‘My friends have promised me that, if I go to the royal wedding on Satur­day, I’ m off the hook for the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test’

Belfast Telegraph - - LIFE -

As a Done­gal ho­tel can­cels a Harry and Meghan-themed event fol­low­ing a num­ber of complaints, Dublin jour­nal­ist Donal Lynch ex­plains how he and a Catholic pal from North­ern Ire­land will be join­ing the crowds in Wind­sor on Satur­day ... and why at­ti­tudes of peo­ple in the Re­pub­lic towards the roy­als have now turned from in­dif­fer­ence to ac­cep­tance

Six months ago, a group of friends rounded on me in a bar and de­manded I go to Eng­land with them for the royal wedding. They had al­ready booked their tick­ets, they told me, and the plan was to get up early on the Satur­day and get the train from Lon­don to Wind­sor for the pa­rade it­self. It would be silly, camp, drunken fun, they as­sured me, and we’d be wit­ness­ing a lit­tle bit of his­tory.

I weakly agreed, but thought “no chance”. De­spite be­ing raised on an aunt-ad­min­is­tered diet of Hello! mag­a­zine, I was never par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nated with the roy­als and I won­dered if the whole ob­ses­sion with Meghan was a lit­tle triv­ial, when we should be fret­ting about more im­por­tant things.

Join­ing the roy­al­ist fan club would also, surely, be a bit iffy for a proud Ir­ish per­son, who still feels like the 1916 cen­te­nary was five min­utes ago and whose favourite record is The Queen Is Dead?

There wouldn’t be a work rea­son to go, ei­ther. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent poll, most peo­ple in the Re­pub­lic say they won’t watch the wedding. The BBC might in­stall per­fectly re­spectable jour­nal­ists to cover, say, The Duke of Kent’s prostate surgery, as though it were the moon land­ing, but me at­tend­ing the royal wedding pa­rade might be more like Re­peal the Eighth ac­tivists queu­ing to meet the Pope.

As I voiced all of these con­cerns, the ring­leader of this royal road trip, a North­ern Ire­land Catholic who grew up in the worst of the Trou­bles, tried to talk some sense into me. The roy­als aren’t national sym­bols so much as they are celebri­ties whom we’d have to in­vent if they didn’t ex­ist, he ar­gued.

The UK was sev­eral hun­dred years ahead of its time, in com­ing up with proto-Kar­dashi­ans long be­fore the rest of the world had them. The glam­our tran­scends con­cerns of na­tion­al­ism. Enor­mous draw­ing rooms, tiaras, and palace in­trigue are all much more fas­ci­nat­ing than where the bor­der is, he went on.

If the men of 1916 died for any­thing, it was so that their gay de­scen­dants could gasp as a new duchess emerges from a horse-drawn car­riage. “And let’s face it,” he added, “if any of us ever won an OBE, we’d be on our knees in front of them in a sec­ond, wait­ing for that sword to land on our shoul­der.”

The whole thing had sud­denly been put in the kind of celebrity-fas­ci­nated, vain­glo­ri­ous terms I could un­der­stand. Another friend for­warded me Hilary Man­tel’s fa­mous es­say, Royal Bodies. Be­tween the lines, Man­tel seems to sug­gest that a still-scep­ti­cal-yet-se­cretly-in­trigued Ir­ish per­son could also pass off a royal so­journ as nat­u­ral­ism, or an­thro­pol­ogy.

The roy­als are like pandas, she says, in that they are ex­pen­sive to con­serve and ill-adapted to any mod­ern en­vi­ron­ment. “But aren’t they in­ter­est­ing? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some peo­ple find them en­dear­ing; some pity them for their pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion; ev­ery­body stares at them, and how­ever airy the en­clo­sure they in­habit, it’s still a cage.”

In a sense, from a dra­matic per­spec­tive, that might be the very thing worth brav­ing a hang­over to gawp at this Satur­day: a woman who is liv­ing a dream that could cur­dle in a sec­ond: pageantry tinged with dark­ness. The royal fam­ily has an in­ter­est­ing his­tory of chew­ing up com­mon­ers and spit­ting them out. Wal­lis Simp­son is the ob­vi­ous com­par­i­son, but Diana, of course, too.

Meghan is en­vied and per­haps pitied in equal mea­sure. Is she em­bark­ing on a fairy­tale, or a suf­fo­cat­ing life of duty? Ca­sual cu­rios­ity can eas­ily be­come cru­elty for the roy­als. We don’t cut off the heads of royal women these days, but we do sac­ri­fice them, and we did mem­o­rably drive one to her grisly end a mere gen­er­a­tion ago.

The roy­als can also be ap­pre­ci­ated as avatars of our own fam­i­lies; the same char- ac­ters, the prissy mum, the stern mother-in-law, the em­bar­rass­ing un­cle, emerge. It was for Shake­speare to pen­e­trate the heart of a prince, but it is for Fleet Street to di­vine the ob­ses­sions of a soon-to-be princess. The weather is the lat­est, up-to-the-minute one. She, ap­par­ently, is al­ready ex­am­in­ing the fore­casts for the day it­self.

Meghan is also ob­sessed with Diana, the Daily Mail and the Daily Ex­press con­stantly re­mind us, so she per­haps knows the pit­falls well enough to avoid them. Even though the pit­falls were what made Diana such a re­al­ity star. Will Meghan be more starry than the cur­rent mem­bers of the firm? A lit­tle grit would be wel­come.

We don’t ex­pect EastEnders, but safe is too much the cur­rent Wind­sor trade­mark. Man­ners have been put on the Press since Leve­son and the con­sen­sus seems to be that Meghan would be the lat­est in a line of moves that fol­lowed the PR nadir of Diana’s death and have bol­stered the Wind­sor brand ever since.

The royal fam­ily has an in­ter­est­ing his­tory of chew­ing up com­mon­ers and spit­ting them out

But per­haps that has been for the bet­ter of the firm.

As Wil­liam and Harry have ma­tured, the fam­ily’s emo­tional hold over the pub­lic has only strength­ened. The pre­ci­sion-cal­i­brated and stylishly skinny Kate has hardly put a sin­gle foot wrong, but now she has been cast in the role of slightly frumpier coun­ter­part: the Fergie to Meghan’s Diana.

It seems fit­ting that the first gen­uinely hand­some prince they’ve ever had, a com­fort­ingly safe dis­tance from the throne, would get such a beau­ti­ful Amer­i­can ac­tress as his bride. Kate, it was said, might breed in a bit of man­ners. Meghan might, in turn, breed in some good looks.

And she would be the right ad­di­tion to the brand in other ways, too.

The mar­ket­ing of the royal fam­ily is in­ter­est­ing. The Wind­sors will soon have some­thing for ev­ery­one.

For the tra­di­tion­al­ists, there’s the re­as­sur­ingly horsey Princess Anne, who obe­di­ently gave up work to get her man and now seems chiefly fo­cused on her chil­dren. She is The Daily Tele­graph reader’s princess. Kate is the mummy mar­ket. Markle looks set to cor­ner the mil­len­ni­als as the win­some one you would least mind your daugh­ter as­pir­ing to be­come.

She’s the em­bod­i­ment of all of the diver­sity ob­ses­sion of Hol­ly­wood and me­dia. She has a range of at­tributes that would, un­til very re­cently, have ruled her out of the princess stakes. Within hours of her en­gage­ment be­ing an­nounced, a Spec­ta­tor colum­nist set the tone, writ­ing: “Ob­vi­ously, 70 years ago, Meghan Markle would have been the kind of woman the prince would have had for a mis­tress, not a wife.”

The Daily Mail has dusted off de­scrip­tions like “saucy di­vorcee” for Meghan and they have been sim­i­larly aghast that she seems to de­scribe her­self as a fem­i­nist. Af­ter re­ports that she is con­sid­er­ing giv­ing her own speech at her wedding, she re­cently dropped some heavy hints that she will be cam­paign­ing on is­sues to do with “em­pow­er­ing women” when she of­fi­cially joins the royal fam­ily. She even used her first joint pub­lic en­gage­ment with Kate to praise the Time’s Up and #MeToo cam­paigns against sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Only 40 years or so af­ter ev­ery­one else, it seems the royal fam­ily has fi­nally come around to the ex­is­tence of fem­i­nism. Or per­haps not; as Meghan gushed about #MeToo, Harry, with whom both women shared a stage, gen­tly re­minded his fiancee that she had a wedding to or­gan­ise.

On the ba­sis of last year’s big Van­ity Fair cover in­ter­view, Meghan may yet give Kate a run for her money in the bland­ness stakes. “We’re in love,” she told the mag­a­zine, in a lit­tle speech that might have come from an atro­cious 1990s romcom, pos­si­bly star­ring Andie MacDow­ell. “I’m sure there will be a time when we will have to come for­ward and present our­selves and have sto­ries to tell, but I hope what peo­ple will un­der­stand is that this is our time. This is for us. It’s part of what makes it so spe­cial, that it’s just ours. But we’re happy. Per­son­ally, I love a great love story.”

Hilary Man­tel once called Kate “a jointed doll on which cer­tain rags are hung” and “a shop window man­nequin”, but will Meghan be dif­fer­ent? Sev­eral designers are in the run­ning to de­sign her wedding dress, but ap­par­ently the Suits dress wasn’t a hint and she’s fond of sleeves.

Her race — she is the off­spring of a white fa­ther and an African-Amer­i­can mother — has been such a source of fas­ci­na­tion that Kens­ing­ton Palace last year felt the need to is­sue a state­ment re­mind­ing the world that her life “is not a game” and call­ing out the me­dia on the “racial un­der­tones of com­ment pieces”.

The palace was no­tably silent on re­ports that Princess Michael of Kent had “shaded” Meghan by wear­ing a brooch de­pict­ing a black fig­ure on her coat as she ar­rived for Meghan’s first big fam­ily gath­er­ing with the Wind­sors. She was later crit­i­cised on­line for wear­ing a “racist” brooch, even as the rest of the world mar­velled at the idea of how per­fectly aris­to­cratic it would be to make a point — even an of­fen­sive one — us­ing the medium of an­tique jew­ellery.

A dis­ap­point­ment of the Wil­liam and Harry gen­er­a­tion is the gen­eral lack of in­ter­est­ing scan­dal. In a sense, maybe they have to be bor­ing at a time when Bri­tain faces into the un­cer­tainty of Brexit and its wan­ing in­flu­ence in the world. Diana moved in a world where Cool Bri­tan­nia was a cul­tural idea and the Union flag was ev­ery­where.

The cur­rent roy­als op­er­ate at a time of lower national morale. They have sub­tly shifted roles over the years. Wil­liam, the one who was al­ways reck­oned to be the spit of Diana (ie good-look­ing), has aged into a horsey, bald­ing drink of wa­ter, while gin­ger lit­tle brother, our groom, has de­vel­oped a charis­matic swag­ger and an abil­ity to shrug off in­dis­cre­tions.

Meghan’s es­tranged half-brother has made him­self seem bit­ter by slat­ing her in the

Aus­tralian me­dia, but the venom of his lan­guage seemed to discredit him. Her mother will be there, en­sur­ing she has a fam­ily pres­ence.

An­drew Mor­ton, he of the notorious Princess Diana bi­og­ra­phy, has de­scribed Meghan Markle as a “supreme net­worker” who wanted to be “Diana 2.0” in a new book which is no­tably short on the kind of dirt one could dig up in the 1990s.

And, af­ter be­ing left off the guest list for Wil­liam’s and Kate’s wedding (per­haps be­cause of promis­ing an un­der­cover jour­nal­ist ac­cess to Prince An­drew), Fergie is in­vited to Harry and Meghan’s wedding and gen­eral re­cep­tion.

She is not on the exclusive list for a sec­ond, more pri­vate, re­cep­tion be­ing thrown by Charles, but the main point is that the woman who likely had prior sight of the Dis­ney teapots that her daugh­ters wore to Wil­liam and Kate’s big day, will be in at­ten­dance and the event will be the richer for it.

I might see her there, or on a big screen from Lon­don at the very least. At the time of writ­ing, my place on the train is set. My royal grinch­i­ness is melt­ing away. I’m ready for up­per-crust Kar­dashi­ans.

My friends have promised if I do this, I’m off the hook for the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test. I might even wave a lit­tle Union flag. It will be mo­men­tous, like when the Queen spoke Ir­ish and Mary McAleese mouthed the word “wow!”.

And let’s see if peo­ple in the Re­pub­lic don’t, af­ter all, tune into the wedding in big num­bers this com­ing week­end.

My place on the train is set, my grinch­i­ness is melt­ing. I’m ready for the up­per-crust Kar­dashi­ans

Nearly there: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and (be­low) the cou­ple at trials for the In­vic­tus Games which will take place in Syd­ney later this year

Big fan: Meghan is ob­sessed with Princess Diana

On duty: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle dur­ing a visit to Belfast ear­lier this year, and (be­low) the Duchess of Cam­bridge

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