It's A Marriage, Not Just A Carnival
Posted: 19 May 2018
“There’s a higher form of happiness in commitment; I’m counting on it.” So said British actress Claire Forlani.
I’m not sure, but perhaps she was thinking of marriage at the time. Regardless, the statement is a great reflection of what a wedding is about.
Preparations for the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were followed closely around much of the globe. Its every detail was scruitinised and interpreted.
Estimates regarding the TV coverage of the wedding itself have varied. If Prince William’s wedding is any guide, as many as two billion people may have tuned in to watch his brother tie the knot.
Here in Britain, royal weddings have long represented an opportunity for a collective coming together around shared values. In uncertain times, they provide important reminders of a long and proud history of hope and solidarity.
In its last year before Brexit, Britain faces real uncertainty - though arguably not with the sense of public horror or panic that some politicians, past and present, would have us believe.
Any uplifting public ceremony is welcome at a time like this. But a royal wedding offers a unique opportunity to celebrate the bonds that tie a society together and particularly the deepest of these, the family.
For all its glitter, however, sometimes perhaps a little too much is made of the wedding spectacle itself.
As someone who has served as celebrant at a number of weddings, I feel sure that the celebrant in this one will have been mindful of this.
I recently had the privilege of meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury. By all reports, he approached his role in this wedding with due humility and solemnity, yet with his typical lightness of touch, which probably best reflects the personality of Prince Harry and his bride.
I’m sure that his pre-wedding counsel to the couple will have helped them prepare them for the wedding, but more importantly it will do the same for their marriage.
In recent weeks, British newspapers featured page after page - in some cases, pull-out after pull-out - of “news” regarding wedding preparations.
At times, the coverage morphed into a kind of scripting treatment for a soap opera, particularly as the bride’s family issues came to the fore.
It was surely unfair to expect that Ms Markle’s father or siblings should have been properly prepared for the sudden glare of fame. If talent-show winners often struggle to come to grips with sudden notoriety, how can we expect people to cope who’ve never even sought it? And on a such truly global level?
As you might expect, some news outlets concentrate less on the glitz of the occasion and more on a discussion about the present and likely future state of the monarchy itself. This can be helpful.
On the morning of the wedding, the respected news agency Reuters took that perhaps a little too far.
A survey by Reuters found that two thirds of Brits were not interested in watching the royal wedding. This may be interesting, but it is a stretch to say that this reflects on the monarchy as an institution.
Reuters claimed that the occasion was all about “injecting new life into a monarchy striving to stay relevant in the modern age”. Really? In a 2015 YouGov poll, 68 percent of Brits said they felt the monarchy is “good for the country”. Only nine percent felt the opposite, while 17 percent had no opinion.
There is some debate about the future role of a number of senior British institutions - the House of Lords, for example - but to claim that the monarchy is becoming redundant is looking for a story where there is none.
In the post-Brexit age, this nation will rely on finding and building new global trade arrangements. The country will look to traditions such as the monarchy to provide a unifying effect and to reflect Britain’s values to the world.
Institutions and national interests aside, however, we must not lose sight of the fact that a royal wedding is still just that: it is more than a one-day spectacle, it is the beginning of life-long journey.
If weddings were merely about signing a legal contract, or a romantic day out, even royal weddings would hold less attraction for us. Even in these often cynical times, marriage is still seen as a covenant and a wedding involves the exchanging of vows and the intertwining of two lives into a common cause.
It follows then that while we may all share in the joy of a royal wedding, we shouldn’t expect a share in the ups and downs of the marriage itself.
For weeks if not months to come, the rolling news media industry and social media chatter will bombard us with information about the young couple.
Prince Harry may presently be just sixth in line to the throne, but he is a well-liked, respected young royal who has proven an enthusiastic social entrepreneur. He also happens to be marrying a glamorous yet seemingly down-to-earth TV actress.
Their story will never be far from the news, even if the press culture has changed somewhat since the marriage of Harry’s father and mother.
Such was the outpouring of grief and fury following Diana’s death that news editors quickly backpedalled on the level of intrusion into royal lives. This was not a matter of Victorian forelock-tugging, but of simple human decency.
Of course, the melodrama that became the married life of Charles and Diana emerged in a world that lacked the intrusive power of today’s digital media.
Today, anyone can be a commentator, producer or reporter - as distinct, that is, from a journalist. Anyone with a mobile phone potentially becomes a paparazza.
So, in spite of a less pushy professional media culture where royals are concerned, the potential for intrusion has grown exponentially.
Within the next decade, mobile communications technology will take us into completely uncharted territory with, for example, the greater use of mobile augmented and virtual reality and holography.
To a degree, of course, a royal marriage is public property, especially given the taxpayers’ financial investment in keeping the royal “firm” afloat. But pushing that line too far means that the natural ebbs and flows of a marriage cannot be worked through properly, between man and wife.
Anyone who’s been married for long knows the importance of being able to talk things through rather than leaving divisive issues to fester unresolved. And the need to keep things as much as possible within the family.
If we’re not careful with royal marriages, the entire nation takes on the role of a third set of (unhelpful) in-laws.
Some people have the good fortune - as did I - to marry into a great relationship with their in-laws. But there’s another brand of in-law, the type who constantly offer unsought advice and/or constant criticism, usually without having the benefit of accurate intelligence.
In the end, the hapless couple struggle to find the space to build lines of communication and the positive shared memories that make a marriage last.
Imagine how much more difficult this might be if the in-law factor was multiplied millions of times, with everyone in your world knowing – or thinking they know – all about your challenges.
Many mllions of people will have enjoyed the royal wedding celebrations and will wish the couple well. Yet the potential for an unhealthy national preoccupation with the marriage is real – especially given our taste for celebrity gossip.
We all wish Prince Harry and Meghan well. These young people are celebrities but they must not be expected to become part of the modern celebrity culture, with its emphasis on cheap sensation and setting people up for a fall.