WINDSOR, England (Reuters) – Prince Harry weds U.S. actress Meghan Markle on Saturday in a lavish ceremony that unites the pomp of British royalty with Hollywood glamor.
Hundreds of millions of people across the world are expected to tune into watch the wedding of Queen Elizabeth’s popular grandson and the American star of the TV drama “Suits” at the 15th Century St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
More than 100,000 fans will cram the narrow streets of the town 20 miles (30 km) west of London, dominated by the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, a home to 39 English monarchs since 1066.
“I love all the regalia, all the hoo-hahs, the procession with the cavalry,” said Jane Tofolo, 50, from southwest London, who shook hands with Harry when he held an impromptu walkabout with his brother and best man outside the castle on Friday evening.
“It will be spectacular because us Brits do all that very well.”
Harry, 33, is sixth in line to the British throne. Markle, 36, is a divorcee whose mother is African-American and father is white.
For many, the wedding is a fairytale. For some black Britons, it illustrates the breakdown of barriers in modern Britain.
To others, it is an irrelevance. Polls have suggested that most Britons will not bother tuning in to watch the event.
The hour-long ceremony begins at 1100 GMT, with weather forecasts predicting blue skies and sunshine.
The bride will arrive at the church with her mother, Doria Ragland, 61, with whom she was spending Friday night at a luxury hotel. Harry was staying at another hotel with elder brother and best man Prince William, whose daughter Charlotte and son George will be among the bridesmaids and page boys.
CHARLES TO LEAD MEGHAN
Harry’s father and heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles will walk his future daughter-in-law down the aisle after Markle’s father pulled out due to ill health.
Thomas Markle, 73, a lighting director for TV soaps and sitcoms, told the U.S. celebrity website TMZ he had undergone heart surgery on Wednesday. Confusion over his attendance marred the build-up to the wedding, which had been carefully choreographed for months by royal aides.
On Friday, Ragland met the 92-year-old monarch and her husband Prince Philip, 96, who will be among the senior royals in the 600-strong congregation. It will also include a smattering of celebrities, including fellow cast members of Markle from “Suits”.
The service will be conducted by the Dean of Windsor with Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the spiritual head of the Anglican Church, overseeing the exchange of vows. A black U.S. bishop, Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, will give the wedding address.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds are expected to greet some of the 1,200 members of the public specially invited into the grounds of the castle before setting off on a carriage procession through Windsor.
A reception will be held in the castle’s St George’s Hall before 200 guests join the couple at an evening event at Frogmore House, another grand mansion in the grounds.
The prince and his new wife, who are expected to be given a new title by the queen to mark their marriage, are not immediately leaving on honeymoon and will carry out their first official engagement as husband and wife next week.
Educated at the exclusive Eton College, a stone’s throw from Windsor, Harry, the younger son of the late Princess Diana, gained a reputation as a royal wild child.
He admitted smoking cannabis, getting drunk when underage in a pub, scuffled with paparazzi outside a London nightclub and drew outrage by dressing as a Nazi officer at a party.
But he turned his image around after joining the army, where he spent 10 years and included two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Last year, he spoke openly of his emotional torment following the 1997 death of his mother in a Paris car crash. Aged just 12, he walked solemnly behind her coffin in the funeral cortege.
He met Markle on a blind date in July 2016 set up through a mutual friend. Harry said he had never heard of his future wife or watched her TV series, and she said she knew nothing of the prince.
But after just two dates, he whisked her off to Botswana for a holiday, camping under the stars.
“The fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was confirmation to me that all the stars were aligned, everything was just perfect,” Harry said when their engagement was announced last November.
Harry’s gilded upbringing is in stark contrast with Markle’s. She was born and raised in Los Angeles and her parents divorced when she was six.
After a number of minor roles in films and on TV, she won the role as Rachel Zane in “Suits”. She ran a successful lifestyle blog, thetig.com, and has worked as a humanitarian campaigner. In 2011, she married film producer Trevor Engelson but they divorced in 2013.
The intense spotlight on her father this week was indicative of the limelight she now faces.
Harry issued a public rebuke to journalists when they were dating, accusing some of sexism and racism. The prince has long had a testy relationship with the media. His mother’s limousine was being chased by paparazzi just before her fatal crash.
Additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison, Estelle Shirbon, Emma Rumney, Andrew MacAskill, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Costas Pitas; editing by Andrew Roche