The ac­tress, the press and pres­sure for mod­erni­sa­tion in the Bri­tish monar­chy

▶ A new era has emerged from doomed royal love af­fairs, as Bri­tons em­brace Meghan Markle

The National - News - - NEWS - THE NA­TIONAL

On Satur­day, 100,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to line the streets of Wind­sor to cel­e­brate the mar­riage of Prince Harry and Amer­i­can ac­tress Meghan Markle.

For those un­able to head down to Wind­sor, street par­ties and open-air screen­ings be­ing held across the coun­try will of­fer peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to share in the happy cou­ple’s big day.

Sup­port for the monar­chy re­mains high in Bri­tain, and pub­lic com­mit­ment is vi­tal to en­sure its con­tin­u­a­tion.

Markle, a hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tivist, has been well re­ceived by the pub­lic, with most re­cent opin­ion polls show­ing a ma­jor­ity be­lieve she will be a good ad­di­tion to the royal fam­ily.

Sixty years ago, a di­vorcee like Markle would have been blocked from mar­ry­ing into Bri­tish roy­alty. In the 1950s, Harry’s great-aunt Princess Mar­garet, the sis­ter of Queen El­iz­a­beth II, was prevented from mar­ry­ing her beloved, Group Capt Peter Townsend, on the grounds that he had been mar­ried be­fore, in a doomed love story de­picted in Net­flix drama The Crown. But in 1953, the Bri­tish cab­i­net re­fused to ap­prove the mar­riage, with news­pa­pers declar­ing the union “un­think­able” be­cause of Chris­tian teach­ings about di­vorce. Two years later, faced with los­ing her suc­ces­sion sta­tus, Mar­garet de­cided not to marry Townsend.

Al­most 20 years be­fore, the de­ter­mi­na­tion of Mar­garet’s un­cle, King Ed­ward VIII, to marry Wallis Simpson caused a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in the Bri­tish monar­chy. Ed­ward ab­di­cated in 1936 and be­came the Duke of Wind­sor af­ter he was re­fused con­sent by the UK and Com­mon­wealth gov­ern­ments to marry so­cialite Simpson.

Like Markle, she was an Amer­i­can di­vorcee, but pub­lic opin­ion of her as a match for Ed­ward was low. Painted in the press as a money-ob­sessed so­cial climber with ref­er­ences to her not one but two pre­vi­ous mar­riages, it was un­likely that in 1930’s Bri­tain Simpson would ever have been ac­cepted as Queen con­sort.

The queen was re­luc­tant to al­low Mar­garet to marry Townsend, ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish his­to­rian Dr Anna White­lock.

“The queen was ner­vous,” Dr White­lock said. “The idea that Princess Mar­garet would be pic­tured all over the pa­pers was rem­i­nis­cent of all the Duke of Wind­sor and Wallis Simpson es­capades.”

Hav­ing now reigned for more than 65 years, the queen and the monar­chy is in a more com­fort­able po­si­tion now and she gave her con­sent to Harry and Markle’s mar­riage with­out hes­i­ta­tion.

“It’s chang­ing times, the queen is more con­fi­dent now and it mat­ters less,” Dr White­lock said.

As a bira­cial di­vorcee, Markle was al­ways go­ing to be a source of in­ter­est to Bri­tain’s tabloid press. How­ever, me­dia in­ter­est grew so in­tense while the pair were dat­ing that Harry re­leased a state­ment in Novem­ber 2016, say­ing his girl­friend had been sub­ject to “a wave of abuse and ha­rass­ment”.

Pub­licly con­firm­ing the re­la­tion­ship, some­thing the royal fam­ily rarely do be­fore an en­gage­ment, Harry said he feared for Markle’s safety and con­demned smears in news­pa­pers about his girl­friend and racist un­der­tones in com­ment pieces.

The state­ment was re­ceived pos­i­tively by the pub­lic, who re­mem­ber all too well the press in­tru­sion his mother Diana suf­fered, which ended in a fa­tal car crash in Paris as she was pur­sued by pa­parazzi.

But in re­cent weeks the me­dia have de­lighted in Markle’s some­what dys­func­tional fam­ily life. The days lead­ing up to the wed­ding have been over­shad­owed by re­ports that her fa­ther, Thomas Markle, al­legedly staged pa­parazzi shots of him­self for money. Markle an­nounced on Thurs­day her fa­ther would not be at­tend­ing the wed­ding be­cause of ill health.

But scan­dal is some­thing the royal fam­ily are used to deal­ing with. In 1971, Mar­garet be­came the first high-pro­file Bri­tish royal in 70 years to get di­vorced. She paved the way for the gen­er­a­tion af­ter her to end their un­happy mar­riages.

By 1996, three of the queen’s four chil­dren, in­clud­ing Harry’s fa­ther, Prince Charles, were di­vorced. Charles even mar­ried his long-time girl­friend Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, her­self a di­vorcee ac­cused of break­ing up the Prince of Wales’s mar­riage to Diana.

Back in Wind­sor, there is sym­pa­thy for Markle’s pri­vate tur­moil. “It must be heart­break­ing for them, be­cause her fa­ther can’t come be­cause he is in poor health,” Maria Scott, 46, who trav­elled from New­cas­tle to camp out to get a glimpse of the cou­ple, told Reuters. “It must be re­ally up­set­ting.”

Harry and Meghan fans have been sleep­ing out on the street to se­cure the best spots to see the cou­ple in the post-cer­e­mony pa­rade through the town.

Donna Werner, an Amer­i­can who flew 3,000 miles from Con­necti­cut, told Reuters: “I want them to come through those gates. I want them to look at me, wave and smile.”


Royal wed­ding fever is build­ing on the streets of Wind­sor and beyond, as Bri­tain pre­pares for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nup­tials

The Duke and Duchess of Wind­sor tied the knot in Tours, France, in 1937 af­ter Ed­ward VIII ab­di­cated from the throne

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