I can hardly remember where I was when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (then Prince William and Kate Middleton) got married. As a young teen with no connection or interest in the U.K., I can only assume that I was completely oblivious. I know many Americans who will agree with me when I say that this time just felt different. The news that an American, biracial actress would be marrying into the British royal family instantly fueled a pandemic of Royal Wedding Fever, and I was not immune. The engagement announcement seemed to also come at a necessary time, providing a bright spark and something to celebrate amid an endless news cycle of shootings, political turmoil and other tragedy.
And of course, as two people in a U.S.-U.K. long-distance relationship, Mark and I felt just a wee bit of kinship with the transatlantic couple and their romance. So when Kensington Palace announced in December that Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle would wed on May 19 in Windsor, it was only about 20 minutes before I had booked my plane ticket and told Mark that we were going to a wedding.
Five months later, I’m happy to say that joining the public in Windsor to celebrate the Royal Wedding was even more of a success than we hoped. Here’s how we did it:
Rather than attempt to find parking in Windsor, Mark decided we should park in Slough, the next town over by train, and take the train into Windsor & Eton Central – dubbed “Harry & Meghan Central” on all the signage. We weren’t the only ones with this idea – trains were packed, even at 7 in the morning, and we had to wait in line for a bit. We purchased tickets in advance, though nobody checked them so it probably wouldn’t have been necessary. While we stood in line to board, BBC and other radio station reporters were milling about, interviewing small groups of people, many of whom were dressed for the occasion in fascinators and Union Jack prints. Swept up in the hype, we bought a flag emblazoned with Harry and Meghan’s faces from a vendor at Slough station.
When we arrived in Windsor, signs and police were both present, directing visitors toward the procession route where the newlyweds would later wave to the masses. We cut down a side street, and after going through a surprisingly lax security checkpoint, made our way to the Long Walk, the 2.5 mile “driveway” leading up to Windsor Castle.
On the day of the wedding, the grassy areas flanking the Long Walk were transformed into a sort of classy street festival. The British consider themselves leaders in classy street parties and picnics, and that sentiment was on full display in Windsor – there were food trucks, coffee stands and pop-up bars serving everything British. We brought our own picnic of smoked salmon sandwiches and millionaire shortbread, but I could have happily indulged in fish and chips, a sausage roll or bacon butty.
We carefully selected a picnic spot with a clear view of one of the large screens set up along the walk, and just steps away from the barrier that would later separate us from Harry and Meghan’s carriage. We were also conveniently located near the “port-a-loos,” which would turn out to be necessary after downing a pint of Pimm’s each. We were in the shade for the first part of the day and were glad we dressed in layers, but by about 11 am the sun was shining, the temperature was close to 75F, and we were happy to be out on a perfect summer day.
I expected to be on my feet the whole day, but there was actually plenty of space to spread out and relax, without feeling crowded by other people or losing sight of each other if one of us stepped away for snacks or a bathroom break.
We arrived at our picnic spot at about 8:30 am, so spent a couple of hours getting acclimated and listening to a choir singing pop classics before the wedding coverage began. The crowd around us grew more packed, and everyone “ooh’d” and “ahh’d” together as we watched celebrity guests arrive on the screen.
Things got really exciting when the car carrying Meghan and her mother began making its way to St. George’s Chapel. We could follow its route on screen up until it arrived at the Long Walk, at which point everyone frantically rushed to the road to wave and catch a glimpse of the bride.
Watching the wedding along with thousands of other people (an estimated 100,000 at least were in the crowds that day), was nothing short of magical. We cheered together when members of the royal family appeared on screen (the loudest by far was for the Queen), gasped at the first glimpse of Meghan’s dress, “awww’d” at the adorable bridesmaids and pageboys, wept at the exchanging of vows and the powerful sermon, and passionately applauded at The Kingdom Choir’s rendition of “Stand By Me.”
And of course, one of the loudest collective cheers came when the newly hitched Duke and Duchess of Sussex briefly locked lips outside the chapel.
The ceremony lasted about an hour before the most important in-person event–the carriage procession. Like Will and Kate years before, Harry and Meghan rode in an open-top carriage through town to wave at the thousands of well-wishers in their first moments as a married couple.
We could see the first part of the procession on the screen while we steeled ourselves for the inevitable mad rush to the barrier and struggle to get a good view. I perched on Mark’s back (one of the many benefits of a one-foot height difference) and was able to get a clear view of Harry and Meghan and snap a few pictures as they rode by just feet away from us, despite the absolutely electric excitement stretching for miles around us.
To avoid the worst of the foot traffic and train station crowds, we hung back in the park for awhile, finishing our picnic and sipping cold drinks (mine was prosecco, but I swear it was still refreshing!) When we finally began making our way back into the center of Windsor, it was clear the celebrations were far from over. Weaving our way through the crowds and past miles of red, white and blue bunting, we walked down to the river (stopping for Harry and Meghan souvenirs on the way) for a moment of peace after an exuberant day.
We again waited for the train, this time in a slightly longer line, and departed “Harry & Meghan Central” with relative ease.
Congratulations to the happy couple! Did you watch the Royal Wedding?