WINDSOR, England (Reuters) – Prince Harry and his bride Meghan married on Saturday in a dazzling ceremony that blended ancient English ritual with African American culture, watched up close by royals and celebrities and from afar by a global TV audience of millions.
Wearing a veil, diamond tiara and a sleek dress with a long train, Meghan was accompanied up the aisle at St George’s Chapel in Windsor by Harry’s father, Prince Charles, before she and Harry exchanged vows and were proclaimed husband and wife.
The union of Harry, a former royal wild child and sixth-in-line to the British throne, and actress Meghan, a divorcee whose mother is African-American and father is white, brought a measure of modern glamour and diversity into the monarchy.
The couple kissed on the steps of the chapel as they emerged into the sunlight after the ceremony, delighting vast crowds who had descended on the genteel town to witness a spectacular show of British pomp and pageantry.
Newly styled the Duke and Duchess of Sussex after Queen Elizabeth bestowed those titles on them, the couple then sat in an open-top horse-drawn coach for a tour of Windsor, cheered by a sea of well-wishers along every inch of the route.
The local authority said just over 100,000 people were in Windsor for the occasion, which unfolded under clear blue skies.
While typical of royal weddings in some ways, the ceremony also broke with tradition, in particular when U.S. Episcopalian bishop Michael Bruce Curry delivered a passionate sermon that was a far cry from the sober tones of the Church of England.
“There’s power in love,” he boomed at a congregation that included Queen Elizabeth, senior royals and celebrities ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Elton John, George Clooney and David Beckham.
“Do not underestimate it. Anyone who has ever fallen in love knows what I mean,” said Curry in an energetic address that quoted Martin Luther King.
African-American Karen Long, who was among the crowds in Windsor listening as the ceremony was relayed on loudspeakers, was one of those who appreciated the bishop’s fiery address.
“It was a moment for African-Americans,” said Long, who had come from Houston, Texas, with her sister and a group of friends, all dressed as bridesmaids. “The idea that Harry allowed that and acknowledged it, it was the perfect blend between her culture and the royal culture.”
As well as traditional Church of England anthems and delicate English choral music, the ceremony also featured a gospel choir singing “Stand by Me”, the 1960s hit by American soul singer Ben E. King.
Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, 61, accompanied her daughter to the chapel in a vintage Rolls Royce and shed tears of emotion at several points during the ceremony.
Meghan entered the chapel unescorted, offering TV viewers and the congregation a first good look at her hotly anticipated wedding dress, which was created by British designer Clare Waight Keller of the French fashion house Givenchy.
Harry, looking nervous, appeared to say: “Thanks Pa” to his father, and “You look amazing!” to his beaming bride.
In further breaks with tradition, Markle, 36, did not vow to obey her husband; while Harry, who is three years her junior, wore a wedding ring – unlike other senior male royals such as his older brother Prince William.
Harry’s office announced that at a private wedding reception later there would be speeches not only by Charles and Harry but also by Meghan herself – another unusual feature as in traditional English weddings brides do not usually make a speech.
Before becoming engaged to Harry, Meghan, who starred in TV legal drama “Suits”, had spoken out on a number of feminist causes.
SYMBOL OR IRRELEVANCE?
The world’s media have been gripped by the occasion, and television channels beamed the ceremony across the world.
To some Britons, the marriage of a senior member of the royal family to the daughter of an African-American mother and white father embodied a modern Britain where race or background are no bar to even the most elite and traditional of institutions.
To others, it was an irrelevance or a mild distraction from the schism of Brexit, which has deeply divided the United Kingdom. Polls suggested that most Britons would not bother tuning in.
But in Windsor, 30 miles (20 km) west of London, the enthusiasm from the vast crowds waving British flags and cheering was overwhelming.
Air traffic controllers for nearby Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s busiest, even closed the airspace over the town for the 15 minutes before the ceremony to avoid marring proceedings with the roar of low-flying aircraft.
Among the celebrity guests, Clooney and his wife Amal were joined by Beckham, his fashion designer wife Victoria, and James Corden, British host of the American TV chat show “The Late Late Show”.
Other guests included tennis ace Serena Williams, the siblings of Harry’s late mother Princess Diana, Elton John, who sang at Diana’s 1997 funeral, British actor Idris Elba, and two of Harry’s ex-girlfriends.
The chapel was garlanded with white roses, the favourite flowers of Harry’s late mother Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.
LOVE IN A TENT
The royal couple, who met on a blind date in 2016 and fell in love in a tent under the stars in Botswana, tied the knot in a castle that has been home to 39 English monarchs since 1066.
With security tight, tens of thousands of visitors had to pass through police search points around the castle.
(Click for a graphic of the wedding tmsnrt.rs/2IhvlgJ)
Markle’s own father Thomas Markle, 73, a former lighting director for TV soaps and sitcoms, pulled out of the ceremony this week, telling the U.S. celebrity website TMZ he had had heart surgery on Wednesday.
Confusion over his attendance marred the build-up to the wedding, which had been choreographed for months by royal aides, and his name was still present in the order of service.
After watching the ceremony from California, he told TMZ it had been “emotional and joyful”:
“My baby looks beautiful and she looks very happy. I wish I were there and I wish them all my love and all happiness.”
The service was conducted by the Dean of Windsor with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Anglican Church, overseeing the exchange of vows.
Lady Jane Fellowes, Diana’s sister, delivered the reading.
The lunchtime reception was held in the castle’s St George’s Hall before 200 guests join the couple at an evening event at the nearby Frogmore House mansion.
Harry and Meghan will not immediately leave for a honeymoon and will carry out their first official engagement as husband and wife next week.
The British remain broadly supportive of the monarchy, albeit with a sense of mild irony about the pomp and pageantry that accompanies it, though most have deep respect for Queen Elizabeth after her 66 years of service as head of state.
Despite being unlikely to ever ascend to the throne as he is behind his father, brother and three nieces and nephews in the line of succession, Harry has been at the forefront of efforts to modernise the monarchy in recent years.
Additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison, Estelle Shirbon, Emma Rumney, Andrew MacAskill, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Costas Pitas; writing by Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Holden and Estelle Shirbon; editing by Kevin Liffey and Giles Elgood