A few royal eyebrows might have been raised when it was reported that Meghan Markle would make a speech at the reception of her wedding to Prince Harry later this month.
When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wed in 2011, Kate kept shtum, observing the tradition of having only male speakers – the father of the bride, the groom and best man. But, seven years later, and given the current cultural moment, it seems more than sensible to break with that particular piece of fusty protocol. So, brava, Meghan.
However, the news of Ms Markle’s speech does hint at a broader and potentially inconvenient truth: Americans do weddings a little differently from us Brits.
Details of Harry’s stag do have been a closely guarded secret and it seems likely that the prince, now 33 and no doubt keen to avoid negative publicity ahead of the big day, will want to keep it that way. But, historically, he has been prone to folly when in search of good times. He’s been photographed naked while partying in Las Vegas, caught throwing snowballs at passers-by from a Verbier balcony, once went to a fancy dress party as a Nazi – and these are just the indiscretions that we know about.
At an all-British wedding, another tradition would normally dictate that a track record such as his would be rewarded with a rollicking reception and best-man’s speech. You sense Harry’s clubbable gang of chums, other fun-loving guests (such as the Spice Girls) and even his best man, William, are unlikely to let him off the hook completely. At his own wedding, William was teased by Harry about his receding hairline and had to endure tales of his own ‘debauchery’ and ‘nakedness’ being told by school friends.
But, at an Anglo-American wedding, making reference to these things carries a risk. I attended some transatlantic nuptials recently in which the British best man poked fun at the groom with brilliantly embarrassing stories and photographs from his past. He never sailed as close to the wind as James Matthews’ best man did when he reportedly made a joke about Pippa Middleton’s similarities to the family spaniel. But there was enough funny and risqué material to have our side of the dining room in tears of laughter.
For the Americans, however, it had the opposite effect. They could only look on aghast and open-mouthed – unable to comprehend why a brutal character-assassination, as they saw it, had been perpetrated on this most special of days.
They eventually warmed up. But only when the Texan father of the bride morphed into a Southern States version of David Brent from The Office by fetching his guitar and proceeding to play two unbearably schmaltzy, hopelessly out-of-tune country songs – one in tribute to each of the bride and groom.
Now it was the Americans who were wiping away tears. Not because the performance was so painful (although, truly, it was) but, apparently, because they found it so touching. On the British side of the room, it was our turn to look on aghast and open-mouthed.
So, at this year’s royal wedding, it’s unlikely that the American bride’s decision to dispense with tradition will pose a threat to the smooth running of the big day, but the Brits’ affinity for it just might. Let’s hope the transatlantic guests bring a sense of humour with them – and that there really are no unwelcome revelations from that stag do.