0435/Royalty

The royal wedding countdown begins: What are Meghan and Harry’s planning priorities?

It would be enough to give any couple conniptions: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have just four months left to plan the wedding of the year, where the pews will be peppered with as many Hollywood royals as European ones. Most brides organising an event of this size (though St George’s chapel, Windsor, has a capacity of ‘only’ 800, compared to the 1,900 guests who attended the Cambridges’ wedding in Westminster Abbey) would leave at least a year before the big day. But then, Ms Markle is not “most brides”, and the Royal Family have the best party planners in the world at their fingertips – state banquets being their bread and butter. And soon to be sixth-in-line to the throne (after the arrival of the third Cambridge baby) Prince Harry and his bride are under less pressure to bow to protocol than Prince William and Kate, for their ‘semi-state’ occasion. “This wedding follows the slightly low-key wedding of Prince Edward, also in St George’s Chapel,” says the royal biographer and expert Hugo Vickers. “Weddings at Windsor do not have the Mall procession or [Buckingham Palace] balcony appearance. It is more intimate.” Nevertheless, one can safely assume that there is still a lot to be done. If the last Royal wedding is anything to go by, some 300 million people will be watching worldwide on May 19. So, with 18 weeks to go until the most anticipated event of 2018, let the countdown begin…

Four months to go

Inbal Dror was reportedly asked by the Palace to submit sketchesBy this point, most brides will have completed stage one of wedding planning – picking the venue, finalising the guest list, booking the caterer – and be onto their second dress fitting of several, while the wedding diet is in full swing. Sarah Haywood, wedding ‘producer’ to the high profile and high net-worth, explains stage two “is about contracting the key suppliers; the designers, the caterers, the entertainment.” Festoon lights, wild flowers and jam jars filled with candles – all hallmarks of a modern wedding – won’t cut it in the historic environs of St George’s Chapel, where 10 British monarchs are entombed, however much Meghan might claim to lust after a “whimsical, subtly romantic” affair. But the dress will, at least, have started to take shape. Speculation has centred around Israeli designer Inbal Dror, known for her racy gowns, since a spokeswoman revealed they had been asked to submit preliminary sketches. Luxury wedding dress designer Suzanne Neville certainly believes a British designer is far from a given. “The dress will have traditional elements,” she says, “Meghan will need to wear a sleeve of some kind in the chapel to fit Royal protocol, but she will put her own twist on it.” Where Meghan will let loose is the evening, likely opting for a gown that’s “a bit more slinky and sexy,” suggests Haywood. The Duchess of Cambridge changed from her Sarah Burton-designed McQueen wedding dress into an ivory satin number with a plunging neckline for the Buckingham Palace dinner hosted by Prince Charles. Meghan’s soon to be sister-in-law by marriage, Pippa Middleton, meanwhile, swapped her high-necked Giles Deacon gown for a figure-hugging Provonios frock before her adults-only evening reception, in May (and asked female guests to bring a second outfit, too).

Three months to go

Royal protocol: An invitation to the Cambridge's wedding in 2011“Stage three is about getting down to the detail,” says Haywood. “What is each part of the event going to look like, what is the invitation going to say, exactly what is everyone going to wear?” Traditionally, the Palace releases photos of the couple’s invitations as they are being prepared for postage. In February 2011, some 10 weeks before Prince William and Kate’s wedding, Royal watchers were given a glimpse of the cream and gold invitations, bearing the Queen’s insignia atop the inscription: “The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by The Queen to invite…” The real question is, who? Harry was put on the spot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, after Christmas, when he was asked if his friend Barack Obama would be present. “We haven’t put the invites or the guest list together yet, so who knows,” he sidestepped, no doubt cognisant of the thin-skinned current President. But a Royal wedding should be above politics – the Obamas weren’t invited to William and Kate’s wedding, when they were in the White House, either. Besides European royalty, commonwealth and religious leaders, and the cast of Suits, the armed forces will undoubtedly play a large part in both the pageantry and the party. Top military personnel, as well as members of Prince William’s RAF squadron at Anglesey, were invited to the Cambridges’ wedding, so it’s a safe bet some of Harry’s desert squad will be on the dancefloor.

Two months

“By eight weeks out, everything should be completely planned,” says Haywood. It is thought that a Champagne reception will follow the traditional ceremony, before a break in the afternoon allows guests to watch the FA Cup final, then change for the evening reception at Windsor Castle. Meghan and Harry were said to have hoped to hold the reception at nearby Frogmore Hall, which has a rather more fashionable, 1920s feel, but Royal aides felt St George’s Hall more suitable. The 180-ft long room, traditionally used for state banquets, seats up to 162 people and was redesigned in a modern Gothic style – with walls lined with suits of armour – following the fire at the castle in 1992. Having chosen the menu – both Kate and Pippa went for high-end catering company Table Talk – most couples are now fine-tuning the evening’s entertainment. But while the Cambridges were serenaded by Ellie Goulding, and Buckingham Palace’s Throne Room was transformed into a nightclub for the 300 guests, Meghan is known to favour little known American singer-songwriters and a festival-type atmosphere. It seems unlikely the couple will take up the offer of DJ Jevanni Letford, who handed the royals his card on their visit to Reprezent FM studios in Brixton this week, but the grounds of Windsor Castle may yet be turned into a mini-Glastonbury for the night.

One month

A month to go, and it’s time for the hen and stag dos. In 2011, Harry acted as de-facto best man (it is never an official title at royal nuptials) for his brother, arranging a relatively restrained stag, two weeks before the big day, at a private Norfolk country house for 20-odd close friends, including older guests, such as the late Hugh Van Cutsem, a great pal of Prince Charles’s. But William revealed this week that Harry has not yet asked him to return the favour. Perhaps he’ll opt for longtime wingman Guy Pelly, who co-owns Tonteria, a boutique nightclub in Sloane Square – arguably the perfect stag venue, with drinks served in skulls, and tequila shots delivered by toy trains to party goers reclining in hammocks. The Duchess of Cambridge had a quiet hen do, three weeks before her wedding, arranged by her sister, Pippa at a friend’s house. Meghan is rumoured to have selected close friend, Canadian stylist Jessica Mulroney as her maid of honour and two ‘dos’ may be on the cards – a Californian leg involving her mum, Doria, followed by a British ‘bachelorette’ closer to the actual wedding date, when her American friends will be in London.

The final fortnight

At this point, guests are usually anxious for a gift list. It is expected that the Royal couple will invite guests to make a charitable donation, instead. “The charity gift list is a big thing, it’s right on trend,” says Haywood. This is also the point at which Meghan and Harry may make their policy on photography known. Haywood anticipates the couple may choose to send a discreet message, via the Palace, requesting that guests refrain from posting pictures on social media.  “At Pippa’s wedding, they managed to keep it quite watertight, and that’s about the kinds of people they’ve got around them,” she says. “It is possible to put blocks on phone signals and wifi, but that doesn’t stop people taking pictures and uploading them later.”

The last week

Time for the pre-moon? A growing trend which sees young couples ensure they are relaxed and tanned for the big day, by heading off for a few days in the sun. I hear Mustique is nice in spring…

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