All last week, British media were bound by British mania to report every scrap of news with any royal wedding odour at all. The Times called on “plant experts” to assess the toxicity of the royal wedding cake. The BBC documented the work of an unauthorised royal wedding cake baker who’d sculpted bride and groom in sponge. Several outlets reported that UK Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn would not be free to watch the stately alienation on TV. None did so, however, with the passion of Murdoch rag, The Sun.
Corbyn’s act was not only that of an “arch republican” but of a man so indifferent to human joy, he would “not watch the happy couple walk down the aisle”. No, he’d rather spend a bitter day, “speaking at an economic conference in London”. Probably about nonsense like homeless Britons, such as those cleared from the streets of Windsor in time for all the enchantment this modern fairytale would bring.
Jeremy Corbyn did not watch the royal wedding. I did. I watched this thing with its promise of “fresh air”, but, truly, I did not inhale.
Fresh air is an old royal vice. There can be few ideas less democratic than that of noble birth. Nonetheless, the British royal family manages to simulate a democratising rush of “fresh air” at least once a decade. Markle may be a liberal Californian and a woman of colour, but she now forms part of this “modernising” tradition.
The Windsors don’t always get it right, and Her Majesty did stink the air up in failing to modernise royal mourning for Diana, Princess of Wales. But by 2012, she’d agreed not only to appear in a short comic film with James Bond, but to her grandson’s echo of his mother’s “common touch”.
The institution has been at this “we’re just like normal people” shtick since the birth of mass culture. It has been making good marriages between empires for much longer.
In interview with Vanity Fair, the former Ms Markle explained that this union was simple: “We’re two people who are really happy and in love.” Perhaps this is true. It was likely true of Queen Victoria and her consort and first cousin, Albert. A royal marriage can serve the state and the affections of its participants.
Just how well this marriage will serve the British royal family in Britain is unclear. Prince Harry’s marriage to the Duchess may have been great global branding, but the royal wedding itself was one met with historic unconcern, even revulsion, by the people whose poverty paid for it.
The Duchess is beautiful, charming, and seems very well-intentioned. She is routinely described as a feminist activist, and routinely describes persons like Madeleine Albright as her feminist inspiration. The Guardian and other outlets need not fret for the loss of this “activism” as they have in recent days. There is a good supply of beautiful, charming and well-intentioned actors to praise Hillary Clinton at the UN, publicise high-profile charities like World Vision or forget that Albright once declared the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children, “worth it”.
The bride seems very sincere. The bride’s “secret” visits to survivors of the Grenfell disaster are very widely reported. The bride replaced a Givenchy bridal gown, reported to have cost more than £200,000, with a custom Stella McCartney for her wedding breakfast. The cost of the activist bride’s wardrobe is equal to that not spent on fire-proof cladding at Grenfell. The veil of the activist bride was decorated with the symbols of Commonwealth. The activist bride, who engaged activist Bishop Michael Curry to speak, renounced her Episcopalian faith. Although the activist bride’s baptism into the Church of England is no longer a prerequisite for a royal marriage, the Archbishop of Canterbury described Markle’s choice as “sincere”.
I do not doubt that the Duchess is sincere. I do not doubt that she intends to use her new status to empower those less fortunate. I do not doubt that those most fortunate will be most truly empowered by this fresh Markle breath. The duchess resuscitates a relic of brutality: racist colonisers in the past and in the present, a false source of hope.
Even a commoner can become a British princess! Even a woman of colour can become a British princess! Even a sincerely liberal British princess can shroud power in a beautiful veil. One into which the flowers of dead empire are woven.
The radical reorganisation needed to prevent another Grenfell can never be glamorous — it probably looks like Corbyn at an economics conference. The veil over the countenance of power that will cause another Grenfell must be glamorous.
Fresh as constitutional monarchy, redeeming as the liberal political class she admires, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex is not, actually, a princess. But, she’s a breath of fresh content for media outlets who care less each day for news of life as it is most commonly endured.