Royalty for changing times
What was remarkable behind the pageantry, celebrities, and glitterati at the royal wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was that the bride was warmly welcomed into the royal family with due dignity and without condescension or a murmuring demur.
The bride, Meghan Markle, was a mixed-race American divorcee and Hollywood actress who was three years older than Harry. It was indeed an incredibly amazing sight to watch the presence of the Queen Elizabeth II at 92 and her husband Prince Philip at 96 (who had undergone a hip surgery only a month ago) at the Windsor castle chapel to bless the wedding couple.
The queen and Prince Philip sat quietly at close distance from Meghan’s African-American mother throughout the wedding service. Also, what was of no less importance was how Prince Charles, the heir to the throne and Meghan’s father-in-law, took the bride’s arm to walk her down the aisle. It was royal etiquette at its best.
It is a monarchy evolving keeping up with changing times, and more importantly, transcending iron crust royal prejudices about rules, race, class, and colour. It seemed less like British tradition and more like myth. British monarchy now has made a giant leap forward from the church’s inhibitions in the past, prohibiting royal marriage with a divorcee, which forced king Edward VIII to abdicate the throne in 1937 in favour of his lady love, Simpson, a twice divorcee American socialite.
Meghan and Harry’s royal wedding embodies and legitimizes the culture of tolerance in a multi-cultural society that Britain has become, notwithstanding anti-immigrant Brexit.
The wedding ceremony made it abundantly clear that Meghan wanted to put her heritage at centre stage in full view.
A woman of strong personality and an advocate of women’s empowerment, she once eminently said: “Women must have a seat at the table and if not available, they must create one.” Dressed in majestic wedding attire, she carried herself with extraordinary grace and regal dignity, without the slightest hint of nervousness.
The impassioned sermon by the charismatic African-American bishop Michael Curry on virtues of love and inclusion was perhaps a powerful indictment of royal fickle marriages, marital scandals, and infidelity such as of Prince Charles with Princess Diana (leading to their divorce), divorce of Prince Andrews and Sarah Ferguson, Princess Anne’s divorce, and the ill-fated love affair of Princess Margaret with Peter Townsend.
The sermon visibly unnerved the royal family, who looked at the bishop with gaping wonder and listened to his sermon with raised eyebrows. The British people are usually reticent in expressions. Bishop’s frank and forthright message in the sermon was a breath of fresh air into the church of stiff royalty.
There was an impressive presence of African-American celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams.
The priest of the black church of England and the solo music by Sheku Mason, the first black musician to win BBC young musician award in its 30 year history and the gorgeous rendition of Ben Key’s “Stand by Me” performed by a Christian choir of black Britons were all stamps of assertive black presence in the congregation.
There have never been so many minorities of clergymen and musicians before at the Windsor chapel. In a place predominantly white, and in an institution so white, it was a gesture of profound significance and change.
Abdul Hannan is a former diplomat.