WINDSOR: Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, will walk Meghan Markle down the aisle at her glittering wedding to his son Prince Harry on Saturday after her own father had to pull out because of ill health.
Her father, Thomas, gave a host of contradictory statements about his intentions then finally told celebrity website TMZ he had undergone heart surgery and could not attend, in a family drama that has played out under the glare of media attention.
“Meghan Markle has asked His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to accompany her down the aisle of the Quire of St George’s Chapel on her Wedding Day,” Harry’s office Kensington Palace said in a statement.
“The Prince of Wales is pleased to be able to welcome Ms Markle to the royal family in this way.” Markle’s African-American mother, Doria Ragland, was due to meet Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, Harry’s 92-year-old grandmother, for tea on Friday.
The yoga instructor charmed Charles, her daughter’s future father-in-law, when they met on Wednesday, a source close to the royal family said.
Buckingham Palace confirmed that Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, 96, would be at the wedding despite undergoing hip replacement surgery last month.
Outside the ancient stone walls of Windsor Castle, home to the English royal family for nearly 1,000 years, well-wishers mingled with tourists and swarms of television crews under swathes of British and American flags.
Harry, 33, will marry Markle, 36, a star of the TV drama “Suits”, in the castle’s 15th-century St George’s Chapel at a ceremony that begins about 1100 GMT on Saturday.
The details of her dress, the ring and the order of service are still to be announced.
A former army officer and one-time royal wild child, Harry met his bride-to-be on a blind date in July 2016 after being set up through a mutual friend.
Markle said she knew little about her royal date while Harry said he had never heard of Markle or watched her TV series.
However, it was love at first sight, and after just two dates, he whisked her off to Botswana for a holiday, camping under the stars.
After the schism of Brexit divided the United Kingdom and triggered a wave of doubt about its future place in the world, the glittering union of one of the most popular royals and an elegant US divorcee may offer some distraction.
The British remain broadly supportive of the monarchy albeit with a sense of mild irony about the pomp and pageantry that accompanies it, though many have deep respect for the current monarch, Elizabeth, after 66 years of dutiful service.
For some black Britons, the prospect of a mixed-race royal princess has increased interest in the monarchy, which has so far been all white.
A black American bishop will give the address at the wedding.
“Meghan will bring a new perspective to the royal family,” royal biographer Claudia Joseph said. “Obviously she comes from a very different background and… that’s hugely important to take the royal family into the future.”
But for some other Britons, the event has as much relevance as the union of two distant superstars.
Many will not even bother to watch the wedding despite massive media interest.
This wedding has drawn comparisons with some remarkable episodes of recent royal history: Edward VIII’s relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, which led him to abdicate in 1936, and the queen’s late sister Margaret’s decision to call off her marriage to an equerry Peter Townsend.
Markle said she was sad her father could not make it but expressed hope he would be given the time to deal with his health problems.
The palace implied that Markle would still enter the chapel alone with her bridesmaids and page boys, before joining Charles at the Quire which is located about half-way down the ancient church.
After the hour-long ceremony, the couple will take part in a procession through the town’s ancient streets on a 19th century Ascot Landau carriage pulled by four Windsor Grey horses.
Police are expecting more than 100,000 people to throng the streets outside the castle, the queen’s home west of London and the oldest and largest inhabited fortress in the world, and have said there would be tight security for the event.
Harry, the younger son of the late Princess Diana, has always been a popular member of the royal family.
A cheeky child who stuck his tongue out at photographers, he left a lasting memory in the minds of many when aged just 12, he walked solemnly behind his mother’s coffin as her funeral cortege made its way through London after her death in a car crash in 1997.
He has spoken publicly about the pain of the loss of his mother, supported campaigns for wounded veterans and has embraced campaigns for awareness about mental health.
“I remember Princess Diana dying,” said Nick Lemin, 45, who grew up in Windsor but now lives in Brisbane, Australia. “I was here in the UK at the time and have never seen anything sweep a nation like that did.”
“I think she’d be very, very proud of Prince Harry and the family and how they are living their lives,” Lemin said.
Windsor Castle was badly damaged by a fire in 1992, a year Elizabeth famously described as an “annus horribilis” after three of her four children’s marriages failed, including Charles’ marriage to Diana.
Fast forward 26 years: A reformed royal brand and a Windsor in party mood.
The weather is forecast to be fine with blue skies on Saturday.
Sales of everything from flags and biscuits to tea towels emblazoned with the couple’s pictures were brisk, while bands entertained the growing crowds amid a party atmosphere in the genteel town. — Reuters