A guide to royal wedding etiquette: Get the right hat and cover your shoulders
By ELIZABETH RENZETTI
Thursday, May 17, 2018 Print Edition, Page A13
Nothing can quite prepare you for the combination of ancient pageantry and modern PR machinations that constitutes a royal wedding, as I discovered while covering the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in April, 2011.
While the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19 will be more intimate, it will still blend the archaic charms of a British wedding with the laser-focused brand management at which the House of Windsor excels.
As the only Canadian journalist to attend the 2011 ceremony at Westminster Abbey, I learned a few things about the etiquette of attending a royal wedding, which I'm happy to share here.
EYES UP, PHONES DOWN
The first rule of attending a royal wedding is, "Always listen to the gentleman carrying the giant medieval weapon." This is not a lesson covered in journalism school, so it was somewhat alarming when the ceremonial guard carrying a pike - or possibly a halberd - told me sternly to stop tweeting from inside Westminster Abbey. I stopped tweeting.
Harry and Ms. Markle's wedding invitation has also stipulated that phones are not to be used, and, perhaps more crucially, that swords are not allowed inside their venue, St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle (while this stipulation is clearly aimed at those wearing dress uniforms, it might also settle the nerves of maverick tweeters).
NO KNEES, PLEASE
Speaking of dress uniforms, there is, for the lucky invitee, the small matter of what to wear. The invitation in 2011 read, "Morning suit or lounge suit and day dress for ladies with hat." Members of the military could wear dress uniforms and men could wear tails or a nice suit; easy enough.
"Day dress," I would learn after an exhausting scrimmage through London's shops, meant no cleavage, no minidresses and no bare arms.
Such an outfit is remarkably difficult to procure in a city that leans more toward footballer's wife than tasteful neckline. (It's been reported that the co-stars of Ms. Markle's television show Suits have turned to the wardrobe department for help with proper attire.)
AVOID THE MINEFIELD THAT IS MILLINERY
A headpiece is necessary, but what kind? Only Joan Collins and people born in country houses can carry off extravagant hats.
No one wants to end up a meme, as Princess Beatrice did when she showed up at the royal wedding in 2011 wearing a fascinator that resembled two eels fighting over a doughnut. A guest will want to wear a distinctive hat - this rules out a purchase from Marks and Spencer - but not one that impedes the main activity of the day, which is embracing fellow members of the aristocracy. As Debrett's guide to wedding etiquette helpfully notes, "It is notoriously difficult to socially kiss while wearing a widebrimmed hat."
USE THE FACILITIES BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
This royal wedding will be less of a mob scene than the one in 2011, when there was such a crush inside Westminster Abbey that one of the guests trod on the grave of the Unknown Warrior, a terrible faux pas. A trip to the bathroom meant enduring a half-hour queue. William, as the likely future king, was obliged to invite 1,900 guests, from politicians to fellow royals (slips of paper taped to the chairs read "Queen of Spain" and "Grand Duke of Luxembourg.") Harry and Ms. Markle, by contrast, have invited some 600 guests to the more intimate ceremony in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, with more than 2,500 members of the public, chosen for their good works, invited to gather on the castle's grounds.
HIDE YOUR PRESS CREDENTIALS
Both princes are known to dislike the media - for good reasons beginning with the death of their mother, Princess Diana - but where William had to grit his teeth and bear the scrutiny, Harry has managed to narrow the scope of the spotlight. In 2011, approximately 7,000 journalists descended on London - 125 from CNN alone - with broadcasters paying upwards of $100,000 for a prime spot at Canada Gate, near Buckingham Palace. CBC's The National broadcast live from London for three nights.
While there is certainly huge international interest in Harry and Ms. Markle's wedding, the media presence will be much less intense. Reportedly, only one journalist will be present inside the chapel. Ms. Markle, a divorced, biracial American actress, has been given a rough ride by the British media, much of the tabloid coverage tainted with thinly veiled racist overtones.
"Harry's girl is [almost] straight outta Compton," read a headline in the Daily Mail in November, 2016. A few days later, Harry's representative put out an unusually strong statement, condemning the wave of "abuse and harassment" aimed at Ms.
Markle, including "the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."
A SENSE OF HUMOUR WILL GET YOU THROUGH THE DAY
When the Queen arrived at the Abbey in 2011, a British journalist near me announced loudly, "She looks in good nick." The Queen might even have appreciated the irreverence. She famously began her wedding toast to Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles with a joke about the big news of the day - the name of the horse that had just won the Grand National (it was Hedgehunter).
IF YOU KNOW ANY BRITS, DON'T BOTHER CONGRATULATING THEM
If tradition holds, the nuptials that will be celebrated with tea and Champagne around the world will be greeted in Britain with polite good cheer and little more. During the run-up to the most recent royal wedding, the Guardian newspaper's website contained a button that said, "Republicans click here" to remove all matrimonial content. However, even grumbling Brits were happy in 2011 that they were given a bank holiday - that is, an official day off - to celebrate the wedding. That's not happening this time.
Just as problematic, for those who worship at the altar of football rather than monarchy, May 19 brings another holy consummation, the FA Cup final in London. Even William, Harry's best man, has said he's not sure whether he'll be at Wembley or Windsor. He was joking, but after the circus of his own wedding, he'd hardly be blamed for slipping off to the pub.
ILLUSTRATION BY GRAHAM ROUMIEU