A grand wedding in the making

Lance Neita

Sunday, March 04, 2018

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I am looking forward to my invitation to Prince Harry's and Meghan Markle's wedding on May 19. After all, I had a front row seat at the wedding of Charles and Diana on July 29, 1981, in St Paul's Cathedral, London, and don't forget I was right upfront at William's and Catherine's nuptials on April 29, 2011.

My invitation doesn't take me further than my living room in front of the television, but it's my personal space allowing me to relax in comfort while watching these grand events taking place thousands of miles away.

I make no apology for following the royals. Never mind the symbolism, the political insignificance, and even the lack of relevance to our social and historical realities and environment.

I am both amused and fascinated by the pageantry, the spectacle, the pomp and ceremony, and I admire and marvel at the precision and meticulous planning of the British when managing these procedures to our benefit.

The Royal Family is well known for their dignity and class and their ability to keep a stiff upper lip when all others around them are losing their cool. I recall a story of The Queen on a visit to Jamaica in her early ears being shown a pot of boiling mannish water with all the entrails bubbling at the top. Prince Phillip recoiled in horror, but The Queen looked on politely, muttered, “How nice,” and passed on.

The Queen herself has a warm sense of humour and Phillip's gaffes are well known. Phillip admits that he has the ability to open his mouth and put his foot into it, “Something which I have practised over the years.”

The Queen is quoted as saying in private, “I have to be seen to be believed,” and Harry has been quite open about family life behind Buckingham Palace doors: “To be honest, dinner conversations were the worst bit about being a child and listening to boring people all around me.”

“When a man opens a car door for his wife,” chirps in Phillip, “it's either a new car or a new wife.” Elizabeth ignored that one.

But back to the royal wedding coming up in May. There is something extra special about this one. The bride is 50 per cent Afro-American, and that has been enough to send social media into a frenzy. This has upset the apple cart and thousands of years of tradition and heritage. Prince Harry is fifth in line to the throne, and this is the closest a black person has ever got to the throne lineage.

The Queen is delighted at the engagement, but racists have been spewing smear campaigns and racist arguments against Meghan. Just two weeks ago a suspect anthrax case arrived in an envelope.

The initial outrage following the announcement was such that Harry had to issue a public statement asking the media and the hate-mongers to cool it — which they have done, to some extent.

Now, Meghan is not only beautiful, but she has a Jamaican connection in her life. She is a divorcee, and her first marriage took place right here in Jamaica, in 2013, at one of the world's best hotels, and my favourite, Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios. She divorced two years later.

So no matter where you go Jamaica ends up being in the mix. Watch this space for news of where the honeymoon will be, and mark my words, Jamaica could be in the runnings.

Now this lady is no ordinary person, and she is bringing a great deal of class into the palace.

Meghan is an American actress and a humanitarian, and describes herself in the most positive terms.

“My father is Caucasian and my mom is African-American. I am half white and half black, and embrace where I am from. I voice my pride in being a strong, confident and mixed race woman.”

So there. Take it or leave it. Mike Henry, our leading 'reparationist', would be interested to know that she traces her roots back to Africans enslaved in Georgia.

As a humanitarianist she has served on several charities as an international ambassador, and is a speaker on gender quality and modern-day slavery. She travelled to India to raise awareness of issues concerning women, and worked with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women.

So the world has a date with their most interesting couple, Harry and Meghan, in May. It gives us something to watch apart from the bad news that dominates the television news reports.

In fact, the international calendar for the year throws up quite a round of entertaining events to counter the bad news.

We just enjoyed the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, and we are now watching the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018, which concludes today. We can look forward to the Commonwealth Games in April, the Summer Youth Olympics in Argentina, the Central Caribbean Games in Columbia, Wimbledon in July, the World Cup in Russia June 14 to July 15 (mark the dates), Wembley Cup Final, and there are the Invictus Games in Australia starting September 23.

The Invictus Games is an international paralympic-style meet created by the Prince himself, and is a multi-sport event organised for wounded and sick armed services personnel.

Outside of sports there are other world events to look out for in 2018, including Nelson Mandela's 100th anniversary activities all over the world, and I must not forget the launch of a NASA spacecraft Insight on May 18 expected to land on Mars November 26, this year.

Back to the wedding. Around 23 million Americans and 27 million Brits tuned in to Kate and William's wedding back in 2011. The guess is that Harry and Meghan will beat that, especially in America, because she's American.

This is a big turnaround for the Royal Family. An American, a divorcee, and a commoner. It wasn't until 2012 that the law was changed allowing royalty to marry a divorcee.

There are the famous cases of Princess Margaret, the Queen's late sister, who in 1955 was denied walking up the aisle with the divorced love of her life, Group Captain Peter Townsend. Margaret was told she could marry Townsend — if she renounced her royal rights and left the country for some years. She chose her royal position and eventually married someone else — whom she later divorced.

Prior to that, and long before my time (ahem), there was the sensational love story of the King who gave up the throne to marry the love of his life.

That was King Edward VIII of England, who fell in love with an American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and wanted to marry her. Horror of horrors, the woman was not only a divorcee (twice, if you please) but an American, and a commoner to boot.

Britain would have none of that. This was in 1936. Then British prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, worked around the clock to convince the young king to desist. The prime ministers and governors general of the Empire (at the time India, Canada, Australia) all gave it thumbs down. Remember, this was a time when some members of the British upper class looked down on Americans with disdain and considered them socially inferior.

It was both a constitutional and a church crisis. Edward was the nominal head of the Church of England, which did not allow divorced people to remarry in church if their ex-spouses were still alive. But Edward wouldn't stop. He declared he would marry whether the Government approved or not.

Prime Minister Baldwin explicitly advised him that the majority of the country was against the marriage, and went as far as to indicate to the King that, if he did so, the entire Government would resign.

Edward was unfased, “I intend to marry Mrs Simpson as soon as she is free to marry. If the Government opposes, then I am prepared to go!”

Well, the die was cast. England and the Commonwealth were in turmoil. But, on December 5, having been told that he could not keep the throne and marry Simpson, and having been denied his request to broadcast to the Empire his side of the story, Edward choose to go.

The entire England tuned into the BBC to listen to the King announce his abdication. Edward asked for understanding, saying that, “He would be unable to do the job as I would have wished without the support of the woman I love.”

He was succeeded by his brother George VI, and married Wallis Simpson in France on June 3, 1937.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement is more than a palace love story to bring us entertainment and royalty watching in a period of bad news. The happy union of a playboy-prince-turned-soldier-and-humanitarian and a bi-racial, divorced American actress-and-humanitarian — welcomed by Britain's power structure — marks a striking evolution for the British monarchy.

Meanwhile, though Meghan's blackness has drawn irie comments, it is heartening to see a bi-racial American commoner being warmly welcomed into Britain's royal family. Keep a stiff upper lip England. It gone through already. And is an example to other countries where class divisions are so pronounced and disguised and are still being forced on society. Let's hope that Lady Meghan or Duchess Meghan will soon come to visit. She will be accepted with open arms.

Lance Neita is a public relations writer and columnist. Send comments to the Observer or




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