clearest example of why this was a very different royal wedding from that of William and Kate seven years ago or Diana and Charles decades ago – and illustrated how new generations of royals are rethinking the monarchy’s global image and role.
American media who covered the daylong event in broadcasts that ranged from two to six hours did their best to honor British tradition by wearing flouncy hats (King’s was a flowery yellow number, ABC’s Deborah Roberts’ was a blue teapot), interviewing experts on the British monarchy and using words like “mum” and “blimey.”
“Good Morning America” and HBO’s fictitious team of Cord and Tish (Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon) were among the army of anchors in studios and along the Windsor procession route who commented on the “California-like” weather, Harry’s surprisingly thick beard and the lovely burgundy shade of the queen’s Rolls-Royce, which delivered Markle to St. George’s Chapel.
But there was plenty of filler as well, including speaking with a friend of Markle’s over the phone to see what she thought, or discussing the age of the horses pulling the processional carriage.
The media’s effort to devote so much time to an event that isn’t in the usual American morning news wheelhouse of outrageous Trump tweets, #MeToo scandals and mass shootings produced a challenge at times.
Hollywood was represented, too, at the Windsor chapel. Oprah Winfrey, George and Amal Clooney, Elton John, Idris Elba, James Corden, Victoria (dressed in dark colors and red stilettos) and David Beckham and Serena Williams – along with nearly the entire cast of Markle’s USA Network series “Suits” – were among those who were filmed walking carefully across uneven stone drives and walkways.
When Harry and Meghan exited the chapel as husband and wife, the crowd cheered, and above the noise could be heard Middle Eastern and North African wedding calls traditionally delivered in those regions (some of which were British colonies) by women. It was another sign this was a global version of a very British royal tradition.
But all that was supposed to be obscured by what one reporter called “a magical kiss under white roses, Diana’s favorite flower.”
At one point, Tish referred to the majestic horses that would be pulling the carriage. Cord shuddered. “As you know, I’m not a big fan of horses, but here’s where you put the journalism cap on and try to be a pro.”