Jennifer O’Connell: ‘I swear Meghan Markle looked directly at me’
Not everyone embraced the spectre of a diverse new Britain with the same enthusiasm
“What are you wearing to the royal wedding?”
“Jeans and runners probably.”
“I’m not telling people you’re wearing jeans and runners to the royal wedding,” she said. My mum is not a jeans and runners person, not even in the most jeans-appropriate occasions, which weddings, generally, are not.
I’m not actually going to the royal wedding, I said. I’ll be standing on the street outside. You do know that? I’m not going to be in the church? Mum?
But she’d already hung up. Judging by the number of texts, emails and WhatsApp messages I got on the same subject, I must have accidentally inferred to quite a few people that I was going to the royal wedding, as opposed to going to Windsor when the royal wedding was on. It’s close, but not quite the same – like saying you’ve been to Mars, when what you really mean is you are partial to eating the occasional frozen fun-size Mars bars.
But far from being the short straw, it turns out that going to Windsor while the royal wedding is on is a vastly superior form of entertainment to going to Windsor chapel while the royal wedding is on. Just look at Victoria Beckham’s miserable face if you don’t believe me.
Actual wedding guests had to get up at the crack of dawn to allow time to deal with unexpected catastrophes like fake tan streaks or deodorant stains under the arms of their dresses, or – in Oprah’s case – the discovery that the lovely beige outfit she’d been planning to wear actually, in the light of day, became incontrovertibly, catastrophically white. And then she had to face the embarrassment of calling Stella McCartney to ask her if there was anything that could be done for it with a quick soak in Dylon. Luckily there was, and Oprah’s blush pink outfit turned out nicely, but it must have been a terse exchange all the same.
Self-invited wedding guests didn’t have to sit on hard benches in a chilly chapel sucking in their tummies for seven hours in case the TV camera alighted on them at just the wrong moment, all for the privilege of watching everything on an inferior television to the one they had at home.
Instead, they spread themselves out on the grass, unfurling their gingham picnic blankets, and magicking plastic jugs of Pimm’s and bottles of prosecco up out of enormous picnic baskets. They drank to the diverse new Britain that had brought them all unexpectedly together – the diehard royalists, the African Americans, the Canadians, the curious Europeans, the fans who loved Meghan for Suits or her feminism, and the Harry brigade, which seemed to consist mostly of older women whose eyes misted over every time they tried to talk about “those poor boys” walking behind their mother’s coffin.
When the ceremony ended, we got to see Meghan and Harry whizzing by in their carriage, which – I bet – is more than most of the invited guests can say. I have a photo that captures the moment I swear Meghan looked right over the heads of the crowd and directly at me. She’s not looking right at me in the photo, but you can totally tell she just was.
Thanks to my photo of Meghan, and the souvenir Meghan and Harry tin of chocolate chip biscuits I picked up in the airport on the way home, there’s really nothing to suggest to future generations I wasn’t actually at the royal wedding.
I had just finished sharing my moment with Meghan when I overheard an extraordinarily posh English man called Paul, a Windsor local I guessed, say to friends that he and Claire were thinking about buying a bolthole in Oxford for young Ben, who’d be going up there next year, if he kept the head down. They already had a bolthole in London, right by Claridges. “Perfect for one, but not big enough to accommodate a mistress,” Paul chuckled and everyone howled, except Claire, who smiled tightly.
And now they needed another in Oxford, clever Ben. But where in Oxford, he wondered. Where were the – you know – decent neighbourhoods? The subtle stress on “decent” meant everyone else knew what he meant, and there were embarrassed titters all around. He couldn’t say that anymore, not now, someone said. Why can’t I say “decent”, Paul bellowed in mock affront.
This is the new, modern Britain, didn’t he know, they said, throwing an arm in the general direction of the crowd.
There was a brief silence, and then Claire – perhaps to make up for Paul’s indiscretion – threw a crumb to this new, modern Britain in which they were all of a sudden adrift. That cellist really was rather good, wasn’t he, she said. From the same, slight stress on the word “that”, everyone knew immediately the cellist was not really one of their own. I hadn’t seen the cellist on the big screen, but I knew when I googled it later, that I would discover he was black. (His name is Sheku Kanneh-Mason and yes, Claire, he really is rather good.)
It was a lovely day, even if the spectre of a shiny and diverse new Britain wasn’t embraced with quite the same degree of enthusiasm by everyone. Anyway, have I mentioned I was at the royal wedding?