Well, they vowed to be original.
Not long after Meghan Markle and Prince Harry—that would be the Duke and Duchess of Sussex now, thanks—announced their engagement last November, the Kensington Palace account tweeted their wedding would “reflect their characters and personalities.” The fact that the palace even has a presence on social media, of course, already being a throughly modern development—one that wasn’t in place for Prince William and Kate Middleton‘s 2011 nuptials.
And as details started to slip out, it became clear the former actress, 36, and her groom, 33, weren’t intent on sticking firmly with tradition.
First there was the date itself. While a Saturday affair is pretty standard for most couples, royal weddings are typically held during the week. (I mean, it’s not as if someone would turn down this type of invite because they can’t get the day off work.) William and Kate chose a Friday, while the royals’ dad Prince Charles married Princess Diana on a Wednesday and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip exchanged vows on a Thursday.
Then there was their choice to have a cake and want to eat it, too. Fruit cake has long been the done confection for royals. Queen Elizabeth and Philip had a towering nine-foot, 500-pound royal icing-covered treat at their 1947 nuptials and even William and Kate went along with the tradition that dates back to the medieval period, opting for an eight-tier brandy-infused fruit cake.
But when the couple tapped pastry chef Claire Ptak, like Markle, a native of California, to craft their wedding dessert, they made it clear the focus should be on flavor. Ptak agreed. The chef at London’s Violet Bakery, once profiled in Markle’s now-defunct lifestyle blog The Tig, told the New Yorker growing up she saw fruitcake as “sort of a cruel joke.” Instead, she whipped up a buttercream-covered lemon elderflower cake that she vowed would “incorporate the bright flavors of spring.”
Of course, his current position of sixth in the line of succession—and the likelihood he will never ascend to the throne—meant Harry was granted a little more leeway in the pomp and circumstance department. He and Markle’s 600-guest nuptials were a rather understated affair in comparison to William and Kate’s 1,900-person extravaganza packed with dignitaries such as then-Prime Minister David Cameron and foreign royalty from some 18 countries. As a source told E! News, “Every decision Harry and Meghan make for this wedding is their own. They have the freedom to do as they please.”
Never one to miss a moment, Markle took advantage. Alongside her groom, the longtime philanthropist and activist—at age 11 she launched an ambitious letter writing campaign to pull a sexist ad from TV airways—thoughtfully put together a ceremony that sent a much-needed message of inclusivity.
First there was the couple’s choice of asking The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry to deliver the wedding address. The native of Chicago and first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, was billed as a “stunning preacher” by the Archbishop of Canterbury. And he certainly didn’t disappoint, garnering some 40,000 tweets a minute for his sermon that included several quotes from civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and touched on issues of slavery and poverty.
“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way,” he recited from King’s 1957 sermon on “Loving Your Enemies.”
Continued Curry, “There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize. There is power in love. Love can help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.”
The statement was powerful. As journalist Elamin Abdelmahmoud tweeted, “A black reverend preaching to British royalty about the resilience of faith during slavery is 10000000% not what I thought I was waking up for, the royal wedding is good.”
After Curry’s moving 14-minute speech, Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir, a London-based gospel group broke into a rendition of Ben E. King‘s classic “Stand By Me” that left much of the congregation, including the newlyweds themselves, looking emotional and inspired the thousands gathered outside to sing along.
An anthem for political progress, the 1961 blues ballad—and the predominantly black choir performing it—was seen as an important nod toward inclusiveness in a ceremony joining a British royal and an American woman with a diverse background. As was the couple’s choice to exit to Etta James‘ version of “This Little Light Of Mine,” a song heavily associated with the civil rights movement.
“Both of these are gospel statements,” Gibson later told Sky News. “We really enjoyed it, we really rocked up to that one you know? It was great fun.”
They had quite the crowd to perform to. With the capacity of St. George’s Chapel topping out at 800, Harry and his bride kept their ceremony guest list to a trim 600. To whittle it down, the duo went light on the foreign dignitaries. “It has been decided that an official list of political leaders—both U.K. and international—is not required for Prince Harry and Ms. Markle’s wedding,” the Palace explained in a statement last month. “Her Majesty’s government was consulted on this decision, which was taken by the royal household.”
Without the likes of British Prime Minister Teresa May or even former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama, who have been friendly with the royals, Markle had room to include the Hollywood types she met in her former life as an actress.
There was her Suits family—Patrick J. Adams and actress wife Troian Bellisario, Gabriel Macht and actress wife, Jacinda Barrett, Sarah Rafferty and stock research analyst husband Santtu Seppälä, Abigail Spencer, Gina Torres and Rick Hoffman—all living their best life since landing in London.
Also, human rights attorney Amal Clooney, who’s struck up a friendship with Markle, and her movie star husband George Clooney. And, of course, David and Victoria Beckham, though their invite likely cane from the groom’s list.
Oprah Winfrey rode a bus and overcame a wardrobe emergency—once she deemed her original cream choice was too white, Stella McCartney and her team worked all night to deliver an appropriate blush number—to attend and Idris Elba, Joss Stone, Elton John and husband David Furnish were there, presumably because no royal wedding is complete without such prominent Brits in attendance.
And then there were Markle’s closest industry pals.
Tennis legend Serena Williams, who first connected with Markle at a 2010 Super Bowl bash and may have played a role in her journey to meet Harry, arrived with Reddit cofounder husband Alexis Ohanian as her plus-one. But first, she documented her entire getting ready process on Instagram.
Priyanka Chopra followed suit, sharing a photo with her glam squad, before slipping into her Vivienne Westwood suit.
The Quantico lead has been open about how “super excited” she was for the day, and not because it gave her a chance to wear a fascinator.
“It’s not just going to be life-changing for both of them,” she explained to People, “it’s life-changing for the world that needs to see strong women as icons, and I think Meghan has the potential to be that.”
The way Chopra sees it, the dear friend she met at an ELLE Women in Television event has the opportunity to be as influential as her late mother-in-law Princess Diana. (After all, Harry did say they would have been, “thick as thieves, without question.”)
Honoring her pal’s inclusion on Time‘s Most Influential People in 2018 list last month, Chopra wrote a letter touting her ability to enact positive social change. “Her compassion, evident in the causes she supports, and her drive to break down stereotypes—obvious in her actions—will connect her to a generation in much need of kindness,” Chopra opined. “This ever-smiling, strong free spirit found her prince, fell in love and in turn made a cynical world believe in fairy tales again. But more than anything else, Meghan is an important influencer in a world that needs strong public figures to respect and look up to. People the world can be inspired by. Meghan, standing shoulder to shoulder with Harry, will be a princess for the people.”
She’s certainly off to a great start. As Chopra wrote on Instagram post-vows, “Every choice made at this wedding by you both will go down in history, not just because it was your wedding but because this incredible wedding stood for change and hope. Both things that the world needs desperately. Thank you for being the perfect picture of all things good.”