WINDSOR, England (AP) — Prince Charles will walk Meghan Markle down the aisle when she marries his son Prince Harry — a gesture of welcome to the American actress as she joins the royal family.
Kensington Palace said Friday that Markle asked the heir to the British throne to offer a supporting elbow Saturday at the wedding in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor once Markle’s father was unable to attend after falling ill.
Charles “is pleased to be able to welcome Ms. Markle to the Royal Family in this way,” the palace said.
The news came amid the final wedding preparations. Union Jacks have been unfurled, security barriers are up and fans are already moving in to capture the prime viewing positions in Windsor, 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of London.
Buckingham Palace also announced that the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, will attend the royal wedding, just a few weeks after undergoing a hip replacement operation. The 96-year-old has largely retired from public duties and it had not been clear whether he would be feeling well enough to attend.
The last-minute announcements came after days of speculation. Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, was the bookies’ favorite to escort the bride, but Prince Charles has a lifetime of experience in appearing at large-scale public events amid intense scrutiny.
“I think some people will be disappointed — people who were looking forward to the historic moment of a woman walking her daughter down the aisle, and a woman of mixed race heritage from America. It would have made an historic shot,” said royal historian Robert Lacey.
“But of course, Meghan has already arranged for her mother to drive up here to take her up to the castle. And for Prince Charles, the future king, to walk a bride down the aisle, what more could Meghan dream of?” Lacey added. “And so, one symbolism may be disappointed, but the other one is more than satisfied.”
Ragland, meanwhile, is scheduled to have tea Friday with the queen at Windsor Castle, her latest meeting with her daughter’s new in-laws. Ragland dined with Prince William, Harry’s older brother and best man, and William’s family on Thursday and met Charles and his wife Camilla a day earlier.
It’s not the first time a royal bride hasn’t been walked down the aisle by her father. The monarch’s sister, the late Princess Margaret, was walked down the aisle by Prince Philip. Queen Victoria walked two daughters down the aisle.
Roseline Morris, 35-year-old from Basildon, England, noted that Charles hasn’t got a daughter himself.
“He’s never going to get the chance to walk a daughter down the aisle, so this will be nice for him as well.” she said. “I imagine he’ll be feeling very proud.”
Having the father of the groom escort the bride is yet another twist in a royal wedding that is proving to be different from many others.
Master baker Claire Ptak said Friday that the royal wedding cake — a three-part layered lemon and elderflower cake — will have an “ethereal” taste and be presented in a non-traditional way.
Ptak and her team of six bakers have been working for the last five days in the oversize kitchens of Buckingham Palace, and the ingredients will include 200 Amalfi lemons and 10 bottles of Sandringham Elderflower Cordial from the queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
Royal wedding preparations began to unravel a bit last week after it emerged that Thomas Markle allegedly staged paparazzi photos in what celebrity website TMZ said was an effort to improve his image and show him to be a loving father preparing for the big day. Markle later said he wouldn’t attend because he is recovering from surgery following a heart attack.
Speaking from Windsor, TMZ’s Sean Mandell told the BBC that Thomas Markle was hurt by negative headlines and inaccurate portrayals.
“He was trying to explain his side of things,” Mandell said.