Top British Royal Reporter Talks Royal Weddings, Meghan Markle's Possible Title
Nicholas Witchell, the BBC's royal correspondent for almost two decades, has a few ideas as to how Harry and Meghan's big day might play out.
A venue and date may have now been set, but the upcoming royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is still likely to be a dominant media presence in the buildup to the big day on May 19.
The couple are due to marry at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, a venue that will no doubt be swamped with press from around the world in less than five months time. But will it be anywhere near as big as the royal wedding in 2011 between Harry's older brother Prince William and Catherine Middleton?
One commoner with more experience of regal affairs than most is Nicholas Witchell, the BBC's royal and diplomatic correspondent since 1998 and one of the most recognizable faces in British TV news. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Witchell describes how Harry and Meghan's celebrations might compare to William and Kate's nuptials, talks the U.K. public's reaction to its new royal addition and, perhaps most interestingly, offers his thoughts on what Markle's future title might be.
How do you think the media coverage will compare to William and Kate’s wedding?
I think within the U.K. it will be on a somewhat smaller scale. It’s difficult to predict these things. Harry is not the next King. He will, by the time of the wedding, be sixth in line to the throne. There’s clearly considerable interest in his choice of bride, which will increase the level of interest, but the fact he’s not going to be king, the fact that it’s not taking place in one of the big set-piece churches or cathedrals in the center of London and the fact there isn’t going to be a bank holiday, I think does have a baring on the scale of the event and I suppose will have a general knock on effect on the general sense of interest in U.K. It’ll still be considerable, but perhaps not quite at the level we witnessed those years ago for William and Kate.
And how about internationally?
I suspect that there will be considerable international interest, particularly from the U.S. for the obvious reasons. International interest and American interest was immense for William and Catherine’s wedding and I imagine that, too, would be replicated. But again, because it’s St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, it’s a smaller event by definition because of the choice of venue.
What’s the actual size of St. George’s Chapel?
It seats 800, compared to Westminster Abbey, which I think is 2,200. So it’s less than half the size of Westminster Abbey and if you go on to St. Paul’s, I think that can seat in excess of 3,000. It’s a very historical setting, but it is significantly smaller than one of the big London venues.
Given this, is it likely to be a far less formal affair, without the pomp and ceremony?
In terms of the attendance, that will still have all the principal members of the royal family. Regarding the pomp, I imagine there would have to be some sort of a carriage procession through Windsor. Whether it will be quite the scale of the London procession with the cavalry trotting along behind, I think that is yet to be determined. But it might be brought down a notch or two from William and Kate's. But it’ll be interesting to see whether Harry wears a uniform. I would have thought that he would, given his army background (Prince Harry served in the Army for ten years and has the rank of Captain). And that in a sense sets the tone. If he wants to have a wedding with him dressed as an army officer, that encourages more people to dress in uniform. But there will, I’m sure, be trumpeters and a bit of that, just because St. George’s Chapel is well used to pomp and pageantry, but on a rather smaller scale.
Do you have any idea of the cost of a royal wedding?
No, none at all. I suppose you’d have to pay the choir, all the flowers… even in a chapel the size of St. George’s Chapel I’m sure you could spend thousands and thousands on flowers and I would imagine they’d wish to do that. Of course, security is always a consideration, and that is much more manageable in Windsor Castle than it would be if it was played out on the streets of central London.
What’s Meghan’s title going to be?
This whole title business is interesting. She automatically does become Princess Henry of Wales because the wife takes the style and rank of the husband. Catherine, strictly speaking, is Princess William of Wales. The Queen being a traditionalist will, I’m sure, confer a royal dukedom on Harry so there will become the Duke and Duchess of somewhere, and the smart money seems to be on Sussex for some reason. There are a few royal dukedoms that haven’t been used for donkey’s years, but people seem to think it's the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that the Queen would confer. So at the moment of their marriage, she would become Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Wherever.
Is this the only title she’d get?
Yes. She does become a princess, but she’s not a princess in her own right. Because she’s not of royal blood, she will not be princess Meghan any more than Catherine is Princess Catherine. She is Princess William. That’s how it works. Diana was not, strictly speaking, Princess Diana, although everyone called her that. She was the Princess of Wales.
Is she likely to go through any media training to prepare her for the role?
There’s no actual training as such. There are media advisors — people in the press office who give advice, but that’s quite distinct from training, which implies something more formal and structured. But no, I don’t think they believe in such a thing. Clearly if she’s doing an interview she’ll have views from the communications team and, very significantly, from Harry about how you do this. Although I have to say, having watched her she is most conspicuously confident about such things. Which given her acting background is hardly surprising.
There were some unpleasant reactions on social media and in the U.K. press when Harry and Meghan’s relationship was first revealed. What do you think is the view of the average Brit of Meghan?
I think she’s entirely accepted already by the mainstream. I think the British society of 2017 is very outward-looking and very forward-looking and positive. She has said she’s a proud woman of mixed race heritage and I don’t think any reasonable person has batted an eyelid. I think the vast majority of the popularity of the U.K. has accepted that as being a thoroughly welcome and positive and commendable development for the royal family and I think it’s the same reaction from within the royal family. I don’t know, but I think we’ve long moved on from 50-60 years ago and an American divorcee and Wallace Simpson and all that sort of stuff. I think everyone is genuinely delighted.
Harry’s had a changing public persona over the years. Where do you think he currently sits in people’s minds?
I think people regard him in a very positive way. The issues that he had — the strippers in Las Vegas and all those sorts of episodes — what people didn’t know at the time was that he was just about to go off for a tour of duty to Afghanistan. I think there’s considerable affection and positive feeling towards him and as far as I can detect people like the personality that he projects. I think his rapport with young people, with veterans and with society at large seems to be rather refreshing and very much that of a young man who is a considerable asset to the royal family going forward. He said himself: The army had a part to play in that, and the years after the death of his mother he shut down his emotions and I’m sure that contributed to the few years when he was a little bit adrift.
Is there much less pressure on Prince Harry than his brother?
Yes, that’s undoubtedly true. And I think he would accept that himself. He doesn’t have the responsibility of knowing that one day he will be King and head of state and all that goes with that.
When it comes to royal engagements, are Harry and Meghan likely to be as active as William and Kate?
I think so. They haven’t really given any indication, but it’s what he does now. She said in the interview that she wants to get around the United Kingdom and meet people, and find out more about this country. It rather depends on how quickly they start a family. But it is expected of them. It is William and Catherine and Harry and Meghan who are the principle burden-takers as it were, along with obviously Prince Charles and Camilla, while the Queen is doing significantly less in terms of public appearances and certainly foreign travel. So yes, it’s down to them.