Meghan Markle literally grew up a Valley girl, but one of modest means, as well and from a quintessentially American biracial background.
Her black mother, Doria Ragland, is a social worker, while her white father, Thomas Markle, designed lighting for “General Hospital” and now lives in retirement on a fixed income.
On Saturday, Meghan married Prince Harry, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and a member of a rich and powerful 1,000-year-old dynasty that has shaped world history.
With her marriage at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, this 36-year-old former Valley girl has made history of her own. She brought her life’s experience as a biracial American, and as an actress, feminist and humanitarian, into helping to plan a globally televised event that was executed with glorious precision and that will no doubt change how the world views her royal in-laws and the future of their dynasty.
The ceremony bridged centuries-old traditions and thoroughly modern, 2018 international values, starting with Meghan’s choice to mostly walk herself down the aisle — all while wearing a simple but elegant white gown with train, veil and a 1932 tiara that belonged to Queen Mary.
There also was a nod to tradition in having her father-in-law Prince Charles join her mid-way down the aisle and take her to the altar, but not to give her away. She did that herself.
Charles helped fill in with this traditional father-of-the bride role after Meghan’s father suddenly backed out == due to a scandal over paparazzi photos and a health emergency that required heart surgery.
But this Markle family drama, which consumed headlines during the earlier part of the week, certainly was forgotten by the time Meghan arrived at the chapel, in her gown designed by a female British designer Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy
The ceremony continued to display a blending of these old traditions and new values, with the choice of guests and speakers providing an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, freedom and the love between people that brings to the world “a new human family,” in the words of American Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry.
The Chicago-based African-American bishop delivered a fiery, inspiring address that espoused a very humanist outlook that Meghan and her socially progressive groom no doubt embrace. Curry quoted Rev. Martin Luther King Jr and referred to slavery, social media and the need to end poverty and war, while heralding God as the source of love that changes the world.
Curry’s address certainly was uncharacteristic of the kinds of speeches people have heard in previously staid, buttoned-up royal weddings. A few of his comments, like “We all got to get you all married” sent some guests into nervous giggles.
But then at various points in the ceremony, everyone broke into giggles, including the bride and groom, which was probably something Meghan and Harry were hoping for — moments to lighten the historic gravity of the ceremony and to bring some ease, informality and relatability to the proceedings.
Actually, for some of the ceremony, the usually smiling, gregarious Harry looked serious and grave, as if he were trying to keep his emotions in check. At one point, the new Duke of Sussex also appeared to wipe away a tear, but he also was believed to have said as Meghan reached him at the altar: “Wow, you look amazing. I missed you.”
Meanwhile, his stage-trained bride, a graduate of Northwestern University’s esteemed theater program and a former star of TV’s “Suits,” maintained her composure and a serene smile throughout the proceedings. She and her groom also at times held hands — a public display of affection that’s not usually seen among royal couples.
But as for Meghan’s serene smile: It seemed to signal to everyone watching — from the A-list celebrity guests Oprah Winfrey, George and Amal Clooney, Serena Williams and David and Victoria Beckham to the estimated billions around the world — that she very much felt she was in the right place at the right time.
Certainly, a new international star is born, someone with the necessary charisma to nudge the monarchy into a new era.
In the New York Times Friday, writer Ellen Barry said Meghan, like Harry’s late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, is informal and open. Also like Diana, Meghan is “at ease in the glare of celebrity and adept at using it for her purposes.”
Meghan is many things the royal family “emphatically” is not, Barry added. But she is just what the monarchy needs at this point in time.
Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for 65 years, “providing a beacon of continuity during a period of social turmoil and decline in British power.” But entering the third decade of the 21st century, the monarchy also knows it needs to change to stay relevant to the British public and to the rest of the world.
Diana’s “telegenic” sons, William and Harry, and their wives, Kate Middleton and now Meghan Markle, represent that new generation of royals who seem more in touch with the world of ordinary Britons. They “are the salvation,” Barry said.
Already, Barry noted, Meghan has challenged certain royal practices that people sensed have become outdated, as in signing autographs or in posing for selfies with young fans she and Harry meet at royal appearances. She’s also been known to hug Kensington Palace guards, despite being told that’s “not done,” Barry said.
Meghan has been quoted as insisting, “I’m an American. I hug.”
Harvey Young, Meghan’s former theater professor at Northwestern, said on CNN Saturday that his former student brought her genuine self into working with Harry into planning this wedding. The Queen reportedly told the bride and groom to plan the wedding in the way they want.
Young said Meghan is a biracial woman who wanted to use her wedding day to “celebrate blackness as well as whiteness.” He added she’s a “self-confident, self-possesed woman who believes in having conversations about race and equality” and is using this world stage, at this moment in her life, “to amplify here causes she believes in.”
Young said he has no doubt the new Duchess of Sussex will make a difference, and probably not just for her new in-laws but for any cause she wants to take on. He said, “I think of her as brilliant young woman with unlimited potential.”
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