The masses roared, as they always do on such occasions, and under a cloudless English sky in the historic town of Windsor, there was a new beginning.
It was a royal wedding like no other; a gospel choir sang, Dr. Martin Luther King was quoted in a rousing address and a young couple was united in a marriage that will change a venerable institution forever.
Greeted by cheering crowds, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex emerged from St. George’s Chapel and kissed on the steps as the sun shone down.
The marriage of the sixth in line to the throne to Meghan Markle, a biracial American, saw the British monarchy transform into something more representative of its people than it has been before.
On the cobbled streets of Windsor, among the snaking river of people who turned out to celebrate, there was a sense from many that the newest member of the royal family had reinvigorated “The Firm.”
“It’s good there’s diversity in the royal family, it means a lot,” said Abha Trivedi, a Californian who had relocated to London two weeks ago and slept overnight on a chair for a prime spot of the royal procession.
Daljit Sidhu, of South Asian heritage but from Langley near Windsor, echoed such sentiments.
“As Asians it’s important,” the 41-year-old said. “I was born and bred here, but you were always different. Ten years ago you wouldn’t have thought this would happen.”
Pageantry with majesty
Much has been spoken and written about of the newest member of royal family shaking up the establishment.
But for all that was different about this royal wedding there was still the pomp and circumstance of old royalty.
It was an impeccably choreographed wedding. A marching band paraded through the streets, aristocrats arrived and departed in supersized hats. Overseeing the service was the Archbishop of Canterbury.
No one does pageantry with the majesty of the British. It comes by virtue of hundreds of years of practice.
An estimated 100,000 had descended on this picturesque town 20 miles west of London on a glorious spring day to witness a wedding that has charmed not only the inhabitants of the UK but millions around the world.
From Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to Ghana, the United States, Switzerland and Australia, thousands were captivated by tradition and glamor.
They lined the cobbled streets, snacked on sandwiches drank Pimm’s and waited and waited – and waited – for a chance to say “I was there.”
There was joy, giddiness and much affection for the couple, now one of the world’s most powerful and influential pairings. In this part of England, for Saturday at least, everyone was a royalist and romantic.
Seventy-three-year-old Australian Carleen Quirk had been sleeping on the streets of Windsor for two nights to ensure she was in prime position to witness her eighth royal wedding.
Why does the British monarchy seduce and enchant so many? “Having a royal family as head of a country is stabilizing,” explained Quirk. “And Meghan is a breath of fresh air.”
For Histria Soler, from the Dominican Republic but in London visiting friends, it was an opportunity to experience something usually seen in Disney movies. “It’s not often that you see a prince get married,” she said. “She was just a normal girl.”
Love and Britishness
Prince Harry and William are also, of course, the sons of Princess Diana and much interest in them stems from memories of her, a woman loved by the people, but whose own fairytale wedding ended in divorce.
Though living extraordinary unusual and privileged lives, it is the brothers’ ability to appear as regular men which has helped the family overcome the tumultuous final decades of the last century.
Images of the young princes walking solemnly behind their mother’s coffin remain strongly etched in the memory, so there has always been much goodwill for the boys who have now found love and married women considered unthinkable as prospective royal brides only a generation ago.
“My mum was a big fan of Diana and we got raised on that. Harry has his mother-like ways with the public. He’s a people’s person,” said Daljit Sidhu.
For all the ostentation, for all the millions spent, this was a day for all generations and all people. Windsor was filled with the sound of ecstatic cheers and jubilation in a celebration of love and Britishness.
Along the treelined Long Walk in front of the Castle, where the majority of the wedding watchers congregated, families and friends gathered to eat, drink and party. Even at 9 a.m. an orderly line had formed for chicken and french fries from one of the many food trucks.
Some wore dresses inspired by the UK flag, others donned paper crowns on their heads and simply waved flags towards the azure sky.
Polish-born Angelica Kasperska had brought a ladder and binoculars for the occasion, a wise move when necks had to be craned for a glimpse of the great and good.
Children played football and chased balloons, while bellowing traders peddled Harry and Meghan scarves and flags to a crowd thirsty for commemorative paraphernalia.
The sight of homeless men, some sleeping, some sitting on the streets, was a reminder of the problems still facing this society, as it was eight years ago when the public mood before Prince William’s wedding was weighed down by recession, unemployment and austerity.
Prince Harry has married in the age of Brexit and he and his new bride have offered respite from the division that that has created.
Gasps of delight
Ahead of the ceremony, there was applause from the throng on the Long Walk as big screens broadcast the first glimpse of Prince Harry arriving with his brother and best man Prince William. Both wore the frock coat uniform of the Blues and Royals regiment, made specially on London’s Savile Row. It was showtime.
Every familiar face was greeted warmly, with as much affection reserved for the mother of the bride, Doria Ragland, as the future king, and father of the groom, Prince Charles.
Wedding watchers gasped on first sight of the bride’s dress and there was an audible intake of breath when the train emerged. The crowd cooed as the cameras flicked to a nervous-looking Harry and clapped as Prince Charles took Meghan by the arm before presenting her to his son.
There was the glitz associated with any great royal wedding; the bride arrived in a Rolls-Royce and departed in a gilded carriage. She wore a Givenchy dress and Cartier earrings.
But it was the zeal of the Most Rev. Michael Curry’s stirring address which ensured that those watching were left in no doubt that this was now not the British monarchy as they knew it only yesterday. It felt different. It was different.
The African-American bishop began and ended with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, he talked of discovering the “redemptive power of love,” he compared the power of love to the power of fire, mentioned Instagram and caused a chuckle when he promised to wrap up his lengthy oration so “we can get you two married.”
There was a sense that the crowd on the Long Walk did not know what to make of the groundbreaking moment, but they reserved some of their loudest cheers for Curry upon the conclusion of his sermon.
‘This is history’
“Thank God the world is watching this,” tweeted black British TV presenter Ore Oduba. “Never seen or heard a ceremony like it. This is history.”
As the gospel choir sang “Stand By Me” the hordes lining the Long Walk sang along to the chorus of the 1961 classic. It was another unexpected moment. British royal weddings are usually packed full of hymns. Never before have they been a multicultural celebration.
Sleep-deprived and jaded, the crowd’s energy understandably abated until returning to full voice and renewed vigor when Prince Harry walked out of the chapel arm-in-arm with Meghan and embarked on a procession through Windsor’s streets and park.
The sound of clapping rippled through the town as a captivated public was given its opportunity to see husband and wife in the flesh.
“That was so cool,” said a young American as the couple passed in a horse-drawn Ascot Landau carriage, flanked by the household cavalry soldiers, Prince Harry’s former regiment.
The new Duchess perhaps needs to practice her royal wave. It must be from the wrist, always from the wrist. But scorn cannot be poured on an occasion such as this. As the Most Rev. Curry said in his sermon: “Two young people fell in love, and we all showed up.”