Celebration

How Meghan Markle Stole Pippa Middleton’s Wedding Spotlight

On Saturday Pippa Middleton, Kate’s sister, will marry James Matthews. But the main focus before the big day is the arrival in the UK of Prince Harry’s girlfriend, Meghan Markle.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

There won’t be cameras screening the service to billions of viewers from inside the church, the marital kiss won’t take place in front of a roaring crowd of hundreds of thousands, and an extra public holiday will not been given to a grateful nation.

But the wedding on Saturday of Kate Middleton’s sister, Pippa, who as bridesmaid, famously stole the show at her sister’s wedding thanks to an extraordinarily well-cut, bottom-hugging McQueen gown, has nonetheless grabbed the attention of Britain’s press and public.

Pippa’s wedding, to one of London’s most successful young billionaires, a hedge fund founder named James Matthews, has dominated British newspapers this week.

On Friday the Daily Mail devoted several pages to the impeding nuptials, revealing that the reception dinner would be Scottish themed.

Guests will be served haggis canapes (haggis is a traditional Scottish dish made of offal cooked in a sheep’s stomach) washed down with Scottish whisky, to mark her husband’s Highland connections; the Matthews family own a castle, Glen Afric, and 10,000-acre estate 15 miles from Loch Ness in the Highlands.

Despite the grandeur of the lives they now inhabit and their lavish wedding, the estimated costs of which increase in every story written about it but are believed to be at least the equivalent of a quarter of a million dollars, Matthews and Middleton are actually examples of an often unobserved but surprisingly frequent phenomenon in British upper class life: social mobility.

The rich middle classes have for hundreds of years been gobbling up the aristocracy, becoming them by marriage, but the Middletons and the Matthews are a fresh twist on that trend as neither are blueblooded aristocrats by birth.

Pippa’s parents, it has been well documented, were a flight attendant and a pilot when they met. James’ father, David, is a former mechanic who, long before he became the Laird of Glen Afric, was making his first fortune selling used cars. His brother, Spencer, is a reality TV star who dates an Irish model, Vogue Williams, and claims to have slept with over 1,000 women.

It is interesting that Prince Harry seems increasingly likely to follow his brother’s example and marry an outsider, if his relationship with actress Meghan Markle--who landed in London on Wednesday and will be among the 350 guests on Saturday--works out.

Pippa and James’ friends are among the most privileged and wealthy young people in England. Through Kate’s marriage to William, the Middletons have definitively entered the orbit of the upper classes.

But the truth is that only one or two of the old British families could ever dream of spending even a quarter of the Middleton budget on a wedding (even if they wanted to, which they wouldn’t, still considering such a display of wealth unbearably vulgar).

For the press, the circus surrounding the wedding is an opportunity to practice maneuvers ahead of what will truly be a ratings-busting edition of the royal soap opera: the wedding, whenever it comes, of Prince Harry.

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In recent days, a whole new seam of speculation has been opened up on this very subject following suggestions that Harry will soon propose to Markle.

While some observers (this one included) suspect there is no way Prince Harry and Markle would get engaged until at least 18 months after they first met, which would push an engagement to Christmas or the new year, there have been reports circulating that Harry has asked permission from his grandmother the Queen to marry Markle.

The news should be treated with caution, however, as the reports, which are now being widely repeated across the royal news celebrity echo chamber originated in the US tabloid Star magazine, a publication not always noted for its royal fact checking department.

Star reportedly quoted a source as saying: “The way it’s going, the engagement will probably happen this year. Harry has got approval from the Queen to propose to Meghan, he’s already had those conversations with Her Majesty. An engagement is imminent.

“Harry has always had a good relationship with the Queen and they are an extremely close-knit family.”

While the Queen may or may not have had such a conversation with Harry, what is indubitably true is that there have been many other signs that the couple are edging close to an engagement.

While reports that claim that Harry will propose at the wedding itself should be treated with caution, just last week Markle appeared alongside Harry as he was competing in the Audi Polo Challenge.

Markle had front row seats in the Royal Box along with Harry’s close friend Mark Dwyer and his wife.

Markle was photographed kissing Harry, and it should be noted that kissing at the polo is about as official as Royal romance gets.

Joking aside, it is genuinely hard to imagine a relationship that was not regarded as capable of going all the way reaching such a public society staging post.

Meghan recently shut down her lifestyle blog, The Tig, and has gone dark on social media, further fueling speculation that she may be preparing to abandon the life of an actress for the more discreet existence of a royal.

In heartening news for fans of blowout royal weddings, it was confirmed last weekend that if the happy day does arrive, Harry can marry Meghan at Westminster Abbey, despite the fact she is a divorcee.

All the attention on her wedding is unlikely to have surprised Pippa, who has occupied a strange territory ever since her shapely bottom propelled her to stardom. She is definitively not a royal in the establishment’s eyes, but she is very much one in the perception of the global public.

Her wedding is similarly perched somewhere in the seismic zone, where the tectonic plates of private and public life rub up uncomfortably against each other.

It’s most certainly a private event, hosted by a private individual, but the British royal reporting corps don’t seem ready to acknowledge that. They have staked ownership of it on behalf of their readers, whom, they fear, may be losing interest in the royal story, which, five years after the wedding of the increasingly dull Kate and William invigorated it, is starting to flag a little.

Details have been assiduously mined for weeks now; it has been reported that guests have been instructed to bring a second outfit for the evening reception, that Pippa will arrive at the wedding in a horse drawn carriage, that guests will gather in specially constructed glass marquee for the traditional Champagne marathon and that William and Kate’s kids, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, are going to be among the bridesmaids and page boys.

The most intense speculation surrounds Pippa’s choice of designer for her wedding dress. The current rumor leading the field is that British designer Giles Deacon has created Pippa’s wedding gown; however the name of designer Emilia Wickstead is now being bandied about as a late contender among the royal fashion crowd.

Even the weather forecast has become a story; as is often the case in England, it might rain. It might not.

Pippa and James have wisely accepted the public interest, and will probably pose for photographs for the press on Saturday, who have been allocated a vantage point to shoot snaps of the couple on the way in to the church.

But whether the British picture editors choose Pippa or Meghan for their Sunday front pages remains to be seen.