For months, we have been told the many ways in which Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would be “breaking with tradition”. That Markle is divorced. That she is American. That she is mixed race.
That the couple would not be kissing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. That Markle would be giving a speech. And, of course, that after the last week’s media circus, Markle’s father would not be in attendance and she would instead walk down most of the aisle alone before being collected by Prince Charles.
The coverage afforded to the tantalising detail that the wedding cake will be elderflower and lemon instead of traditional fruit is exactly the kind of thing that induces eye rolls and heavy sighs from those who could not give a fuck about two people they do not know tying the knot, at a cost to the public purse.
After all, how much rule-breaking could there actually be at a royal wedding?
But as we poured ourselves a glass of prosecco before midday and settled in to watch, whether already tearing up or displaying a heavy dose of side-eye, one thing was for sure: the Duke of Edinburgh, in all his 96 years, has never sat through a wedding ceremony quite like this one.
Forget the flavour of the sponge cake – that can only really be appreciated by the exclusive guest list attending the evening reception. The ceremony itself, the images beamed around the world, looked and sounded… different.
The sight of the black Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry delivering an address that twice quoted Martin Luther King Jr and referenced slavery, immigration and Instagram to an audience of Britain’s most privileged was extraordinary. It is no mistake that he was selected – a preacher who has been vocal on LGBTQ+ issues and racial tensions.
A gospel choir performing gorgeous versions of Stand By Me and This Little Light Of Mine, and BBC’s first black winner of Young Musician of the Year, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, playing the cello as the couple signed the marriage register, were elements that could only be a part of this royal wedding, chosen by this couple.
Even if you don’t care about the relative cuteness of the seemingly endless pageboys and girls, the fact that Markle, in the midst of the Windrush scandal, wore a lace veil embroidered with flowers representing the 53 Commonwealth nations IS important.
Sure, the pews were filled with almost every posh white person that Harry has ever bumped into at Mahiki and a bunch of badly behaved royals who showed absolutely no class in eye-rolling and laughing during Bishop Curry’s address. But there was also Oprah, Serena Williams, Amal Clooney and a collection of Suits actors who presumably cannot believe their luck. The cameras had just a tad more variety than usual when they picked out who to focus on. More than shots of the Queen looking bored, the Duke of Edinburgh looking old and James Corden existing, the best footage was of Markle’s supremely elegant mother, Doria Ragland, and of the couple themselves looking, for all the world, like they actually care about each other.
Meghan Markle's wedding is an indication that she might just be a stealth social-justice warrior in the making
We are used to seeing the royals display all the facial expression of John Travolta’s performance in The People vs OJ Simpson, but there was a genuineness to Harry and Meghan’s whispers, glancers and smirks. Whether or not Harry mouthed, “I’m so lucky,” or, “I’m shitting myself” – the internet is undecided – as Meghan joined him at the altar, it felt more relatable than most royal occasions.
Obviously, however many commentators have clutched at the idea that this marriage could solve racism and transform black women’s experiences, that is a stretch.
But optics matter, as do decisions made by those who have a platform. Meghan Markle might have deleted her Instagram and shut down her blog, but her wedding is an indication that she might just be a stealth social-justice warrior in the making, infiltrating the most archaic family in the world. Any wedding lays bare dozens of decisions made by a couple, from whether or not to have chair covers (not) to menu options. They are all about choices – and Meghan Markle made hers publicly, carefully and determinedly.
In the words of Bishop Curry: “We must discover love. The redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world.”