Meghan Markle, Prince Harry royal wedding: Frenzy around the upcoming nuptials is not surprising — here's why

Archita Kashyap

May,18 2018 18:48:49 IST

I remember a frigid wintry day in London in 2012, when a bunch of us from SOAS walked over to the bank of the Thames to witness a mighty spectacle: an armada to mark the Diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

All sorts of naval boats, and military equipment were part of a massive entourage on the river, bedecked in signature royal colors of gold and red. Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by an expressionless Prince Phillip, was standing on the biggest boat waving to the crowds by the river bank. The ageing queen wore an elegant, over-sized hat and a simple beige dress. Flanking her on the side, her husband Prince Phillip wore his regal uniform. Standing alongside them were Prince William, Kate Middleton and other royals. The queen waved, smiled and continued to wave throughout as the armada made its way down the Thames slowly.

My friend Bilal Gilani, while wiping the dew off his spectacles remarked, “Aren’t they cold?”. Sure enough, the next day, the Prince Regent couldn’t make it to the prayers at St Pauls’ Cathedral. He had, indeed, caught a cold and had to get treated.

While watching the epic hit The Crown on Netflix, a dialogue of the Queen Mother resonated with this memory; “We are marionettes.” Nothing could have been more accurate than this description for the Royal House of Windsor.

Britain's Prince Harry (R) and his fiancee US actress Meghan Markle attend a Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey in central London, on 12 March, 2018. File image: AFP/ Daniel Leal-Olivas

Britain's Prince Harry (R) and his fiancee US actress Meghan Markle attend a Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey in central London, on 12 March, 2018. File image: AFP/ Daniel Leal-Olivas

Now that a divorced, mixed race Meghan Markle is set to become a part of this royal family, hysteria and fanfare have set in again. Markle is 36 years old and a minor star on TV. Her best-known performance is in Suits, a long running TV show. With a decent education and enthusiasm to diversify, Markle, who has done charitable work for World Vision and in Rwanda, comes across as smarter than the stereotype of a Hollywood leading lady. For some time she ran a health, fashion and beauty website with a progressive bent.

At the same time, the amount of newsprint and online media hype that she has earned ever since her engagement to Prince Harry has been announced, is nothing short of bizarre.

Markle’s wedding to Harry has been marked by the titillating promise of scandal as her family feuds in public and continues to make things awkward for her. Her father Thomas Markle is reported to have charged to pose for paparazzi pictures and then, announced a hasty withdrawal from attending the wedding. Her mother, Doria Ragland, is reportedly furious with her ex husband and Markle’s half siblings who have been hogging sensational headlines with nasty remarks and letters. A section of British press also reports that HRH Queen Elizabeth is very angry with the Markle family.

Even if one were to ignore the sensational inflow of two-penny family drama emerging from the Markle clan, headlines in respectable British and American press have continued to amuse with their reportage of preparations for this royal wedding. Everything from her wedding diet, to the hotel where she plans to spend the night before the nuptials, to her comment to friends, saying, “ I can’t wait to be a mother,” have been regular fodder for readers across the world.

Frenzy around the Harry-Meghan wedding is not surprising. Its buzz across the globe is actually evidence of just how much this British Royal family has impacted the impressions of the UK and it’s ‘empire’. Technically, the British monarch, as de jure leader, rules over 16 member states of the Commonwealth even today. But their appeal goes beyond these realms.

Europe has had royal families survive as figureheads of governments. Norway, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg and Monaco have monarchies too, as does Vatican City with the Pope. Yet, none capture public imagination and draw in hordes of tourists from all over like the British royals.

There are a few reasons for this.

First and foremost, is the captivating image and storybook tragic end of Princess Diana. In Great Britain, the Queen’s silence and the Royal Family’s stoic coldness towards the ex princess’s accidental death very nearly threw them out of public favor. The people’s princess was humane, stunning and quite adept at managing media to be in her favor for the most part. Across the world, mystique around the Royal Family and its functioning deepened after her death, as books and documentaries proliferated around her life as a royal. Princess Diana popularised the monarchy and her parting ways with them had a ripple effect in driving curiosity to those that lived.

Second, and the most powerful reason behind this, is the praise worthy chronicling that British royals have had over time. Well-written, well made films have told riveting stories of a family that knows how to adapt to survive; these capture flaws and weaknesses brilliantly. Their success has popularised the legend of British monarchy in pop culture.

The Queen, a film by Stephen Frears, won Helen Mirren an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth facing the crisis of Diana’s death. It’s a subtle story of the helplessness of a monarch tied down by norms and public pressures. The Kings Speech, another Oscar winner for Colin Firth, captures King Henry struggle with his stammer.

Going back into the past is Shekhar Kapur’s films - Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, both about the tough positions that England’s first female monarch took. Her father’s life has spawned some brilliant films and TV shows. The Other Boleyn Girl captures Anne and Mary Boleyn in their youth, aiming to be the heirless king Henry the Eighth’s wives. Anne Boleyn’s reign and her fall from grace also created Wolf Hall, a fabulous TV show based on the life of Thomas Cromwell. From the Man Booker winning book Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, by Hillary Mantle, Mark Rylance delivers a masterful performance in this subtle and beautiful series that launched Claire Foy, the star of The Crown. Henry’s reign also inspired the racy, dramatic series Tudors; a precursor to British royal fascination on TV.

Various other films and shows like The Young Victoria, The White Queen, Reign and Diana starring Naomi Watts as the princess, have added myth to British royalty over time.

The British Royal family seems like an average family of hardened survivors. No one member has excelled at a profession or skill; but when it came to adapting to changing times, they were quick and smart. King George changed the family’s German name Gotha to Windsor when public discontent with the First World War threatened their existence. Queen Elizabeth mingled with commoners in the Sixties when socialist sentiments ruled the English working classes. She also made a public speech on TV mourning Diana, who was no longer a royal when she died, to assuage public anger. And adapting Kate Middleton, the picture perfect English Rose as a bride, has worked wonders to the equity of British royalty: a tourist attraction that fetches millions to a fledgling British economy.

Getting Meghan Markle in this mix is a trump card of inclusion and acceptance, positioning the British royals as progressive.

Updated Date: May 18, 2018 18:48 PM